October 26, 2009

Pear & Gorgonzola Crostata

I have to be honest, this pear crostata is really the last thing on my mind. I am currently living in a complete state of disarray, with all of my belongings thrown askew, boxes stacked up to my ears, and paint fumes clouding my brain. Don't you just love the joys of moving? I actually had plans to make many more recipes  than I did before my time here in New York expired, but sometimes you have to set your priorities, and in this case, it would be preparing for a 1,500 mile move half way across the country. And even though I may not be thinking about the crostata as a whole, I have thought often about it's crust. During the course of this week's moving preparations, when I have often felt stressed or overwhelmed, I've let my mind wander to this happy place of butter and flaky goodness. 

The downsides of living in a New York apartment are pretty obvious; they are small and stupidly overpriced. Another disadvantage would be the poor air circulation due to the lack of central air conditioning (the fact of which still astounds me being from Texas and all- central air conditioning is vital to survival there). Simply heating the oven turns my apartment into my own personal sauna. So with my oven set to 450 degrees, I was fairly certain that my attempt to turn out a flaky pastry crust was doomed from the get go. However, I managed to somehow create one of the flakiest crusts I've had the pleasure of wrapping my lips around. I can't take all the credit of course- this isn't my recipe- but still, I was happy to pat myself on the back. 

The crust was really, to my dismay, the only truly memorable part of this particular recipe however. I have often heard that pears and blue cheese are a natural flavor pairing, but the gorgonzola was a little too overpowering in this recipe for my liking. If you are a big fan of blue cheese, however, then this recipe is certainly for you! If I were to make this again, I would definitely decrease the amount of cheese, perhaps halve it even. Or maybe I would replace the gorgonzola all together, with say, some currents? Now, Im sure this is really my job to take the initiative to perfect a recipe such as this one, but there are too many other dishes I am desperate to try! 

Pear Crostata with Honey, Gorgonzola, and Almonds 
Recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence

4 pears, halved, cored, but not peeled
3 to 4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons honey
4 ounces gorgonzola, crumbled
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 recipe Basic Pie Pastry, chilled 30 minutes (recipe below)
1 egg, beaten with a drizzle of cold water
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Arrange the pears, cut sides up, on a baking sheet and dot with butter. Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the pears are just tender. Let cool.

3. Increase the oven heat to 450 degrees F.

4. Sprinkle the counter and a rolling pin lightly with flour. Roll the dough out to a 14-inch round, about 1/4-inch thick. It doesn't have to be perfect. Transfer the dough to the back of a lightly floured baking sheet. Slice the pears and arrange them on the dough round by overlapping the slices in a spiral fashion, leaving a 2-inch border all around. Drizzle with the honey, scatter blue cheese over the top, and sprinkle with the almonds.

5. Brush the border with the egg wash. Bring the edge of crust over onto the filling, leaving the fruit exposed in center. Gently fold and pinch the dough to seal any cracks. Brush the crust with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle with the sugar. Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender. Slide a knife under the crostata to loosen it from the pan. Then cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Basic Pie Pastry: 


2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 lemon, zested and finely grated
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

1. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. 

2. Add the egg yolk and ice water and work that in with your hands. (Or do the whole thing in a food processor, pulsing a couple of times to combine the dry ingredients, then pulsing in the butter, and then the egg.) Check the consistency of the dough by squeezing a small amount together between thumb and forefingers: You want there to be just enough moisture to bind the dough so that it holds together without being too wet or sticky. If it's still crumbly, add a little more ice water, 1 teaspoon at a time.

3. When you get it to the right consistency, shape the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic. Put it in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Serves 6-8

October 20, 2009

Roasted Root Vegetables

Well, I think it's pretty safe to say that fall is officially in full swing. I can't speak for the rest of the country, but up here in the northeast the leaves are beginning to change from green to gold and crimson, fluttering to the ground, and the crisp autumn air has brought about the first chill of the season. I absolutely love this time of year. It's by far my favorite season, and I am grateful that I have the chance to experience one last bona fide fall. (For those of you out of the loop, I am returning to my southern roots in one short week). Growing up in Texas, we never really had four true and distinct seasons. It was more of a hot and cold thing. No gradual temperature changes to ease you into the next quarter of the year. Although, there are some years where the cold part never really even presents itself- I have worn flip-flops through many a December. However, I actually enjoy that barefoot in the winter feeling. After one winter here in New York, I quickly learned that I am with out a doubt a warm weather girl. So while I'm enjoying this brisk breeze here in the Big Apple, I am a wee bit relieved to be skipping out of town before the brutal and bitter cold comes blowing in.

