Bonne idee: If you're looking for something lovely, simple, and light to serve as a little snack or starter, you may want to try gougeres.
Gougeres is French for cheese puffs (I think), which is exactly what these are--delicate puffs of air with a faintly cheesy background. Not heavy, not gooey, just right.
They require a pate a choux dough, a savory version of what you might use for their sweet cousin, the cream puff. If you've never made this dough, it's surprisingly simple. Bring some milk and butter to a boil, add flour, then eggs, and beat the life out of it (or into it, perhaps). Having a stand mixer is awfully nice for this recipe but you could do it with a hand mixer too.
I made gougeres once before, from a different cookbook, but which used pretty much an identical method. They also turned out wonderfully. I have a vague memory of that recipe calling for a bit of fresh thyme; that was a nice addition. That's one thing about gougeres: you can tweak them with herbs and cheese to get just the combination that suits your taste.
But Dorie's recipe, which is the one I used this time around, was simple and perfect. I opted for sharp cheddar, but next time I'll use Gruyere--I think that flavor might be a bit stronger, and I felt myself craving a cheesier essence.
In any event, give these a go--they're easy, delicious, and just a little bit impressive. Oh, and Dorie recommends you serve them with Champagne. Who am I to argue?
From Around My French Table
Makes about 36 gougeres
1/2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. water
8 T. unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 t. salt
1 c. flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. coarsely grated cheese, such as Gruyere or cheddar (about 6 oz.)
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425. Line two baking sheets with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.
Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a rapid oil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over high heat. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low, and immediately start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon or heavy whisk. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring--with vigor--for another minute or two to dry the dough. The dough should now be very smooth.
Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or into a bowl that you can use for mixing with a hand mixer or a wooden spoon and elbow grease. Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is shiny and thick. Make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next, and don't be concerned if the dough separates--by the time the last egg goes in, the dough will come together again. Beat in the grated cheese. Once the dough is made, it should be spooned out immediately.
Using about 1 T. of dough for each gougere, drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined sheets, leaving about 2 inches of puff space between the mounds. (You can also use a pastry bag or ziploc bag with the corner trimmed off to get fancier puffs, which is what I did before--this time around, I just spooned and dropped.)
Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the gougeres are golden, firm, and, yes, puffed, another 12-15 minutes or so. Serve warm, or transfer the pans to racks to cool.
Note: Dorie says that although the dough must be spooned out immediately, you can freeze the gougeres on a pan, unbaked, then bake the off at the last minute. No need to defrost, just give them a minute or two longer in the oven.