Popovers - Two Ways

It should be said: I like bread. There is nothing quite like a fresh loaf of French bread or a nice warm ciabatta. I can't get enough of hot buttermilk biscuits drizzled with honey, and warm whole wheat bread with a smear of butter is utterly fantastic. Rye bread with ham and cheese? Yes, please. Brioche with a little strawberry jam? Um, absolutely. Trader Joe's cinnamon swirl bread made into French toast... you're killing me, where is my plate! My grandmother used to make “Easter bread”, you know, the kind where dyed eggs are baked into a braided sweet bread. Delicious! My mother’s aunt made bread with hot peppers in the middle that was so good you would want to eat the whole loaf. I could go on and on: I think bread is truly one of the best things about food. 

I have been somewhat hesitant writing about this because bread is so commonplace. Supermarkets are filled with loaves and loaves of different breads. Bakeries offer artisanal loaves in addition to their other goods. Then there are the rolls, biscuits and quick breads, each one as delicious as the next. The best part in this day and age is you barely have to lift a finger to prepare any of them. You can buy ready to bake biscuits in the refrigerator section of the grocery store (I happen to think you can do better), you can buy cornbread mix that comes in a bag and you just add water and bake (again, you can do better) and there are lots of choices for rolls both in the fresh baked area and the freezer sections as well (do I need to say it?). A side note here while I am speaking of rolls, every holiday my mother would always buy Kings Hawaiian rolls to serve with dinner. Had I known as a child that I would eat as many of those rolls as I have, I would have bought stock in the company and would be living a completely different life now. Okay maybe not, but we all dream a little, don't we?

For me, there is something about bread that is very comforting. The smell of it baking makes me feel good. There is something so satisfying about making it. Maybe the textures as you knead it and it starts to get smooth and bouncy. It might be the “whoosh” it makes punching it down the first time. It could be the visual satisfaction of seeing it rise again. Perhaps it's the "thunk" it makes when you thump on it to see if it's done. I’m not sure; maybe it's all of those things. Actually I am sure... I can safely say that it is all of those things.

As a kid, whenever dinner was served at my house, my mother would grab a loaf of bread without thinking and put it on the table in case anybody wanted a slice. It didn't matter what she was serving. I think this is the reason I developed such a love for sandwiches. I started making sandwiches out of almost every meal. If she served pot roast and potatoes I would make a sandwich out of it. Instead of eating the meatballs as a side to the spaghetti, I would slice them up and put them on bread for a meatball sandwich. Heck I would even add the spaghetti to the sandwich as well depending on the bread. If there was extra avocado left over from a meal, I would smash it up and eat it on a roll, or a piece of toast. When I sit down to dinner and there are rolls on the table, that's the first thing I grab. Then I just try to figure out how to make whatever we are eating into a sandwich. I am a big, big fan of "the sandwich". To this day when I sit down for dinner at my mother’s house she will ask if I need any cheese or mayonnaise. Doesn't matter what we are eating.

I've noticed that bread is something that for many people is almost an afterthought. We all make sure the green beans are crisp, we all make sure our gravy is lump free, we all check to see that the mashed potatoes are creamy and that the turkey is at the right temperature, then we all sit down to the table and 5 minutes later the smoke alarm sounds and then, and only then, do we remember the rolls are still in the oven. But, for me bread is almost always at the forethought.

I can't remember why or when the following event actually took place but for the sake of this post let's just it was summer... no... winter... let's say it was winter. Yeah winter...

My younger brother and his wife were visiting my mother from their home in Oregon.  Naturally this meant that on Sunday the family would come together at my mother’s house for a big meal. I don't remember what we ate for dinner that night. I don't remember if there was any dessert (and for me, that’s odd). I don't remember if we opened a bottle of red wine or white, nor if we had wine at all. I don't remember where anyone sat at the table. I don't remember... ok you get it I don't remember anything at all about that meal... except one thing. My sister-in-law made a tray of the best dinner rolls I had eaten in a long, long time. I did get the recipe from her but I have never made them myself. Perhaps I'll dig it out and see what happens sometime in the future. What I do remember about those rolls was the perfection with which she made them. They were exactly the same height; they were exactly the same width. They sat in the baking pan as if they had been meticulously sculpted there. They were each perfectly browned the exact same golden brown color. I know that's how they're supposed to look, but I doubt if I would ever be able to match that precision. I'm not kidding these were bakery store perfect, and from my mother’s oven that's a real feat, trust me!

