Popovers: A Kitchen Experiment

In response to a reader request, the popover is the subject of today's little ditty.

The popover, ladies and gents, is a culinary relic, a descendant of Yorkshire pudding, the 18th-century English batter pudding seasoned with meat drippings and originally eaten with gravy (before the meat course) to help curb the appetite.


Popovers, just out of the oven: Quick, before they deflate! (Kim O'Donnel)

By the next century, the popover made its way into kitchens on this side of the Atlantic, albeit smaller and more of a handheld treat that could be eaten for breakfast. In fact, the first documented popover recipe in this country appeared in Mary Newton Foote Henderson's 1876 cookbook, "Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving, " in which she refers to them as "breakfast puffs or pop-overs."

Simple and straightforward, the batter is primarily composed of milk, flour and at least two eggs, which act as the chief leavening agent (unless of course, you decide to add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, which would be worth trying). The result is eggy and (ideally) light and tender, but instead of a brioche, it's hollow rather than dense. This is not quite a roll, not quite a quiche -- in fact, I'd liken it to a savory éclair (which is made from the eggy pâte à choux).

As I researched recipes (including two reader contributions -- thank you!), I quickly discovered that for nearly every cook there is a different school of popover thought. I read a dizzying array of recipes, each with its own playbook, including varying amounts of eggs (from two to six) and flour, a range of baking temperatures, plus the addition of sugar, baking powder and/or melted butter.

One rule that all cooks seem to agree on is to keep the oven door closed -- no peeking! -- for the first 30 minutes of baking. The popovers rely on the enclosed environment for proper rising, so curious cats please take a chill pill. I also noticed most recipes suggesting the preheating of the muffin pan, which also encourages a rapid rise.

My popover experience thus far remains limited to the recipe below, from the very reliable "Simple Soirees" by Peggy Knickerbocker, who grew up making Saturday morning popovers with her father. The recipe is easy enough to tweak and tinker with; next time I might try adding baking powder and a little bit of ground mustard for flavor.

At minute 32, my popovers were indeed puffed, crowned and golden. In hindsight, I would have kept them in the oven for five more minutes, as they were just a tad wet on the inside (but nonetheless delicious).

If you're making these to go with supper, make sure everything else is ready to go because the popovers need to be served immediately before they start sagging (which happens when you're not looking).

Now it's your turn. If popovers are part of your repertoire, share your tried-and-true tricks and tips, or variations. I would love to hear if anyone has ever done a "toad in the hole" or added cheese successfully.

Today is chat day; join me and the other merrymakers at Noon ET for another round of What's Cooking.

Popovers
Adapted from "Simple Soirees" by Peggy Knickerbocker

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
A few tablespoons melted butter or your favorite non-dairy spread to grease pan

Equipment: Popover pan, 6-cup cast-iron or heavy aluminum muffin pan

Method
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove top rack from oven; popovers will be baked on lower rack.

Place muffin pan in oven and preheat for at least five minutes.

Meanwhile, combine flour, milk, salt and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk or beat until smooth.

Remove pan from oven and immediately generously grease insides of each muffin cup with melted fat (I like to use a silicone brush to do this). Using a ladle or a lipped measuring cup, pour batter into prepared muffin cups until halfway full.

Bake for at least 30 minutes, and up to 40 minutes. Don't peek before the 30-minute mark!

Remove from oven and serve immediately; popovers will fall before your very eyes.

Makes six popovers.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 26, 2008; 10:30 AM ET Baking , Bread
Previous: Easter Crack, I Mean Candy | Next: Chat Leftovers: Andouille Redux, Lollipop Molds, Naked Chicken

Comments

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The trick to drying them out is to give them a quick knife-poke -- cut a small slit in the side -- and then back into the oven for 3-4 minutes.

I like to add grated parmesan to the batter for cheesy popovers that are sooo good with soup.

Posted by: Springfield, VA | February 26, 2008 11:27 AM

Springfield, I'm glad you mentioned the knife poke -- a tidbit I forgot to add in my piece -- but at what point do you make the cut? At 30 minutes?
I was JUST thinking what a great soup companion popovers would make. Thank you!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 26, 2008 11:32 AM

These are great - and the recipe does look easy - I have to say that a popover pan does seem to make things easier, but I use a muffin tin too - I made some for Thanksgiving last year, my MIL made some for Christmas - she used a mix, but they turned out very well also.