This time of year brings about so many cold weather cravings. Sipping hot coco by a flickering fire, warming the soul with a bowl of hearty stew or a slice of apple pie, tearing into a tender braise... There are so many delicious fall recipes that I can't wait to try! Now, I'm sure your wondering, with all the endless possibilities of sumptuous autumn dishes at my disposal, why would I select root vegetables? Well, I have to tell you, they are actually pretty delicious- in their own way of course, I mean it's no pumpkin pie, but what do you expect? I was introduced to a variation of this recipe in one of my cooking classes I took at Central Market a couple years ago. On a side note, can I just say how frickin' excited I am to go shopping at that food mecca again! It's like Christmas every time I step inside those doors. I'm getting way too excited just thinking about it...

A combination of various root vegetables, roasted in the oven for a good, long hour, lends a surprisingly satisfying dish. The vegetables develop a nice caramelized exterior, providing a rich and more complex flavor. The great thing about this recipe is that it's really more of a template- the outcome is equally as tasty no matter what assortment of vegetables you might decide to use. I settled upon a variety of root vegetables that would lend an array of colors, because like I've said before, visual appeal is just as important as the taste. 

So important in fact, that I ventured out in the pouring rain to Dean & Deluca and spent $6 for one pound of purple potatoes. Now those are some expensive spuds! But I just love the color of purple potatoes, especially when you cut into them, revealing this vibrant, rich, and regal hue. Of course, such painstaking measures are not necessary in order to produce a colorful variation of this recipe. The original recipe I learned at Central Market actually used regular new potatoes and provided a splash of color with green and red bell peppers. My version of the recipe is below, but feel free to use any vegetable that suits your tastes, or perhaps ones that don't necessitate a trip out in the rain. 

Roasted Root Vegetables

1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
1 lb baby purple potatoes, quartered (or purple fingerling potatoes halved)
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 fennel bulb, center core removed, and cut into chunks
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1/2 lb cipollini onions, outer skin removed
1 bunch radishes, outer edges trimmed
1 head of garlic, separated into individual cloves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano 
1/4 cup olive oil
salt & pepper 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

2. In a large bowl, toss all vegetables together with the chopped herbs and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

3. Spread the vegetables out on a large roasting pan and roast in the oven for 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.

Makes 6-8 servings

October 15, 2009

Wasabi and Panko Crusted Chilean Sea Bass

As I've embarked on this new endeavor of mine, I've learned that recipes are similar to life itself; they don't always turn out as you've planned. Even with careful preparation, the outcome can always be unexpected. This recipe for wasabi and Panko crusted Chilean sea bass was something I thought up while snacking on wasabi peas late one night. I felt pretty confident that the pungent tang of the wasabi would be a nice compliment to a delicate, flaky fish. My second thought was to offset the wasabi's piquant flavor with a sweet accompaniment. I wanted this dish to be centered around Asian flavors and maintain a healthy profile so I concocted a low-fat yogurt sauce made with honey, ginger, lemon, and soy sauce. I was pretty certain that the sweet and tangy flavor components of this dish would blend harmoniously. 

Last May, on a whim, I decided to create a couple recipes to submit to Cooking Light with the ultimate hopes of winning the $20,000 prize (a pipe dream, sure, but hey, someone has to win!). Well, I learned pretty quickly that recipe development was quite a time consuming process, much to do with the trial and error procedure that is often necessary. So I guess it shouldn't have been such a surprise when my Chilean sea bass didn't turn out as I had hoped my first time around. Interestingly enough, the zing from the wasabi, the central flavor this dish was based upon, completely disappeared after being introduced to the heat of the stove. The fish was almost flavorless, an unexpected result that I found odd. So after a sufficient amount of research (and by that I mean googling), I found out that most of the taste in wasabi is really located in the vapors (the ones that sting the nostrils much like wasabi's close relatives horseradish and hot mustard) which can easily evaporate, causing loss of flavor- a decent explanation for the outcome of my sea bass. 

I guess the point I'm trying to make is this: there is a learning curve involved with recipe development or even just cooking in itself. I still feel like my wasabi and Panko crusted sea bass is a winning dish, or at least that it has the potential to be- it just needs a few tweaks here and there. I debated on whether or not to blog about this particular culinary travail with all of you, however, I think it's important to share both the triumphs and tribulations I encounter here in my kitchen. I have some ideas in mind on how I can improve on this dish. I'm going to mark this recipe as a work in progress and I'll follow up with a second edition here in the near future. Stay tuned!