While I continue working on my skills for a full sheet pan of light and fluffy rolls, I'm going to stick to something where no two look alike... popovers. And I am going to make them without a popover pan! If I can do it... so can you. Some people will say that popovers can be tricky to make, and indeed the very first time I made popovers they deflated completely when I took them out of the oven and they had patches of raw dough on the inside. Interestingly enough they had really great flavor (the parts that were cooked that is) but overall David and I both dubbed that first attempt, as I have with many other items before, an unmitigated disaster. However I didn't give up, I went back to the drawing board and did a bit more studying on the subject. The next time I made popovers, they were terrific, so now after making a good number of popovers I feel confident enough to share some tips with you that will help you be successful in your efforts.

For a minute though let's just talk about them. If you have never seen a popover before it looks like a freakishly puffy dinner roll but inside that roll it is completely hollow and yet there is still substance to it. Perhaps the best thing about popovers is that you can make different versions of them. There are so many recipes on the Internet you're bound to find a flavor combination you like. Plus they have that one great thing about them that I especially like; since they're hollow they are perfectly suited for filling! Take a savory popover and fill the inside of it with scrambled eggs and crumbled up bacon bits in the morning and you'll experience sheer bliss. It's my opinion that filling a popover with whatever you’re eating for your main course is the best way to eat them. For me it's just a different type of sandwich!

As for the issues you'll face... for one, you need to really be ready with everything when making popovers. Be sure you have all your ingredients measured out and standing by. When it comes to the baking portion you do want to be able to move a quickly. The second thing to know is that the longer you bake a popover the more stable it will be. If you pull them out of the oven too early they will deflate completely and there is a chance they will have undercooked dough on the inside. So keeping them in longer is helpful. You should really use your eyes rather than just your timer as the end of the cooking cycle comes. Popovers should be deeply colored. If they’re a very light golden brown... leave them in. They look nice but they're not done. It's very rare for me to take my popovers out at the minimum time suggested in the recipe. It’s also important to note that when you put your popovers in the oven, do not open the oven door! Leave them undisturbed until most of the cooking time has passed.  Understand that no matter how long you bake them, they will deflate some as they cool and that's okay. I think the biggest issue you'll face is that sometimes they have a tendency to stick to the bottom of your muffin tin. This can be frustrating at first because you'll feel like you put all that work into them and you're going to ruin them by digging them out of the pan. Relax and breathe: all is not lost. In most cases you should be able to run a small knife around the edge of the popover and gently loosen it from the pan. Usually you'll cause very little damage. Here's the thing to remember though. Popovers are not supposed to be these uniformly perfect little soldiers of the bread world. They are haphazard. They are unique in their appearance. So, if your popovers stuck a little to the pan and some dough tore off, or if they don't stand up perfectly, I say, good for you! Are they ruined? Not by a long shot. People will eat them Ray, people will most definitely eat them. (10 bonus points if you understand that paraphrasing).

You can serve popovers with any kind of dinner, or in the afternoon with a simple plate of cheese and fruit or maybe some salami. Sweet popovers are perfect with a little butter and/or jam, or if you made them coated in cinnamon sugar as I have, well, all you need is a cup of coffee or tea to go with them.

So, the next time you’re contemplating buying one of those canned biscuit products from the refrigerator section of the grocery store, take the time to make popovers instead. I think you'll be glad you did... at least I hope you'll be glad you did... at least, I know I was glad I did...

Today I am going to give you my recipes for one savory and one sweet popover. Links to download or print these recipes are at the very bottom of the post.

