Many gougères are either dry, brittle, and bitter, or squishy, soft and gooey.
We wanted a perfect gougère with a crisp, caramel-colored exterior that yielded to a tender, slightly moist interior. And it should taste a little nutty from the browned cheese.
Gougères are little more than cheese-flavored cream puffs, prepared in a similar fashion from the same pâte à choux dough. We first analyzed the mixing technique, finding that using a food processor to incorporate the eggs into the heated dough (a paste formed from stirring water or milk, salt, and butter together in a saucepan) incorporated the eggs in record time, plus the puffs rose higher in the oven. We then focused on ingredients. Two parts water to 1 part milk and two whole eggs and an additional egg white yielded the most delicate texture, richest flavor, and golden color. Five tablespoons butter proved to be optimal, as did all-purpose flour. Good-quality Gruyère made all the difference (although Emmentaler or Swiss cheese can be substituted), and a pinch of cayenne pepper tasted just right. When we started to bake the dough, we soon found that small variations in oven temperature led to wildly different results in both color and texture. We needed a combination method of 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then 375 degrees for another 10 minutes to yield perfect initial results. Then, to make our puffs perfectly crisp but keep the interior a little softer, we pierced each puff with a paring knife and returned them to the cooling oven for just 10 minutes.