Will try the cheesy ones for Easter. Maybe I can ask my British neighbor for her recipe?

Posted by: I love popovers | February 26, 2008 11:40 AM

Make the knife poke at 30 or 40 minutes, when they look done, and turn off the oven. Leave them in for another 8-10 minutes, and they dry out perfectly every time

Posted by: Mark -NYC | February 26, 2008 11:42 AM

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to take me to special lunches at the Neiman Marcus cafe, where they have the most delicious popovers, served with strawberry butter. I may have to make some this weekend, for a stroll down memory lane! (Certainly cheaper than a trip to NM!)

Posted by: Washington, DC | February 26, 2008 11:50 AM

We make popovers for weekend brunch a couple of times a month. Make sure you use whole milk. We've tried it with non-fat a number of times, and they just don't pop up. Whole milk works every time. (Warm it in the microwave to room temperature before adding to the recipe.)

Also, the San Francisco Chronicle recipe for Perfect Popovers is the best I've tried. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/10/04/FDG83LG6CQ1.DTL
It's great because you can mix it all up in your blender -- less mess.

Popovers for brunch are fantastic served with lemon curd or with butter. Delish!

Posted by: jnypny | February 26, 2008 12:10 PM

Does one have to use whole milk? Or is that just what the recipe called for? I'm ok with using it, if the recipe requires the fat, but would prefer to use skim, if possible. Thoughts?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 12:12 PM

Thanks jnypny -- I should have waited for a few more comments before posting!

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 12:13 PM

I use skim milk in mine and they turn out fine. My daughter and I like to put homemade raspberry preserves on them when they are hot. My husband and son make little sandwiches out of them with some ham and cheese. We have them for Saturday breakfast about once a month. I have used a muffin tin to make them as I can't find a good quality popover pan. Does anyone know of a good source for one - not one of the cheap non-stick ones?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 12:34 PM

Popovers are the first thing I learned to bake all by myself as a child. I had a recipe from The Pooh Cookbook called Popovers For Piglet; it never failed to produce perfect popovers. I'll look it up tonight and post here.

Posted by: Wendy | February 26, 2008 12:50 PM

The Post food section ran the Good Housekeeping popover recipe earlier this year. (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/recipes/2008/01/02/Famous-Popovers/)

It allows for low-fat milk as an alternative to whole. It also provides reheating instructions, which would lead me to believe they might be less susceptible to falling than the others discussed here. FWIW.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 26, 2008 1:13 PM

Here's the recipe I learned on:

Popovers for Piglet
From "The Pooh Cookbook"

1c. flour
½tsp salt
¾c. milk
2T. honey
1T. butter- melted
2 lg. eggs


Preheat oven to 425º, yeilds 8-12 popovers.

Grease muffin tins. Mix the flour and salt together. Add the milk, honey and melted butter, stir to blend. Beat in the eggs. Fill each muffin tin just under half full. Bake 25-30 minutes or until the sides are rigid and the top and side of the popovers are brown. DO NOT open the oven for 25 minutes to peek or the popovers will fall and will not rise again. If you like your popovers dry inside, slit each one with a sharp knife and bake 5 minutes longer. Serve with plain butter or honey.

Posted by: Wendy | February 26, 2008 1:29 PM

Experimenting with a recipe a while ago, I added cinnamon for a breakfast popover, and drizzled a little (very little!) glaze over the top. Yum.

Posted by: Beth B. | February 26, 2008 2:40 PM

I think 2 percent milk would probably work too. We just kept trying with nonfat milk and they would never rise for us.

I like my popover pans from Williams-Sonoma -- have used them for years with great results.

Posted by: jnypny | February 26, 2008 3:21 PM

My mother's recipe for popovers mandates that you start with a cold oven! Once the pan goes in you set the heat and bake away. And they come out AWESOME every time. Mmmm. Now I'm hungry.

