Good neighbors can be godsend, and we have some of the best.  Over the last 12 years that we’ve lived in our condo, we have been VERY fortunate to have some of the best neighbors, ever.  Whether or not it’s going downstairs for game night, asking a neighbor to climb into a windo, because you locked your keys inside (again), heading across the parking lot for dinner and a movie, or right across the landing for cocktails, Craig and I couldn’t have ever asked for a better group of neighbors, friends.

So when we were asked to come to dinner a few nights before Christmas, I wanted to make something special for an appetizer and dessert. (our contribution for dinner!)  So I came up with Cheese Puffs and Chocolate Eclairs.

Cheese Puffs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup whole milk
1 stick butter (cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
6 large eggs (at room temperature)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

Combine the flour with the salt, black pepper, thyme, chili powder, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl.

Put the milk and butter in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. When the butter melts, turn heat to low. Add the seasoned flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball. Remove from heat.

Separate the white and yolk from one egg, reserving the yolk for glazing.

Put the dough into a large mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed for one minute. Then beat in one egg and the extra egg white. Beat until completely absorbed into the dough. Then add the remaining 4 eggs, one at a time, waiting each time until the previous egg is completely absorbed. After all 5 eggs (plus the one egg white) have been incorporated, the dough should be smooth and satiny.

Add the Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses. Incorporate thoroughly into the dough.

Use a pastry bag to pipe dough onto 2 ungreased baking sheets. You can also drop dough from a teaspoon. For tiny puffs, mounds should be about 1/2 inch in diameter. From small appetizers, mounds should be 1 inch in diameter. For puffs large enough for filling, mounds should be 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Keep the size of the puffs uniform so they bake properly. Space puffs about 1 inch apart.

Beat the remaining egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of milk to make a glaze. Lightly brush the tops of the puffs with glaze before baking. Sprinkle tops with your Parmesan cheese.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 10 minutes (5 minutes for tiny puffs). Reduce heat to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Bake 10 minutes more for tiny puffs; 15 to 20 minutes longer for medium or large puffs, or until puffs are golden brown. Test by removing a puff from the oven and breaking it open. The inside should be baked through. If it is still doughy or wet, bake another 5 minutes.

Remove pans from oven and leave puffs on pans until cool enough to serve.

Chocolate Éclairs

While there are a lot of steps to these, they are relatively easy to make, and well worth the effort! Make the Pastry Cream first, and chill while making the éclair pastry.

Pastry Cream

2 cups milk
¼ cup white sugar
2 egg yolks
1 egg
¼ cup cornstarch
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan, stir together the milk and 1/4 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and egg. Stir together the remaining sugar and cornstarch; then stir them into the egg until smooth. When the milk comes to a boil, drizzle it into the bowl in a thin stream while mixing so that you do not cook the eggs. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly so the eggs don’ t curdle or scorch on the bottom.
When the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, remove from the heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla, mixing until the butter is completely blended in. Pour into a heat-proof container and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled before using.
Éclair Pastry

½ cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
6 ounces dark chocolate


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring until butter melts completely. Reduce heat to low, and add flour and salt. Stir vigorously until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and begins to form a stiff ball. Remove from heat. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well to incorporate completely after each addition. With a spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a No. 10, or larger, tip, spoon or pipe dough onto cookie sheet in 1 1/2 x 4 inch strips.

Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce heat to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and bake 20 minutes more, until hollow sounding when lightly tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack.
To Fill, Cut tops off of cooled pastry shells with a sharp knife. Fill shells with pastry cream and replace tops.
For the icing, melt the chocolate, remove from heat, cool slightly, and drizzle over filled éclairs. Refrigerate until serving.