Apple-Stuffed Cheddar Puffs
A little bit sweet, a little bit savory. The combo of apples and cheddar are classically found in pie, here reimagined by Heather Baird in a stuffed gougères-like pastry. Pate a choux is possibly the easiest classic French pastry to make and they always look impressive. They puff up, crisp on the outside and in this case, stuffed with a tart Granny Smith apple filling that has a nice hit of salt. These are from her book Sea Salt Sweet, which explores salty/sweet recipes; she has also brought us her Roasted Caramel Cheesecake.
Reprinted with permission from Sea Salt Sweet © 2015 by Heather Baird, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
“APPLE PIE WITHOUT CHEESE IS LIKE A kiss without a squeeze,” or so the saying goes. Apple pie served with a slice of sharp Cheddar cheese is common in some parts of the United States, but it might sound strange if you’ve never tried it. I’ve always loved the classic combination of fruit and cheese; I’d just never tasted it together in a way that knocked my socks off. I made a mental note to use these flavors in dessert and tucked it away for later. Well, it’s later! I’ve never forgotten that dynamic duo and I love how the two come together so similarly to Cheddar and apple pie in these Apple-Stuffed Cheddar Puffs.
These puffs are made with choux paste (or pâte à choux), the same light pastry batter used to make profiteroles. I learned to make the batter by hand years ago using only a bowl and wooden spoon to incorporate the eggs, but using an electric mixer is much quicker. I often make these in a mixer when I have time constraints or am feeling impatient, and you should, too (don’t worry, it’s not cheating).
In French cuisine, when cheese is added to choux batter, the pastries are referred to as gougères, but I simply call them puffs. When choosing Cheddar for these puffs, look for high-quality brands in block form. Preshredded, bagged sharp Cheddar is not ideal for these puffs because they contain stabilizers to help the shreds to hold their shape during transport. Using preshredded cheese will cause the puffs to be too crisp and prove difficult to fill with apples.
I freely admit to being a gilder of lilies. If you are, too, you’ll want to make the fried sage leaf garnish. The leaves take seconds to fry and the pop of sage flavor is nice with Cheddar and apple. They make the plated puffs look pretty, too.
- 6 tablespoons/90 g unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 cup/120 g all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup/90 g grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of fine-grain sea salt
- ¼ cup/60 ml olive oil for frying
- 30 fresh sage leaves
- Fleur de sel
- 3 Granny Smith apples (1 pound/450 g), cored and finely diced
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup/100 g granulated sugar
- ½ cup/110 g firmly packed light brown sugar
- ¼ cup/30 g cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
- MAKE THE PÂTE À CHOUX: Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Combine ¾ cup/180 ml of water and the butter, salt, and sugar in a 2½-quart/2.4 L saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and remove from the heat source. Sift in the flour; stir to combine completely.
- Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes to cool slightly.
- Stir 1 of the eggs into the mixture. The batter will appear loose and shiny at first. When the egg is fully incorporated, the batter will look dry and coarse, like mashed potatoes. At this point, add the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all 4 eggs. Stir in the grated Cheddar until it is evenly dispersed in the batter.
- Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip or a resealable plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe the dough into 1 x 1-inch/2.5 x 2.5 cm mounds, spaced 2 inches/5 cm apart, on the prepared baking sheets.
- Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of the choux when piping.
- Brush the tops with egg wash.
- Bake the choux at 425°F/220°C until well inflated and golden, about 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F/180°C and continue to bake until dry, about 20 minutes more. Transfer the choux puffs to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely.
- MAKE THE FRIED SAGE LEAVES: Line a small plate with 2 paper towels. Heat the oil in an 8-inch/20 cm skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Drop 1 sage leaf into the oil to test it. If the leaf sizzles and fries to a crisp within 2 to 3 seconds, it’s done—if it doesn’t, then allow the pan to heat longer and test again.
- Fry the sage leaves 5 at a time for 2 to 3 seconds, or until crispy. Be careful, because the oil will pop as the moisture releases from the leaves. Transfer the crisp leaves to the paper towel–lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.
- MAKE THE APPLE FILLING: Toss the apples with the lemon juice and set aside. Combine the granulated and brown sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a saucepan. Stir in 1 cup/240 ml of water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the apples and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the apples are fork-tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Be careful not to cook the mixture too long or you’ll end up with applesauce. Allow the apple filling to cool to just warm or room temperature.
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a ¾-inch/2 cm opening with the apple mixture. Discreetly cut a slit in the sides of the cooled Cheddar puffs and fill them with the apple filling. Gently press the slits closed. Pile them high on a serving platter and garnish them with fried sage leaves, if desired.
- Serve the filled puffs immediately.
- The puffs can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container. Fill within 2 to 3 hours before serving; otherwise, you could end up with soggy puffs.
Heather’s Advice on HOW TO DICE APPLES
You don’t have to be a chef to have good knife skills. They’re helpful for home cooks and easy to learn. Try this technique I use for chopping apples. It’s efficient, and good to know if you have more than one apple to chop (such as the three needed in this recipe!).
Use a large chef’s knife to cut off the top and bottom of the apple so that each end has a flat surface. Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips of the skin off from top to bottom, working your way around the apple. After the apple is fully peeled, stand the fruit upright on a work surface and slice off the flesh in four pieces. Get as close to the core as possible when you cut. You’ll have two wide pieces and two narrow pieces. Discard the core.
Place the wide pieces cut-side down and slice them in half once. You should now have 6 similarly sized pieces of apple total. Cut a piece in half once, turn to the side, and cut once again. Holding the apple steady at one end, dice the apples into 1-inch/2.5 cm pieces, or finer if dicing apples for Apple-Stuffed Cheddar Puffs.