Posted by: Colleen | February 26, 2008 5:15 PM

A heavy cast iron popover pan is essential. Preheat pan to produce a golden hard popover with a moist yellow interior--perfect for inserting a nugget of butter--shake to distribute. These popovers do not fall, collapse, or wither. These are champion popovers.

Posted by: Dave | February 26, 2008 6:00 PM

Here's my favorite easy recipe for Toad In The Hole. I've made it many times over the years. I usually just use breakfast sausage links (often cutting them in thirds) and follow the recipe exactly. It has never failed me.

TOAD IN THE HOLE

1 lb fresh pork sausages
2 eggs
½ t salt
1 c flour
1 c milk


Prick sausages with a fork and place in a small skillet.. Add 2 T water, cover and cook 3 minutes. Uncover and cook until they begin to brown. Arrange sausages in a 7 1/2 x 11 shallow baking dish about 1" apart. Sprinkle 3 T of pan drippings over them. Beat eggs & salt until frothy. Add flour gradually, beating it in well. Add milk very gradually and beat until mixture is smooth. Pour mixture over sausages and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve at once.

Posted by: V. Wood | February 26, 2008 11:08 PM

For those of you looking for a place to get popover pans, King Arthur flour catalogue (google the Bakers place- name of store) carries them. I have had mine for years.

I started making popovers in college and they closely resembled hockey pucks. The secret (for me at least) is to warm the pan, and make sure that the eggs and milk are at room temperature (I warm the eggs in warm water, and milk in microwave for 1 minute) Also, I always use 2% milk and they work every time.

Posted by: ddt | February 27, 2008 8:29 AM

Have just discovered this blog and love it! I'm an American expat living in the UK, where I have learned to cook. Although I do remember making popovers as a child with my mother, I hadn't really made the Yorkshire pudding connection till recently. I make Yorkies every time I serve roast beef -- it just wouldn't be the same without them. My tip for making them rise (it comes courtesy of Delia Smith -- the queen of British home cooking) is not only to preheat the tin, but also the fat they cook in, whether it's lard, dripping or even olive oil, preferably at the highest temperature your oven will go. That, by the way, is also the secret for making crunchy roast potatoes.

Posted by: Ann | February 27, 2008 8:58 AM

how do popovers differ from yorkshire puddings? Thanks for keeping this oldie interested in new and retro culinary ideas.

Posted by: nana | February 27, 2008 9:08 AM

Ann, welcome to the blog space! Glad to have you on board from the UK. I love Delia Smith as well.
Nana, Think of popovers as individual Yorkshires; traditionally, Yorkshire pudding is made in a shallow pan with meat drippings.

DDT, thanks so much for the popover pan source. Great to know.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 27, 2008 2:17 PM

OOOOH, The Neiman Marcus Popovers are the BEST. and the strawberry butter...to die for. The NM in Miami still has the fancy restaurant that serves popovers. I love going there and it brings back fond memories of my grandmother taking me to the NM when I was a girl just for the popovers and the little thimbleful cup of chicken broth. Mmm, mmm, off to go make some popovers now.

Posted by: uppernwmom | February 28, 2008 9:32 AM

Don't your ovens have a glass door on the front so you don't have to open it to see inside?

I thought popovers were supposed to be slightly moist on the inside. Otherside they'd be a dry shell.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 28, 2008 9:56 AM

Here in New England, my kids and I find that maple sugar butter is the perfect companion to warm popovers...although I'd never turn my nose up at strawberry butter.

Posted by: Kate Ellis | February 28, 2008 1:43 PM

My dear departed mum (1975) could cook only one dinner well--a Sunday dinner of standing rib roast (prime was available in those days), oven browned potatoes and Yorkshire pudding baked in muffin tins. Whole milk in the '50's and '60's was de rigeur. Drippings from the joint provided the grease for all. Our single oven was already around 325-350 from cooking the roast. Her one caveat was that all popover ingredients MUST be at room temp before blending and that the pan with the drippings should be preheated to ~425. If no one peeked they didn't fall (unless Gran was coming to dinner!) WE never HAD leftovers & popovers never had the longevity to get cold. I have two amusing recipes from the British Countess Morphy from an undated volume which I will plagerize with impunity if anyone's interested.

