Popovers-Old Fashioned Becomes Hip

Sunday March 15, 2015

Popovers are experiencing a renaissance. They are often kept as a special treat served at holidays, but now there are an everyday bread to accompany simple soups and salads. They are even popular in restaurants and cafes. They never fail to delight. From crusty deep golden to ruddy brown, puffed and airy popovers, also known as puffovers and mahogany cakes, are the miracles of the very old fashioned quick-bread world. The name “popover” describes the batter swells or “pops” over the top of the mold while baking. They can be baked in individual cups, there is a special pan just for them, or a shallow casserole and cut into portions.

the perfect popover/photo Donna Ruhlman

Making popovers is as simple as making oatmeal, but to ensure success it is essential that all instructions be followed precisely.  The batter must have the correct proportions of liquid to flour to fat, although the recipes may be doubled or tripled with no problem.  Popovers with added ingredients, such as vegetables, herbs, or whole-grain flours, will not rise quite as high as plain ones, so there is a limit to variations.

Aerated solely by the power of beaten eggs and high baking temperatures, the thin crêpe-like batter with a high proportion of liquid must be cold and then baked at a high temperature for the outer surface popover to set properly.  The moisture in the batter creates enough steam in its short time in the oven for a dramatic doming and almost hollow interior. When the crepe batter is baked in muffin molds, the bake up into a little cloud of bread from the trapped air creating a hollow bubble with a delicate eggy center. Despite legions of recipes calling for preheated hot pans and preset oven temperatures as high as for baking pizza, popovers may also be baked just as successfully by placing in a cold oven before setting the temperature to medium-high, which gives the baker an easy alternative to juggling scalding equipment.

Ingredients are mixed with a whisk, rotary, or electric beater and refrigerated from one hour to overnight, if possible.  Individual cups should be placed on a baking sheet for easiest handling and must be well greased with butter, oil, or a spray such as Pam.  Timing is quite crucial for a crisp crust and moist interior.  Bake the popovers on the center rack of a cold oven set at 375º.  Overbaked popovers are very rigid, underbaked ones tend to collapse, and if the pan is not greased enough, they will stick mercilessly. To test for doneness, take one popover out of its pan.  It should feel feather-light, be dry to the touch, and look golden brown. You will pierce the popover on the side with the tip of a knife and they wont collapse. If you cannot serve immediately, pierce the side then return to the turned off oven for up to 30 minutes.

There are many popover pans available, but I favor the heavy-duty black steel 4-inch Yorkshire pudding pans with 6 deep oval cups suspended by a wire frame, available in gourmet cookware shops.  These pans are also available in a commercial tinned steel family-size popover frame with 20 cups by Chicago Metallic, available in restaurant supply stores.  All these frames make the classically shaped popover with a long narrow base.  If you the black steel pans, reduce the oven temperature by 25º during baking to prevent over-baking. The other excellent alternative for small popovers are heavy-gauge aluminum baba molds.  They are tapered and measure approximately 3 by 2 inches.

unbaked popover batter

But all sorts of other individual molds work just fine so you don’t have to buy any special equipment. Other pans that can be used for popovers are individual 3 1/2-by-2-inch heat-proof porcelain soufflé dishes, cast-iron gem pans, standard 2 1/2-inch or oversized Texas muffin tins, or individual 6-ounce pyrex cups.  Do not use thin aluminum equipment as it cannot take the high heat.  Whatever receptacles are used, the cups should be deeper than wider for that traditional shape, hold about 1/3 cup batter in each, and never be filled over two-thirds.  Although wider popovers will not dome as high as smaller popovers made in deep cups (as in the baba molds),they are just as delicious.

popovers baked in individual French porcelain souffle dishes

Miniature popovers, which are great for cocktails, can be made in 1 3/4-inch miniature or tartlet muffin pans.  Oversized popovers can be made in 4 1/2-inch fluted porcelain quiche dishes or 10-ounce Pyrex custard cups.  Adjust the amount of batter, greasing, and baking time (5 minutes each way) for small or oversized popovers.  Some bakers make one large popover using a ceramic gratin dish or an 8-by-8-inch square Pyrex baking dish, filling it with all of the batter.  After baking, it is served cut into wedges at the table.

Serve popovers instead of bread at any meal.  They are as at home alongside roasted meats for dinner as with eggs and jam for breakfast or a tea for a visitor, but whatever the meal, they must be made fresh and eaten immediately.  Consider using a sweet popover as you would a cream-puff pastry:  remove the top dome, fill with ice cream, and serve with a hot fudge sauce.  Fill split savory popovers with creamed poultry, seafood, or vegetables for brunch.  And of course, the most famous of all popovers is a stalwart feast addition: the British Yorkshire pudding, in which roasted meat fat is usually substituted in place of melted butter.


The Best Popovers

Sweet Tangerine Popovers

Oversized Popovers

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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