I have a soft spot in my heart for popovers, and I’m not sure why. I’m pretty sure I remember my mother (or maybe my grandmother) making them for dinner, usually as an accompaniment for a saucy main dish. (I think that they might have actually been Yorkshire puddings that we had, but they are very similar to popovers.) I do know that they were a bit of a pain to make, which is why they may have faded from our dinner menu as I got older.
However, the popover managed to wiggle itself into my subconcious as the representation of a hearty, wholesome meal. Ideally, a popover is a light, puffy bread that is steam-leavened. There is some pretty cool chemistry behind what makes them rise, which makes them interesting to teach kids some kitchen science. As a bonus, you can eat the experiment after you’re done!
They can be tricky, though. So many things have to be right: the heat, the pan, the batter. If anything goes wrong, you can end up with popovers that have a glassy finish (overcooked), too doughy or not “popped over” (undercooked), or they might collapse (the leavening process was interrupted by having the oven opened, or the heat was disrupted at a critical moment).
If you’re lucky, you can find a popover pan. These look like ancient cupcake tins: deep cups held together with a rack, rather than a solid surface. Cupcake tins are too shallow to be used for popovers, and the solid surface between the cups doesn’t allow for enough air circulation between the tops of the cups. For years I was unable to find a proper popover pan, so I made do with custard dishes placed on a baking sheet. It was servicable, but I always had to be careful when moving the popovers in or out of the oven, since the cups would slide.
Finally, I found a popover pan at Canadian Superstore. As you can see in the photo below, the cups are suspended by a rack that holds them together, but still allows for lots of air circulation. My one complaint about the pan was that the cups didn’t seem quite deep enough, but they were still deeper than your typical cupcake tin (and, upon reflection I realized they were the same depth as my custard dishes). The instructions that came with the pan also emphasized that you could not use any type of grease (I was using butter in my recipe) in the cups, because it would react with the finish and create a gooey mess. My recipe was emphatic about greasing the cups to make them slide out easier, but I decided to follow the pan’s instructions first.
After I used the pan the first time, I was thrilled. I didn’t need any grease at all – the popovers slid out with no problem. (Hooray for technology!) The popovers also rose much more than they did using the custard cups, but I noticed one oddity that probably has more to do with my oven than the pan. The photo below shows the popovers I made using my new popover pan. The popover on the right is absolutely perfect. The popover on the left has an odd little turret at the top. It either didn’t finish rising, or it rose fully and then fell a bit. The popover on the right was in a cup closer to the front of the oven, and the popover on the left was near the back of the oven. Since you cannot open the oven while baking the popovers (because they’ll collapse), I can’t turn the pan halfway through the cooking process to even them out. Oh well – it still tasted fine.
If you want to try making your own popovers, you don’t need a special pan – it just makes it easier. Six glass custard dishes like this one, balanced on a cookie sheet, will work just as well. (You can try using ceramic ramekins, but I can’t vouch for how well they work, as I never tried them.) Or, if you live in Canada, stop by your local Superstore and pick up one of their pans. (The pan was $9.99 at our Superstore.)
* 1 TB butter (for greasing the pan if needed)
* 2 eggs
* 1 cup flour (not self-rising!)
* 1 cup milk (not skim – I use 1%, but 2% or whole would work too)
* 1/2 tsp salt
Heat the oven to 450° F. Divide 1 TB six ways between your tin or custard cups. Place the pan/cups in the oven to heat up. (If you’re using the Superstore pan, you can skip the butter, but still put the pan in the oven to heat it.)
Meanwhile, beat eggs in a bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients; mix just until smooth, making sure all large lumps have been incorporated. Don’t overmix. Empty bowl into a liquid measuring cup, or something with with a spout for easy pouring. Set batter aside at room temperature until oven is finished preheating.
Remove pan from oven. If greased with butter, swirl the melted butter around and up the side of each cup to coat. (You’ll need to cover about 3/4 of the way up the sides.) Pour the batter into the hot cups, filling 1/2 way.
Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° F and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until golden brown. It is extremely important that you do not open the oven – not even for a moment – at any time during the baking process. The first 30 minutes are especially critical.
When popovers are done, remove from oven and immediately turn out onto a cooling rack. Serve hot. Makes 6 popovers.
Popovers can be frozen for several months, provided they are cooled completed and pierced to let the steam out. However, they never last long enough to be frozen in our house. While they’re perfect for a substitute for dinner rolls, I like serving them for breakfast alongside an egg and a slice of tomato.