Cheese Puffs

Wylie Dufresne is one of the most inspiring chefs working today. We first met at Madrid Fusión in 2003, and we’ve been close friends ever since. He’s one of those relatively unsung heroes of the culinary world; he may not be as well known as Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adrià, but few chefs working today have done as much to push the Modernist movement forward. Wylie has been deeply influential for many chefs, myself included, because he has pushed more boundaries in the kitchen than just about anyone else cooking today.

Wylie was a great help to us when we were working on Modernist Cuisine. Many of the recipes in our book were adapted from, or inspired by, recipes and techniques published by other chefs in their own books. Wylie doesn’t have a book (at least not yet). But he graciously sent us many of his recipes and worked with us to accurately convey the techniques behind them. Wylie also generously donated his time to serve as an expert reviewer for several of the chapters, including chapter 13 on Thickeners and chapter 14 on Gels. Wylie is certainly one of the better-represented Modernist chefs in our book precisely because so many of his recipes have inspired Nathan, Max, and me. The recipe for Cheese Puffs below is just one small example.

—Chris Young, coauthor of Modernist Cuisine



Tips and Substitutions:

For the Cheddar Cheese Water:

  • Making an infusion is just like making a cup of tea. Modern menus may refer to them as tisanes, tinctures, concoctions, or tonics, but they are all made by steeping an ingredient in a liquid to extract the flavor.
  • We like to start with cold water, rather than pouring hot water over the componant when making the infusion. Warming them together in a low-temperature water bath infuses the flavors without risking overextraction and bitterness.
  • We like the classic taste of cheddar in our cheese puffs, but the recipe for cheese water can be made with any kind of cheese, and this flavored water has many uses. We’ve used Gruyère water, for example, in caramels that me make for dinners we hold at the lab.
  • Keep the infused water sealed until you are ready to use it; otherwise, evaporation and oxidation may spoil it.

For the Thin Cheddar Cheese Sauce:

  • Simmering the cheese sauce after incorporating the grated cheese is crucial in forming a smooth emulsion. If you skip this step, you risk ending up with a grainy, broken liquid.
  • Check the pH of the cheese sauce to get some indication of its stability. The sauce in this recipe should have a pH close to 5.9.
  • If the pH is higher than 5.9, you can lower it by add additional emulsifying salts (sodium citrate or sodium phosphate).
  • Pour the cheese sauce into a lightly oiled mold, and refrigerate it covered until you are ready to use it. Covering the cheese tightly prevents a skin from forming on the surface.
  • This is a very versatile sauce that can be served either warm or cold. You may want to make extra for use in other recipes.

For the Cheese Puffs:

  • Puffed snacks are foams that have set into solid form. The first step in making any puffed snack it to create a dense starch gel and to partially dehydrate it. When the gel is deep-fried, the residual water expands 1,600 times in volume as it turns to steam, forming bubbles in the gel that harden when cooked.
  • The most important factor in whether a food will puff is its final water content, which must be 12% to 14% by weight. Any less, and you don’t get much puff; there just isn’t enough water to turn into steam. Any more, and the excess water interferes with heating the food, so the puff peters out.

One Response to “Cheese Puffs”

  1. Dave Kliman says:

    to achieve the 12%-14% water by weight, does it make sense to weigh before drying out and figure the new weight that the tray with the drying cheese would be at if at that level and then weigh every so often?

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