October 10, 2009

Banana Nut Bread

I am, without a doubt, my mother's daughter. I am like her in so many ways, it's frightening. One of my favorite traits that I've inherited from my mom, is my undeniable desire to always play the role of the hostess. Not that I'm perpetually throwing fabulous dinner parties (though I see plenty of those in my near future), no, it's more about playing that "Suzy Homemaker" role and accommodating my guests. So when I received the joyous news that my best friend was coming to visit me in New York for a long weekend, I of course felt the urgent need to bake something from scratch- something that we could nibble on in the mornings when we were too, um... tired (certainly not hungover) to go out and grab breakfast. I always enjoy trying different bread recipes, but banana bread is by far my favorite. It's hard not to like it; banana bread is one of those classic, comforting crowd pleasers. 

I go through these phases where I become obsessed with a particular type of food. Last winter it was coconut macaroons, this summer, barbecue. This past spring, however, it was all things banana. I think it all began with that fateful first bite of banana cake from Billy's Bakery. Seriously, I can not stress enough to you the divine essence of this cake. No joke, it made me weak in the knees, most likely due to the pillow of cream cheese frosting that sat upon it. If any of you reading this are from the New York area, you MUST go to this bakery. (I actually think their plain vanilla cupcakes are better than the ones at Magnolia, hands down). Anyways, throughout the course of my banana obsessed phase, I made several versions of banana bread- I don't know if I've ever actually made the same recipe twice. I guess I've been searching for that one perfect recipe, the one that beckons me every time I feel the craving for homemade banana bread coming on. 

Now, I wish I could say that my quest for the perfect banana bread was over. But if I'm going to be completely honest with you, and I will always try to be, I'll have to admit that chances are, I will be googling "banana bread recipes" again at some point. Don't get me wrong, the recipe below is definitely worth trying. It has a chewy, sweet crust and dense, moist center, with plenty of banana flavor to go around. It was incredibly easy to make too, which is always a bonus. Maybe the problem doesn't lie within this particular recipe at all, or any of the other banana bread recipes I've tried this year for that matter. Maybe the issue here is that the banana cake from Billy's Bakery has set the bar too high, at heavenly standards, and perhaps, I should bring my expectations back down to, say, a humanly accessible level. 

Banana Nut Bread
Recipe adapted from All Recipes

Tip: This bread is better the day after it's baked.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup, plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (try substituting 3/4 cup of whole wheat flour for a healthier option)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp, plus 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I used a mixture of both)

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan with the 1 tablespoon of butter.  In a small ramekin, mix together the 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon. Sprinkle the  buttered loaf pan liberally with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. 

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and bananas. In a separate, smaller bowl, sift together the sugars, flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture and stir to combine. Add the nuts and stir again.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake 1 hour and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until an inserted cake tester comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes.

Makes 12 servings

October 7, 2009

Savory Pumpkin Soup

Every year, as the beginning of October rolls around, my annual craving for pumpkin kicks in, as if by instinct. This year, my hankering for pumpkin seems particularly strong. Besides actually loving the flavor of pumpkin, I now have another reason to feast on the orange flesh of this winter squash. I learned earlier this week that pumpkin, or more specifically the pepitas (or seeds) are, according to Mexican folklore, know to cure freckles! If I would have known that earlier in life, you can guarantee that I would have eaten a handful of pepitas everyday!  So in hoping that the pumpkin itself will lend the same skin transforming benefits, I have made quite a long list of pumpkin flavored treats to make over the next couple of months- I hope most of you enjoy this fall favorite as much as I do! To kick things off, I decided to begin the pumpkin-palooza with a savory soup recipe. 

I've actually made a version of this soup before, two Thanksgivings ago, and it seemed to be a pretty big hit. This time around, however, I changed up the recipe a bit by adding in a couple more ingredients- parsnip, turnip, white wine, and a touch of brown sugar- to give it more depth of flavor. Those of you unfamiliar with cooking with pumpkins, sugar pumpkins are best for food related purposes.  They work well in both savory or sweet recipes, pairing nicely with either rosemary, salty cheeses, and mushrooms, or honey, maple, and cinnamon. When buying sugar pumpkins, look for ones that are firm, feel heavy for their size, and have dull, not glossy skin. 

