Gougeres for Chanukah

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There’s always a bagful of cheese-and-herb gougeres in my freezer. Everyone loves them – they’re basically small, savory cream puffs. When my family or company comes and I need a quick hors d’oeuvre, all I have to do is pop them into a hot oven and wait for a few minutes until they’re ready. My daughter Meredith eats them cold, straight from the freezer (but they’re much better hot and crispy).

Cheese-and-herb gougeres are a must for Hanukkah at our house. Not just because they are well-loved but because of the tradition of celebrating Judith, the ancient daughter of the High Priest, and her role in the Hanukkah story.

I am a mom of women and it was always important to me to emphasize the role women have played in Judaism. Every year when they were young I told them (and now the grandchildren) about Judith. The story may be somewhat apocryphal and we really don’t know exactly when it took place, but we know Judith was a strong, heroic woman who helped the Maccabee men. She fed Holofernes, the enemy general, lots of cheese and wine. When he fell asleep, she cut off his head with his sword, and his soldiers fled away. Because of her brave deed it has been tradition to eat cheese (and other dairy) on Hanukkah.

In our family we eat cheese-and-herb gougeres plain. When they’re hot they are spectacularly crunchy. But sometimes I want to be a little fancier so I cut them in half and stuff the insides with all sorts of fillings, mostly simple things like egg salad, chopped tomatoes and mashed avocado or easy mixtures like cream cheese plus blue cheese or yogurt plus chutney. I make a little bit of each filling so there’s variety. Stuffed gougeres are beautiful; the kind of hors d’oeuvre that look as if you fussed, but you didn’t actually have to.

Here’s the recipe for Cheese-and-Herb Gougeres, plus a few simple fillings to choose from.