Posted by: susan | February 28, 2008 2:00 PM

I make popovers all the time. Instead of milk, I use liquid non-dairy creamer (lactose intolerance in the family). I pre-heat the oven, but not the pan, because I don't use a pan. I use Pyrex custard cups. I use Wondra flour (no lumps) and solid shortening to grease the cups. I put the cups on an air-bake cookie sheet, bake for 15 minutes at 450º, turn the oven down to 350º and bake 20-25 minutes longer. They never stick to the cups, and they don't collapse.

Posted by: CCLady | February 28, 2008 4:18 PM

As the daughter of a proud Brit, I had the good fortune to grow up with Yorkshire Pudding at least once a week. My mother and aunt both insist that the keys to good Yorkshire Pud (or popovers) are 1.) hot pan with hot fat and 2.) cold batter (refrigerate for at least 30 mins).

When I make mine with skim milk instead of whole, I add an extra egg (I know, not really cutting back on the fat by doing this, but I don't usually have whole milk on hand).

Posted by: amy | February 28, 2008 5:08 PM

Susan, would love your recipes.

Posted by: Lulu | March 6, 2008 11:48 AM

I love popovers and recommend buying a popover pan if you fix them often. They pop every time. In my cookbook, Baking Basics and Beyond (Surrey Books 2006), there is a recipe for Popovers with Berries and Whipped cream that makes a grest breakfast treat or a dessert.

Posted by: Pat Sinclair | March 6, 2008 12:04 PM

How is this different from Bismarks (Silver Palate) or Dutch Babies? I make this on Sunday mornings - 1/2 c butter, 1/2 c milk, 1/2 c flour, 2 eggs. 475 oven, preheated cast iron frying pan. Usually it's nice and bubbly, but sometimes just flat. I'm not sure what I'm doing. What's the trick? Sliced bananas in the hot pan for 5 minutes with lemon juice and a little conf sugar.

Posted by: Judy | March 6, 2008 3:10 PM

Have enjoyed reading y'all's popover memories, recipes, and conversation. I learned to make popovers in home ec (tells you how old I am, I expect!) in 7th grade. We heated oven to 425, then threw 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs, and a pinch of salt in the blender. While it was whirring away, we greased muffin tins with margarine. Didn't heat pan, didn't bring ingredients to room temperature, didn't worry about fat content of milk. Filled tins about half to 3/4's full, slid in oven and baked I THINK half an hour, though we DID have a glass fronted oven door and looked through it to see how much they'd risen. They never were as big as Normandy Farms' popovers, but they were lovely and crispy outside and moist inside. I still think they're fabulous with just a little butter or margarine! Am going to try some of the recipes in the comments I read.

Posted by: GG | March 6, 2008 3:15 PM

I grew up eating both popovers and yorkshire pudding prepared by my Bostonian mom. But the best popovers I've ever had are the ones served at the restaurant at Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park, Maine. I would love to see the recipe they use. When I think of popovers now, I still dream about the ones from Jordan Pond!

Posted by: kensington | March 6, 2008 9:56 PM

I agree with the post about Jordan Pond's Popovers. My husband and I enjoyed these last Fall. They were the BEST!!

Posted by: Sue McLaughlin | March 7, 2008 9:20 AM

I am attached to the original Joy of Cooking popover recipe - it involves using varying temps in the oven... But it works perfectly every time.

Posted by: ami | March 10, 2008 8:08 AM

Delicious! I just read the blog entry this afternoon and made them tonight to enhance a meal of leftovers - cooked the pop-overs while warming the leftovers in the microwave. I followed the recipe exactly with the exception of using fat-free milk instead of whole milk. The pop-overs rose perfectly and didn't substantially fall.

I found them a little salty, though, as we don't use much salt in our household. Can I cut back on the salt and achieve the same results? Also, would it be possible to substitute whole-wheat flour for some portion (or all) of the all-purpose flour?

Posted by: Susan | March 17, 2008 7:59 PM

There was a restaurant in the 60's & 70's on Long Island, named Patricia Murphy's, and it was famous for their popovers and prime rib. Ohhh... just to have a good slice of prime rib with a popover and au jus right now...

Posted by: Kathleen | April 9, 2008 7:52 PM

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