2 cups grated cheese, such as a blend of Gruyere and Parmesan or sharp Cheddar and Provolone
1 egg, room temperature mixed, with 2 teaspoons water (not necessary if the puffs are to be frozen right away)
If you plan to bake the gougeres right away, heat the oven to 450 degrees F. Put the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the rack.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the water, butter, and salt to a boil, making sure the butter melts before it comes to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once, mixing well. Return the pan to medium-high heat and stir, using a wooden spoon, until the batter pulls away from the sides. Turn the heat down to medium and stretch out and fold over the batter, exposing it to the heat but moving it continuously for about 3 minutes. What you’re doing here is drying the dough some so it will puff more and also activating the gluten in the flour. Remove from the heat and scrape the dough into the bowl of a standing mixer or a bowl to use with a hand mixer. Let the dough rest for about 2-3 minutes so that it cools some.
On slow speed add the eggs, one at a time. Do not add the next egg until the first one is completely incorporated. After each egg is added, increase the speed to medium and beat until the egg is completely incorporated. Beat well after all eggs have been added.
Add the herbs and cheese and beat until fully blended.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. If you are using a pastry bag, pipe the batter into half-dollar-sized rounds (or larger if you prefer) about 1-1/2 – 2 inches apart depending on the size of the puffs. You can also scoop the dough into mounds with a spoon. Smooth any points with a bread and butter knife knife or small spatula.
If you are planning to freeze the puffs, make them on a pan that will fit into the freezer. Freeze on the pan and then place into freezer bags. They will last well for 3 months.
If you are baking the gougeres right away, brush with the egg wash making certain not to spill the wash onto the sheet as it will harden in the heat and make it difficult to remove the puffs. If some spills, dab with a paper towel to remove it.
Place the baking sheet on top of the pizza stone and bake for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375 degrees F. Rotate the pan if your oven is hotter in the front or back. Continue to bake until the are golden and nicely puffed.
Remove from oven and, using a small, sharp knife, pierce each puff on the side to let steam escape. Turn off the oven and return the puffs for another five minutes or so. If you aren’t sure that they’re completely baked, open one up. The inside should be tender and moist, but not mushy.
Serve warm straight from the oven or allow to cool and fill.
To bake frozen puffs, follow the same directions as baking them right away. No need to thaw. Let the gougeres bake 20 minutes before lowering the heat.
Gougeres are delicious by themselves, but they make great containers for a large variety of fillings. Add a dab of warm brie or a soft cheese, smoked salmon and creme fraiche, crab or Bay shrimp salad, etc.