Cheese Shortbread

MAKES: 30 to 40 puffs

TIME: 30 minutes

After just one of these crisp, melt-in-your-mouth snacks you’ll never want another of those bright orange cheese puffs (gougres). The dough can be made ahead of time or the shortbreads baked a day ahead and stored in an airtight container, making them ideal for parties.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cubed

2 cups grated Emmental, Gruyre, cheddar cheese, or other semihard cheese

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 tablespoon paprika (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400В°F. Put the butter, cheese, flour, egg, salt, and cayenne into a food processor and pulse, just until the mixture resembles coarse meal; do not overprocess. (You can also use a pastry blender or a fork to cut the mixture to the same consistency.) Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake the puffs or proceed.

Form the dough into 1-inch balls. Put the balls 2 inches apart in rows on a nonstick or lightly greased baking sheet. Slightly flatten each ball with your fingers.

Bake until the pastries are puffed and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack, then sprinkle with paprika and serve.

Variations

Blue Cheese Shortbread. All blue cheese makes the puffs an unattractive gray color; a half-and-half ratio still gives you that tangy blue cheese flavor and an appealing color: Substitute 1 cup crumbled blue cheese for a cup of the Emmental.

Pecorino Cheese Shortbread. Add Italian sheep cheese for great, tangy flavor: Substitute 1 cup each grated pecorino and Parmesan for the Emmental.

Herbed Cheese Shortbread. A simple addition: Add 1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs like parsley, chives, dill, and/or basil, with a little tarragon.

Spiced Cheese Shortbread. A pinch of spice changes everything. Use 2 to 3 teaspoons garam masala or hot curry powder (to make your own, see Hot Curry Powder) for an Indian flair, caraway for an Eastern European flavor, or toasted cumin seeds for a North African twist.