Perhaps I should have been a little less confident in my ability to turn out a successful gougère on the first try. I’ve made pâte à choux pastries in the past—cream puffs, profiteroles and éclairs—and they had always turned light, puffy and eggy, but this week their savory cousin was proving troublesome.
I knew that as I stirred like mad to mix the flour into the boiling water and butter it would transform from gelatinous goop into a glossy ball. I knew to stir the hot dough fast enough so the raw eggs wouldn’t cook when I added them. I knew not to be alarmed when the eggs seemed like they’d never incorporate into the dough. Nonetheless, it took four tries and three recipes to get my gougères right.
After the second batch failed, I convinced myself the third time would be the charm. I even texted Sam with an air of pre-triumphal joy, evident in an emoticon: “Guess what…gougeres failed AGAIN! Time to try batch #3. J ” When batch #3 failed, I started to panic. Which of the four recipes tabbed on my Safari browser should I try next? What if I had to try each of the four recipes before I finally successfully made gougeres? Did I really care this much about gougères? Wasn’t I tired of butter and eggs and cheese? Faced with such formidable questions, I did what many a flustered soul has done: I took a walk to clear my mind (and buy more butter, eggs and cheese).
Sunshine, a steep hill and burst of wind swept the doubts from my mind, making room for a new strategy. Using Michael Ruhlman’s ratio for pâte à choux as a guide, I compared the ingredients in two of the recipes I was considering trying. Except for variation in spices, the recipe ratios were identical. Armed with the ratio (and more butter and eggs and cheese) and the method I’d gleaned from various recipes, I tried making gougères a fourth time.
At last, they were successful. The batter was finally the right consistency and within minutes of putting them in the oven, they puffed into crisp, golden balls. The gougère was still steaming when I bit into the crackly crust encasing a moist, eggy interior. The sharp cheese flavor was balanced by the sweet scent of nutmeg and bite of black pepper. You’d think after making four batches of gougères I’d swear off pâte à choux for at least a few months, but now I’m eager put the ratio to the test again. Cream puffs, anyone?
Ratio for pâte à choux: 2 parts water : 1 part butter : 1 part flour : 2 parts egg (+ cheese)
The ratio is from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio, p 45. The instructions are my synthesis of the many gougère recipes I’ve read and tried.
8 oz. water (1 cup)
4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick)
4 oz. flour (1 scant cup)
8 oz. eggs (4 large eggs or 1 cup beaten raw eggs)
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
6 oz. (1.5 cups) grated gruyere, parmesan, sharp cheddar (or a mixture)
Make the Gougères
- Prepare. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Mis en place: measure all ingredients and line them up so they’re within reach and ready when you need them.
- Make the Dough. Heat the water and butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon and bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as it boils and the butter has melted, add the flour. Stir like mad to incorporate the flour into the liquid. The dough will move from gelatinous goop to a shiny, cohesive ball that forms around the spoon as you stir. Continue stirring for 30 to 45 more seconds. This will cook the flour and remove the raw taste of the flour.
- Stir in the eggs. Spoon the dough ball into a clean bowl and let cool for two minutes. While the dough is still warm, heartily stir the eggs in one at a time. The dough will not accept the egg at first and look curdled, like spätzle. Continue stirring and eventually the egg will incorporate thoroughly into the dough. Add the other eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next egg. Alternatively, you can use an electric hand mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment to beat in the eggs one at a time. Use a low speed to avoid beating extra air into the batter.
- Add the Mix-ins. Stir in the cheese. Stir in a few grinds of black pepper and a few grates of nutmeg. Alternatively, you could add a pinch of cayenne or herbs.
- Shape or pipe. Using two teaspoons or a small ice-cream scoop, place small mounds of dough about 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. You can make about 30 teaspoon-sized balls or 15 golf ball sized-balls. Alternatively, you can pipe with dough onto the baking sheet. Just make sure you pipe a mound and not a flat disk.
- Bake. Bake the gougeres at 425°F for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and bake for 10-20 more minutes, until gougeres have puffed and are deeply browned and crisped. Some recipes recommend poking a small hole in each gougère with a knife and setting them back in the still-warm-but-turned-off oven with the door ajar for 10 minutes. This helps dry out the interior.
- Serve. Gougères are delicious eaten immediately, but will keep well until later in the day. Gougères can be split open and filled with meat or a savory filling. I’ve also read that gougères freeze well and can be reheated in a 350°F oven for a few minutes. I haven’t tried this, though, so I cannot attest to its success.