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Practicing the basics: popovers

Popovers, which are a close relative to “dutch babies” and Yorkshire pudding, are a very simple quick bread. No yeast, no rise, just four ingredients with egg as the leavening agent. But very yummy as a bread side dish with dinner (or breakfast!) or as an afternoon snack.

This originated as a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. The magic of popovers is a crispy outside crust and a soft, silky interior. And that’s all about timing: how quickly they rise versus how quickly the outer crust forms, since when the crust hardens over they can’t rise any more. In this case, the temperature of the ingredients at the beginning makes a huge difference (and is a great general lesson for paying attention to ingredient temperatures, especially when baking).

Makes 12 popovers. Time required: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (2% preferred, other types work just fine)
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Spray the cups of a 12-cup muffin tray with cooking spray. This is a bit tricky, as there is a tradeoff here. Lightly spraying them lets the popovers “climb” the sides of the cups and gives them more height, but then by the time they are done baking they are stuck to the tray and will need to be unstuck. Heavily spraying them has the opposite effect: they come out cleanly, but wont’ rise quite as high. Paper muffin cups definitely prevent them from sticking to the tray, but boy to they stick to the paper cups and tear apart when you try to peel them off. So pick your poison.

Stir together the flour and salt in a small mixing bowl. This is the classic rule of “mix together the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients, them mix them together.”

In a small bowl or coffee mug, beat the eggs until well-mixed, about 45 seconds.

Pour the milk into a microwave-safe, medium-sized bowl and heat in the microwave until it reaches about 120 degrees. There’s nothing special about the 120-degree mark; the point of this step is that the popovers will rise faster if the milk starts out warmer. There’s a bit of a race going on here: get the popovers to rise as much as possible before the crust hardens (after which they can’t really grow any more).

Stir the eggs into the milk, then add the milk-egg mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until most of the lumps have broken up (making sure to scrape pockets of dry flour from the bottom and sides of the bowl.

Pour even amounts of batter into the muffin-tray cups.

Bake in oven at 400 degrees until browned all over, about 30 minutes. After 20 minutes, rotate the tray if popovers are not all browning at the same rate.

Remove from oven; let popovers cool in muffin tray for 2-3 minutes, then move them to a cooling rack. Serve warm or room-temperature. If you leave them to cool in the muffin tray for too long, moisture will get trapped underneath them and the bottoms of the popovers will get soggy.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tips and suggestions:

  • Popovers are best served warm, with plenty of butter. These can be reheated easily, about 20-30 seconds in the microwave.
  • Bring the eggs up to room temperature first before starting to make this recipe. Again, we’re trying to get the popovers to rise fast at the beginning before the crust hardens over.