Here's how I make them.

To make popovers you'll need a standard muffin tin, a way of whisking things together (I used my stand mixer) and oven mitts for sure. To help pouring the batter into the muffin tin a bowl with a spout is great to have as well.

For the Cardamom and Black Pepper Popovers

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups whole milk

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour

  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1½ teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, (to grease the pan)

Directions:

First, in a small saucepan over low heat, heat the milk until it's very warm, about 125°F.

Put the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes, then with the mixer still running, gradually pour in the hot milk,then mix in the 2 tablespoons melted butter.

Add the flour, salt, cardamom and black pepper and mix on medium low speed until everything is thoroughly incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed, about 1 to 1½ minutes. You may still see some small lumps in the batter and that is okay.

Transfer the batter to a bowl or container with a pour spout and let it stand for 30 minutes. This lets the batter relax after all that whisking.

While the batter rests you can preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center position.

When the oven is hot and the batter has rested place a standard muffin tin in the oven for 10 minutes to get it nice and hot. Using oven mitts carefully remove it from the oven and place on a heatproof surface and put ¾ teaspoon of the remaining melted butter into each muffin cup.

Give the batter a good but gentle whisk, by hand, to wake it up a bit, just about 15 seconds, and divide it equally among the cups, filling each ½ to ⅔ full. USING OVEN MITTS put the pan back into the oven and bake 40 to 50 minutes until the popovers are puffed up and well browned. Do not open the oven door while they bake!

Remove the popovers from the pan and pierce the bottom with a small knife to allow steam to escape (assuming there are no holes in them already... mine always have holes already). Serve immediately. If you have leftovers you can store them in a covered container at room temperature and reheat them on a baking sheet at 450°F for 3-5 minutes. A toaster oven works great for this, but they are also great at room temperature too.

For Cinnamon Sugar Popovers

Ingredients:

For the popovers:

  • 1½ cups whole milk

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (to grease the pan)

For the coating:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

  • ½ cup granulated sugar

  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

First, in a small saucepan over a low heat, heat the milk until it's very warm, about 125°F.

Put the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes, then with the mixer still running, gradually pour in the hot milk, then mix in the 1 tablespoon melted butter.

Next, add to the bowl, the flour, sugar, salt, and vanilla and mix on medium low speed until everything is thoroughly incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed, about 1 to 1½ minutes. There might be some little lumps in the batter and that's okay.

Transfer the batter to a bowl with a pour spout and let it stand for 30 minutes. This lets the batter relax after all that whisking, and lets the flour absorbed some of the liquid.

While the batter rests you can preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center position.

When the oven is hot and the batter has rested place a standard muffin tin in the oven for 10 minutes to get it nice and hot. Using oven mitts, carefully remove it from the oven and place on a heatproof surface and put ¾ teaspoon of the melted butter into each muffin cup.

Give the batter a good, but gentle whisk, by hand, to wake it up a bit, about 15 seconds, and divide it equally among the cups, filling between ½ and ⅔ full. Again USING OVEN MITTS, put the pan back into the oven and bake 40 to 50 minutes until the popovers are puffed up and and well browned in color. The longer they bake the sturdier they will be.

While the popovers bake mix the ½ cup sugar and the 1½ teaspoons cinnamon in a shallow bowl.

Remove the popovers from the pan and pierce the bottom with a small knife to allow any steam to escape (assuming there are no holes in them already, which mine always have). When cool enough to handle brush them all over using the remaining melted butter and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Put them on a plate, in a basket, a bowl, whatever you have, and start eating! If you have leftovers you can store them in a covered container at room temperature and reheat them on a baking sheet at 450°F for 3-5 minutes. A toaster oven works great for this, but I will also mention they are great at room temperature as well.

I hope you'll enjoy these. Also I hope you will let me know what other variations you try, and whether you decided to fill them or not. 

Riley kept falling asleep while we took photos today, but he never let his head drop!