Popovers are an American improvement on Yorkshire pudding, that olde British recipe often name-checked in Dickens novels along with Flaming Punch and partridge cutlets. Rather than throw some eggy batter into a pan with meat drippings from a great joint of meat, resourceful New World cooks tried pouring the batter into greased muffin cups. This way, pudding could be had without the hassle or expense of preparing a standing rib roast.
More recently, popovers had a long run as a lunchtime staple at department store restaurants, including Bullocks Wilshire in L.A., J.L. Hudson’s in Detroit, Rich’s in Atlanta, and Nieman-Marcus everywhere, (still being served at the new one at Roosevelt Field on Long Island.)
Beginning in the 1870s and up until the 1960s, these eateries provided sedate and safe spaces for women dining without men. Popovers were, apparently, the perfect accompaniment to such “feminine” dishes as Waldorf salad and Tomato Aspic. As women felt more welcome in less sheltered eateries and department store restaurants faded into memory, popovers became harder to find.
Luckily, they’re easy to make at home, if you own a blender and a muffin tin. Properly made popovers have a crackly, golden brown crust, a custardy lining, and a hollow center. Lacking the savory flavor of beef tallow but with plenty of buttery, eggy goodness, popovers are an impressive but surprisingly simple breakfast or brunch treat.
You don’t have to be an etymologist to understand that the name “popover” comes from the way mini-Yorkshire puddings pop over the tops of the cups in the tin. The incredible rise occurs when the air bubbles beaten into the batter expand in a very hot oven, propelling the batter upward. The blender is the perfect appliance for mixing your batter, since it will pump a lot of air into the mixture.
To encourage a good rise, warm the eggs and milk before mixing. Cold batter won’t rise as high. You can also preheat the pan for a few minutes. The oven should initially be very hot. Lowering the heat midway through baking will allow the popovers to set before they burn, so that they won’t collapse after rising. Whatever you do, don’t open the oven until you are ready to pull the popovers out. A sudden decrease in oven temperature may cause your popovers to deflate like popped balloons. So they don’t become soggy as they sit in the bread basket, insert the tip of a paring knife into the top of each one to release steam just before serving.
Popovers are perfect for breakfast, served with plenty of butter. For a sweet treat, mix softened butter with honey, maple syrup, sorghum, or jam. If you’re in a retro mood, serve them to accompany Waldorf Salad for lunch. They are also wonderful dipped in cream of tomato soup. And they are always welcome at festive dinners.
A special popover pan, which has cups with particularly tall sides and space between them to allow hot air to circulate, is great. Popovers baked in muffin cups might bump into each other as they pop, but will be just as delicious.
4 large eggs, warmed in bowl of hot tap water for 15 minutes
1 1⁄2 cups low-fat milk, lukewarm
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons melted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Position a rack on the bottom third of the oven. Place a 12-cup muffin tin on the rack.
2. Combine the eggs, milk and salt in a blender. Add the flour and blend until smooth. Add the melted butter and blend until frothy.
3. Remove the preheated pan from the oven and spray the cups and the spaces between the cups with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling them about 3⁄4 full.
4. Bake the popovers for 15 minutes without opening the oven door. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees (again without opening the door), and bake until deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer.
5. Remove the pan from the oven. Insert the tip of a sharp paring knife into the middle of each popover to release steam and overturn onto a wire rack. Serve immediately.
Makes 12 popovers.