French cheese puffs, known as gougères, start as a paste of water, butter, flour and eggs and finish as crisp, airy shells. Gougères make a delicious appetizer for almost any meal, paired with sips of a sparkling wine.

4 strips of thick-sliced bacon

½ cup whole milk

4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon sugar

1
/
8 teaspoon cayenne

1¼ cups bread flour, sifted

3 large eggs

1¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oven to 425. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat until crisp but not too dark. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, and reserve ¼ cup of the rendered fat. When the bacon is cool, chop to make ½ cup.

3. Bring the milk, ½ cup water, the butter, and the reserved bacon fat to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the salt, onion powder, sugar, and cayenne. Add the flour and, using a wooden spoon, stir very quickly in one direction. The flour will quickly absorb the liquid and form a dough. Continue stirring to cook the flour (and remove its “raw” taste) and simmer off more of the moisture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the saucepan, an additional minute or two.

4. Transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on medium speed until each is incorporated into the dough, which will change from shiny to sticky as the eggs are worked in. On low speed, stir in 1 cup of the Parmesan and the bacon until just combined.

6. Using a small ice cream scoop (about 2 inches in diameter), scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Top the gougères with an equal amount of the remaining ¼ cup Parmesan.

7. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm.

There are a few tips to keep in mind when making pâte à choux:

— When the gougères look done, make a couple of tiny holes in the top of the puffs, and leave them in a turned-off oven for another 10 minutes. This lets the internal steam escape, which makes them crispy and less likely to become soft over time. Cool gougères on a cake rack immediately after removing them from the oven.

— The basic recipe can easily be doubled. Cream puffs can be made a day ahead and packaged in airtight containers. Rewarm in a 250 degree oven for 10 minutes.

— Gougères freeze well. It might be fun to make extra so you can have some in your freezer for the next time you need a quick hors d’oeuvre. After baking, allow them to cool completely. Spread the gougères out on a baking sheet, cover the sheet with plastic wrap and freeze until they are firm. Then store them in sturdy plastic bags for several months.

— Adapted by The Miami Herald from “Down South — Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything” by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe (Clarkson-Potter $35)