In pre-nineteenth-century cookbooks, these little fritters are called pets de putain. I have been unable to pinpoint the moment—certainly early—during the nineteenth century at which, with a somewhat irreverent insouciance, they were distinguished by the more respectable title of pets de nonne, the largest of the lot being attributed, traditionally, to the Mother Superior.
The mixture is an ordinary pâte à choux, the same that, baked in various forms, is transformed into éclairs, profiterolles, gateau St.-Honoré, etc. One of its more attractive forms is that of the Burgundian gougère (3 ounces Gruyère cut into tiny cubes replacing the sugar and grated peel of this recipe; dabs arranged in a circle with a spoon or pastry bag, the crown sprinkled with more Gruyère cubes, and the batter baked at 400° for about 40 minutes, pierced regularly with a knife tip after ½ hour to permit the interior to dry out).
Both the drying of the paste over the fire and the incorporation of the eggs is tiring arm work. If, after the mixture begins to achieve a certain consistency, the handle of the wooden spoon, standing vertically, is grasped in one’s fist, forearm held horizontally in relation to the spoon handle, the movement coming from one’s shoulder as one stirs firmly, rhythmically in a circle, the forearm will suffer less from fatigue.