Last time, I prepared the soup using a food processor, a perfectly fine method, but I'm always looking for excuses to buy myself a new toy for the kitchen! Currently living in New York City has me on a pretty tight budget, but I felt I could justify the purchase of a new kitchen gadget, in this case a food mill, because one of my goals of this blog is to learn and implement new techniques and I figure this will hardly be the only time I use it- an investment in my culinary future! The purpose of a food mill is to properly puree the soup, making for a much smoother texture, but if you prefer a thicker soup, I would use the food processor (a blender or hand blender would work well too) approach.  Just note though, if you do decide to use a food mill, and you have one with various sized disks (fine, medium and coarse), stick with the medium. I goofed and used the fine disc and my soup was a little thin for my liking. 

I will admit that the garnish for this soup wasn't completely my idea. I stole the concept from an episode of Iron Chef America (best show ever!). I don't remember exactly what garnish was used, but I do know it sparked the idea for what I use here in this recipe: chives, shiitake mushrooms, and... bacon. (Do they have rehab groups for bacon addicts? Hi, I'm Karlie and I'm a pork-a-holic.) This year I also decided to add a drizzle of goat cheese cream. It's definitely not essential to the dish, but I think it adds a nice color contrast and hits on another note of flavor. Also, it might interest some of you to know that this soup freezes particularly well.  Skip the last step of adding in the cream, and store in air tight containers in the freezer for up to two months. Add the cream when reheating over a medium-high stove top. I think this soup makes for a great way to start a Thanksgiving meal, but it's also a great way to begin the fall season.

Savory Pumpkin Soup

1 small sugar pumpkin, halved, seeds and stringy fibers removed and reserved
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1/2 cup water
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 small parsnip (about 3 ounces), peeled and coarsely chopped
1 apple, peeled and coarsely chopped* (see note) 

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 small turnip (about 3 ounces), peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 white onion
1 small shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)* (see note)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon packed light-brown sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste 

(garnish and goat cheese drizzle below)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pumpkin halves, cut sides down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until soft, about 50 minutes. Scoop out flesh, and puree in a food processor (you should have 2 cups).

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add reserved seeds and fibers from pumpkin, and cook for 4 minutes. Add stock, water, and thyme, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 9 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin puree, parsnip, apple, carrots, turnip, and onion, and cook for 5 minutes. Add shallots, and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add wine, and cook until liquid has reduced by half, about 4-5 minutes.

Strain pumpkin-seed mixture, reserving broth and discarding solids. Add broth to pumpkin-wine mixture. Bring to a simmer; cook 20 minutes. Let cool for 45 minutes to an hour.

Pass soup through a food mill into a clean saucepan, or puree in a food processor in small batches until smooth. (If soup does not reach desired consistency using a food processor, press it through a fine sieve to remove any remaining lumps.) 

Heat soup in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in cream, sugar, salt, and pepper, ladle into individual bowls, and top with garnish (below).

For the garnish and goat cheese drizzle:

6 slices of center-cut bacon, chopped
10 oz shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1/4 chives, minced
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 oz goat cheese
salt and pepper
a dash of nutmeg

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat; add the bacon and saute until crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate topped with paper towels, reserving the grease in the pan. Add the mushrooms and saute until browned and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pan, place in a shallow bowl, add the bacon, and mix to combine.

Meanwhile, heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, and reduce by half. Add the goat cheese and stir until combined. Season the cream mixture with salt and pepper to taste, and add just a dash of nutmeg. 

Garnish each bowl with about a tablespoon of bacon-mushroom mixture, a teaspoon of chopped chives, and teaspoon or two of the goat cheese cream mixture. Serve immediately. 

Makes 6 to 8 servings

*Note: I used a Honey Crisp apple, a sweeter variety as compared to ones like the Granny Smith. Also, instead of using both an onion and a shallot, one could use a whole white onion, skipping the shallot all together. I just happen to like the mild, garlicky flavor shallots tend to have. 

October 5, 2009

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Pistachios

After nearly 25 years of life, I have never actually tried a brussels sprout. They have quite a bad reputation, as I'm sure you know. Since childhood, most people have it drilled into their heads that brussels sprouts are vile, disgusting vegetables; ones that should not be trusted. I guess most would consider me lucky that my mom didn't force them upon my brother and I while growing up. However, I think this has only fueled the fire of my ever growing curiosity. I wanted to know why the majority of Americans had such a disdain for these leafy green veggies. Over the past couple years, as I've poured over my monthly issues of various food magazines, I've come across several recipes for brussels sprouts. I mean, if Gourmet Magazine deems them worthy enough to make the cut, how bad can they really be?

