These Everything Bagel-Spiced Cheese Puffs Are My New Favorite Snack-etizer

I dare you not to eat 100 of them.

December 11, 2018

We've partnered with Real California Milk to bring you a snack-meets-appetizer recipe that's perfect for holiday entertaining. Featuring California Cheddar and Gouda, these light and airy cheese puffs have an everything bagel-inspired twist.

Put a plate of snacks or appetizers in front of me and they will eventually disappear. From tangy yogurt ranch with vegetable dunkers to parmesan-turmeric crackers perfect for dipping, I've never met a cheesy nibble I didn't like. But lately there is one snack-etizer, which is what I call bite-sized food that's easy enough to make for a snack yet impressive enough to serve as a party appetizer, that stands far above the rest. It's also especially well-primed for all of the festive gatherings you'll be throwing (and attending) this holiday season since it can be made in big batches and endlessly riffed upon, depending on what you're craving.

Enter: Chef and Chopped champion Palak Patel's cheese puffs.

These aren't your average cheese puffs, nor are they the round, bright orange cheese balls you might be envisioning. These cheese puffs are special. Why? Well, for starters they were inspired by a combination of Patel's childhood in Atlanta (where biscuits reign supreme), the expansion of her "cheese palate" while living in Northern California, and the bagels of New York City (where she lives now). On paper, they're quite similar to gougères (French cheese puffs often filled with gruyère), but in reality they're so much more.

Photo by Rocky Luten

"I thought, okay, well I can do cheese and my take on a biscuit, but then I also work with a lot of spices," says Patel. "I'm Indian and when I can elevate a dish and bring a new way to use spices, that's an amazing time to go digging through my cabinet." So she started with the pâte à choux dough (a simpler-than-it-sounds mix of flour, eggs, butter, and water) she learned in culinary school and began experimenting with different fillings and spices.

The winning combination: that same light, pillowy dough with grated cheddar and gouda cheese mixed in, and an everything bagel-inspired seasoning baked on top; the spice blend includes a mix of the poppy seeds, white and black sesame seeds, and dried minced onion that are typical for an everything bagel seasoning, and throws in nigella seed (which has an oregano-like, almost oniony taste) for a little extra flair. The result is a warm, soft bite of cheesy goodness and warm spices that comes together in under an hour (making them my go-to choice for a festive get-togethers!), and even sooner if you do one easy step in advance.

If I've convinced you to make these for your next big holiday party or just for snacking on in blissful solitude, here are Patel's best tips for making sure these cheesy puffs come out perfectly:

  • Stir, stir, stir! When you're cooking off the dough in the saucepan, you pretty much never want to stop stirring. It's especially important when you're adding the flour to the water; you want them to get completely incorporated. You'll only need to continuously stir for a few minutes (until a dough ball forms in the pan), but "you have to watch it and be very attentive to it," says Patel.
  • Keep the dough handy in the fridge. The beauty of this dough is that you can actually make it two days before you want to bake it (or even fry it, if you want) and store it in the fridge in the meantime. Patel says that she also tried freezing the dough, but probably wouldn't recommend it.
  • Mix up the spices and fillings. "This batter is like a blank canvas," says Patel, meaning you can put just about anything you want in it. For a vegetarian-friendly twist, add fresh or dried herbs and your favorite cheese; for something spicy and meaty, mix in bits of chorizo or bacon and smoked paprika.
  • No piping bag? No problem. Unless you're an avid baker, there's a good chance you won't have a piping bag lying around (I don't). Don't worry! Just cut a small corner of a zip-top bag and "pipe" away; hold the bag perpendicular to the baking sheet and apply even pressure to pipe a small amount of dough onto the baking sheet.

More Easy, Cheesy Wonders

You can't go wrong with a plate of these easy, cheesy everything bagel-spiced puffs! In partnership with Real California Milk, representing exceptional dairy products made with 100% milk from California dairy families, we're excited to share simple and delicious ways to celebrate the holiday season.

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Erin Alexander is the Brand Partnerships Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.