Say you’ve got two hours before “girls’ night” commences (or “boys’ night”, movie night, cocktail hour, dinner-with-the-inlaws, etc.). You want to bring something salty and cheesy, satisfying but not heavy. It has to be simple to make, yet still impressive. You don’t want to make another grocery store run-you’ve got to concoct something with ingredients on hand. What are you going to make?

Last Saturday I found myself in this exact situation. But I didn’t panic or resort to premade snacks, I just flipped through my trusty notebook of no-fail no-frills recipes until I found pâte à choux. I keep a handwritten notebook of these recipes in my kitchen at all times. They include basic sauces, pasta dough, cookie dough, pie crust, cracker recipes, and more. I often use these time-tested and trusted recipes as a starting off point, and then allow my imagination to run wild.

When I saw my recipe for pâte à choux, I knew right away what I would make. Pâte à choux is a classic French dough, used to make both sweet and savory delicacies like profiteroles, éclairs, beignets, churros, Paris-Brest, Parisian gnocchi, pommes dauphine, and a million other variations. It relies on steam to help it puff into light, crisp goodies.

Gougères are France’s answer to the ubiquitous cheesy snack. They are a classic pâte à choux preparation and are essentially savory cheese puffs that can be eaten alone or piped with filling. I recalled that I had some toasted walnuts and a large wedge of Pecorino Romano that would make some very handsome gougères, especially when paired with a glass of bubbly or Chardonnay and perfectly sweet-tart green grapes.

So I whipped out my kitchen scale, measured the ingredients, cooked the dough, added eggs, the toasted walnuts and Pecorino, and piped the little cuties onto a silicone-lined baking sheet and 25 minutes later I had cheesy, nutty, light puffs ready to be scarfed down savored by the girls.

Whole Wheat Gougères with Pecorino & Walnuts

Makes about 60 gougères

Have all the ingredients prepared and measured before you start the recipe, as it comes together very quickly. The gougères are best on the day they are made, but the pâte à choux can be piped onto baking sheets then frozen solid and removed to a plastic bag for storage up to two months. Place the frozen gougères on parchment or silpat-lined baking sheets and bake as the recipe specifies plus an additional 5-10 minutes. Get out your kitchen scale to make this recipe in a snap!

85 grams (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cubed
240 gram (1 cup) water
5 grams (¾ teaspoon) salt
60 grams (½ cup) whole wheat flour
63 grams (½ cup) all purpose flour
200 grams (4 each) whole eggs, large
1 gram (½ teaspoon) cayenne pepper
60 grams (½ cup) walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
170 grams (6 ounces) Pecorino Romano cheese, coarsely grated

Make the pâte à choux. Preheat the oven to 425° F. In a medium saucepan, bring the butter, water and salt to a boil. Dump in the flours all at once and stir vigorously, until the dough comes together in a ball. Continue to stir the dough, cooking it for an additional minute until it starts to stick a little to the pan. Remove the cooked dough to a medium bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Finish the dough. Once the dough has cooled, use an electric mixer (or heavy duty whisk) to beat in the eggs on at a time. Once the eggs have been thoroughly incorporated, add the cayenne pepper. The pâte à choux should be smooth, glossy, and quite sticky. Fold in the walnuts and ¾ of the cheese by hand then transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip or plastic freezer bag with a corner cut off. Pipe the dough into golf ball sized mounds 2 inches apart from each other onto parchment or silpat-lined baking sheets.

Bake the gougères. Take the remaining cheese and divide it evenly among the gougères. Bake them for 25 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking. When done they should be crisp and deep golden brown. Remove the gougères to a wire rack to cool completely. They can be served at room temperature or warmed in a 350° F oven for 10 minutes.