This particular recipe I've selected to try is by Dan Barber of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, both prestigious restaurants in the New York area (some of you foodies might recognize the name from an episode of Top Chef). Dan Barber is most well known for his simple approach to food, highlighting the natural flavors of produce by bringing fresh farm goods directly to the table. The trick to getting a tasty brussels sprout, I  believe, is making sure to cook them correctly. Over cooking brussels sprouts results in the bitter, unpleasant taste that I'm sure many of you associate them with.  

Bon Appetit gave some good advice on a couple different ways brussels sprouts can be prepared in order to accentuate their sweet, nutty flavor. Cutting a small X in the stem of each sprout before boiling them in salted water, helps to ensure that the interior cooks in the same amount of time as the exterior, thus preventing over cooking. They can also be blanched, whole, before being sliced and sauteed in butter or fat. As a third option, the technique implemented for this recipe, the leaves can be separated from their cores, and briefly sauteed just until tender. So maybe before you decide to stick to your original opinion of brussels sprouts, give one of the above methods a try. Of course, when in doubt, do as I did: saute the little suckers in some bacon fat- it may not help to highlight the natural flavor of brussels sprouts, but it sure doesn't hurt it. 

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Pistachios 
Recipe adapted from Dan Barber, courtesy of Bon Appetit

A dish to convert all the Brussels sprout haters. By cooking the sprouts only briefly, you preserve their great nutty flavor. This side pairs nicely with roasted rack of lamb or whole chicken.

5 slices of bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 1/2 pounds of brussels sprouts, leaves separated from cores (about 8 cups), cores discarded
3/4 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Saute bacon pieces in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove bacon and place on a plate topped with paper towel to remove excess grease. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of bacon grease from pan and add the 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil. Add shallot and stir 20 seconds. Add Brussels sprout leaves and pistachios, and sauté until leaves begin to soften but are still bright green, about 3 minutes. Add bacon bits and drizzle with lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and serve.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

October 1, 2009


Gougères... how can I describe these? To the eye, they appear to be some kind of dinner roll, but once they are torn into, that resemblance disappears. The inside of a gougère (pronounced goo-jhair) is impossibly airy and light, yet rich and full of flavor. One might could call them portable souffles, but I guess that's kind of a stretch. Honestly, I only just heard of these for the first time a couple of months ago. Bon Appétit did an article on them last spring and the author described them in such an eloquent way and had such a beautiful story to explain her love affair with them, that of course I just had to try them. She had discovered them in a small boulangerie while vacationing with her mom in the French countryside. They feasted on them daily while driving around and stopping off at all the local vineyards. I wish I could say my first experience with gougères had the same romantic appeal, unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead, my first time tasting one was at Artisanal, a well known French restaurant here in NYC. They were good- nothing to shout from the roof tops about, but still- they were delicate, with a crisp exterior and wispy center- the mark of a good gougère.

From my experience, making any type of edible item that is identified by a light and airy texture, requires lots of time and patience... and room for error. Well fear not my friends. Gougères are extremely easy to make, almost ridiculously so. It literally took all of 10 minutes to throw them together, and all of the ingredients, with the exception of the gruyere, I already had on hand. The process of making this rich, eggy dough (proper name: pâte à choux) may sound a little unusual, however, it's the same technique used to make profiteroles and eclairs. In fact, the only difference between a gougère and an eclair is that cheese (and a little salt and pepper) is added to the pâte à choux (pronounced shoe) at the very end. So feel free to follow the recipe below (eliminating the cheese) should you have the sudden urge to bake up a batch of homemade profiteroles. However, I prefer my pâte à choux on the savory side, shot through with a healthy helping of gruyere.

Classic Gougères
Recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit

1 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
4 large eggs, chilled
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyere cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Position one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 400 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Bring 1 cup water, butter, and salt to a simmer in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat, whisking until butter melts. Add flour; stir rapidly with wooden spoon until flour absorbs liquid and forms a ball, pulling away from the sides of the pan. Stir vigorously until film forms on bottom of pan and dough is no longer sticky, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Remove pan from heat; cool dough 2 to 3 minutes. Using electric mixer, beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in cheese and pepper.

Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of dough onto baking sheets, spacing about 3 inches apart. Using a damp fingertip, press down any peaks of dough.

Bake gougères until golden brown, about 30 minutes, reversing position of pans halfway through baking. Using a small, sharp knife, pry open 1 gougère to check for doneness (center should be slightly eggy and moist). Serve hot or warm. They can also be made 3 hours ahead and rewarmed in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

Makes 2 dozen 1 1/2 inch gougères