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A French Classic for St. Patrick's Day

For a person of Irish descent, you think I'd get more worked up over St. Patrick's Day than I do. Oh sure, I'm quite proud of my Irish roots. I took Irish step-dancing lessons, and even had a regulation curly wig for competitions (that's as far as I'll go into that matter). I also enjoy drinking beer as much as the next person (hold the green dye, please), but for some reason St. Patrick's Day has never been one of my favorite holidays.

This is probably because I've never lived in a place that was given to celebrating with any gusto. If I had grown up in, say, Boston, I might have a different perspective. As it happens, though, I've lived in sleepy towns all my life. A St. Patrick's Day celebration would have been far too exciting for most of us.

Now that I'm a bit older, though, I don't really need much of an excuse to want to throw a shindig for some close friends. St. Patrick's Day? Let's whip up some Shepherd's Pie and get this show on the road! As if we really need excuses to enjoy good food with our friends. But if you do need an excuse, this is a good one, and these little cheese puff pastries make excellent pre-dinner companions to big, frothy glasses of stout.

Gougères are French pastries made with choux paste (the same stuff éclairs are made of), but instead of being sweet, they are savory and cheesy and wonderful. They make perfect bite-sized snacks, and while I've heard they go well with champagne, they're even better with dark beer. To make these a bit more, well, Irish, we used Irish cheddar and stout in our gougères.

These are not at all difficult to make, but be sure to have all your ingredients laid out and ready to go before you get started. I like to use my stand mixer to beat in the eggs, but you can use a wooden spoon if you don't have a mixer. Just be sure to completely beat in each egg before adding another.

Other articles you might enjoy: Kale and Parmesan Scones, Nettle Champ

Stout and Irish Cheddar Gougères
Makes about 48 puffs

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Place your oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Have ready:
           1 cup all-purpose flour
Combine in a large saucepan:
           1/2 cup whole milk
           1/2 cup stout beer
           1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into small pieces
Bring the mixture to a full boil. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. The mixture will look rough at first but it will suddenly become smooth, at which point you should stir faster. The butter may ooze out, which is fine; it simply means that the moisture is evaporating. In a few minutes, the paste will become dry and not cling to the spoon or the sides of the pan, and when the spoon is pressed on it lightly, it will leave a smooth imprint. Do not overcook or overstir at this point or the dough will fail to puff. Transfer to a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and let cool for 5 minutes.
Add one at a time, with a wooden spoon, beating rigorously after each addition or on medium speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment:
           4 large eggs, at room temperature
When the last of the eggs is incorporated, beat in:
           1 cup grated Irish cheddar (4 ounces)
The dough should be smooth and shiny. At this point, you may refrigerate the dough for up to 4 hours before using, if you like.
Scoop the paste into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip, and pipe small (about 1 inch wide and 1 inch high) balls onto lined baking sheets, spacing them a couple inches apart. Sprinkle with:
           About 1/2 cup grated Irish cheddar (2 ounces)
           (Ground black pepper)
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350˚F, rotate the baking sheets, and bake until brown and firm, 10 to 15 minutes more.

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