Knowing how to make a quick batch of these airy cheese puffs is one of the best skills a hostess can acquire. They're so simple, and they always get a big reaction from guests--especially when made with sharp Vermont cheddar cheese. Cambridge's own Julia Child popularized them in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and we feel it's time for a gougeres revival!
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
1-1/2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Heat butter and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high setting until butter is melted and mixture comes to a low boil.
Turn heat to low, add flour, and stir vigorously until mixture coheres and pulls away from pan sides, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat.
Add eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously after each. Dough will separate after each addition; keep stirring until it forms a smooth paste. Stir in cheese, nutmeg, and pepper (the dough should still be hot enough to melt the cheese).
Drop mixture in heaping teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet (for a prettier presentation, you can pipe the batter into 1-1/4-inch mounds). Bake until puffed and brown, about 30 minutes. For extra-crisp puffs, pierce each one with a knife, then turn off the oven and put the puffs back in for 10 minutes.