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Popovers rise to the occasion

November 11, 2010

Popovers may be light and airy, but they’re not insubstantial. They give us a taste of our American history, as native to us as democratic government. And that makes them the perfect thing to serve at Thanksgiving.

With Yorkshire pudding as their ancestors, popovers have a British pedigree. They come from a line of eggy batter puddings that have been dutifully rising from the drippings of roast beef pans since before the Puritans came to America. But once across the Atlantic, Yorkshire puddings took on a new form: the more ethereal popover.

The popover’s lightness owes nothing to yeast or baking powder; it is leavened by steam. (This is why it’s important not to open the oven to peak while they’re baking.) Once in the oven, they balloon. The supple batter forms air pockets.

Their crispy crowns pop over the top of the baking cup like chef’s hats. Hoisted on puffs of steam, they’re haphazardly shaped. And while they may resemble brioche on the outside, it’s the hollow inside that surprises once they’re pulled open, piping hot.

For a traditional touch, a nod to the Yorkshire pudding, grease your popover pan with meat drippings. Savory popover recipes often include herbs or fresh chives. But part of what distinguishes them from Yorkshire pudding is that they can be eaten at breakfast or tea, sweet and plain. In fact, the first recorded popover recipe (from Mary Henderson’s Practical Cooking, 1876) alternately calls them “breakfast puffs.”

If popovers are to pop properly, they need the right conditions. Failed popovers are sad, dense, stodgy things. A hot pan is vital. Early recipes call for baking them in custard cups or even teacups, but modern popover pans’ steep, tapered sides guide the rising batter to a more grandiose puff. Muffin tins will do, but are less dramatic.

All recipes agree that popovers must be served immediately. Seldom is this a problem; it’s difficult to keep people’s hands off of them. We should all, in fact, consider it a solemn duty to give thanks for the great and glorious popover.

Basic Popover Recipe

Ingredients

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
1  tablespoon butter, melted

Directions

Grease a popover pan or muffin tin. Set the pan in the oven and preheat oven to 425F.

Mix all ingredients together with a whisk to form a thin batter.

Pour the batter into the heated pan, filling the cups halfway.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425F.

Turn down the oven to 350F and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

For even crisper popovers, slit the tops five minutes before the end of baking.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2010 6:11 pm

    So are you making a whole mess of these popovers for your Thanksgiving festivities?

  2. November 12, 2010 8:06 am

    Good idea. I feel like it all comes down to oven space and timing. The oven needs a personal secretary . . .

  3. November 12, 2010 8:14 am

    Yes, but you can’t tease your Thanksgiving guests by tempting them, then not baking light, airy, substantial, crispy-topped pop overs. Just saying…

  4. November 12, 2010 9:50 am

    Point taken. Let there be popovers.

  5. November 12, 2010 11:07 am

    Booya!

    FYI, I’m not highbrow.

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