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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Simple Popovers

My gunkles(gay uncles) are moving to Texas, so I get first pick of all the pastry/antique stuff they had from their St. Louis home. Of course, they gifted me a beautiful copper tea kettle that freaking sings...

Some gorgeous copper canele molds, a copper strainer, a copper bowl, and a new pan...

Shinyyyyy like a treasure from a sunken pirate wreck...
Oh, and three nonstick popover molds, along with a kiss on the cheek and a cheeky "I want popovers for Christmas brunch" before handing me everything.

So I must confess: I've never actually had a popover. The first time I'd even heard of them was when I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott when the March family shares their Christmas feast with the Hummels, and I think I was around six or seven when that happened. It happened again when I was watching a dubbed episode of Sailor Moon on Cartoon Network's Toonami when Serena/Usagi goes to the ball in search of the Silver Crystal disguised as a guest with the nomme "Duchess Popover" in a poofy pink dress. I don't think I even looked up what a popover was until I was already in culinary school, so I'm basically going into this whole thing blind.

A popover is described as an airy pastry that, to me, resembles a choux puff in structure. They're baked in a fairly deep cup pan that has high sides and seems to be structured as such to allow as much heat as possible to penetrate each popover as individuals, rather than as a unit, like a cupcake pan would.

This tells me that it is ideal to have a crisp crust on the outside and plenty of high sides for the dough to cling to as it rises and domes over the top. A quick google search of "popovers" will tell you that many struggle to get it just right, which tells me that it takes a certain amount of skill to do so, or at least have a basic understanding of baking/pastry chemistry.

To get a rise out of something - an angel food cake, for example - you generally do not grease your tins. This is because, as the cake/muffin/popover/whatever is baking, gas is rising and being trapped in the glutinous web that is generally the flour. As this batter rises, it must have something to cling to, and it can't stick to something that's been greased all to heck. That being said, most recipes I've seen tell you to grease your popover tins. This seems counterproductive to me, but whatever, I'll try it.

Most popover recipes comprise of four basic ingredients: milk, flour, eggs, butter. The ratios are different, but this seriously reminds me of a pate a choux dough in many ways. There are even recipes that tell you to heat up the milk before adding it to the flour - I mean, seriously, that's exactly what you do with a choux paste. The differences are ratios - a popover recipe yields a thin batter, thinner than pancakes but thicker than crepes. Also, there's not a lot of fat in popovers in comparison to choux buns. This intrigues me because it tells me that most of the gas and bubbles are going to come from the eggs and milk versus the evaporating fat, but hey.

So, what do all of these things tell me? High heat. Non-greased tins. Gluten is essential. Oh, and one thing most recipes seem to agree on: the batter must rest before baking. This is similar to canele batter, another thin-battered treat that requires certain pans and certain methods to be successful. Most recipes for six standard popovers are the same, but the methods all vary. I tried Ina Garten's first, which does not mention resting...

There was an attempt. 
Okay so these were tasty, but they were rather close-textured and a bit pale. They had some good bubbles starting, but I think that there were some factors missing: gluten, for example. I think these ones may have been a little high in fat - not butter fat, but milk fat - and were pale because of the lack of sugar. Also, upon watching the instructional video, I noticed that Ina had a 12-popover mini pan versus my standard 6-popover pan, so that honestly explained a lot.

so smol
Another thing I should probably mention is that there are no dairy products in my house. My partner, B, is violently lactose intolerant and I get mildly fart-y when I eat too much cheese, so it's just easier to have no dairy products in the house. I use almond-coconut blend because, to me, it works the best with most recipes and it tastes most-like dairy milk. I used the almond-coconut blend in this recipe as 100%, but I still suspected that the amount of fat in it may be the culprit. I decided that some lateral thinking was in order, so I switched it up to water.

With a mere 1/2 cup of the almond-coconut milk and the rest being water, I also decided to switch to bread flour with the second batch. The bread flour will allow larger bubbles, and react better with the water to create more gluten, and it will hold the steam in better for the fat from the "butter", which is really vegan butter substitute. The eggs and such were still the same - only the water and the type of flour were different. Oh, and this time I was going to let the batter rest. Most recipes say you can do this overnight or for up to 24 hours, but I just let this batch rest for 45 minutes - half because I'm impatient, half because I had work around 2:30 and didn't want to be late.

I filled up the tins(only lightly greased this time) a little more than 2/3rds full rather than the "less than half-full" instruction from a previous recipe, and preheated the pans by letting them hang out in the oven for about 2 minutes. I suspect that this is to allow an initial 'crust' to form on contact so that the popover batter will really have something to cling to as it goes up.


I added a longer baking time to ensure that these puppies do not collapse, while only lowering the temperature of the oven to 400 degrees instead of the 425. You want these to be crisp, after all, so the longer the better. When I opened up the first one, there was quite a bit of steam coming up, so a few more minutes in the oven wouldn't hurt, especially since it was still rather custardy in the middle. The final bake time was about 45-50 minutes. Seriously, the difference was phenomenal.

Me vs. you

Take the popovers immediately out of the tins and allow them to cool on a rack. I highly recommend eating them fresh and hot, because nothing will quite beat these babies when they're steaming and crispy.  They're great with "butter"(Earth Balance, that is) or with any kind of creamy soup to mop it up. I can't wait to try a blueberry popover for Christmas.

Simple Popovers
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe
yields 6 standard popovers or 10 mini popovers

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c warm water
  • 1/2 c coconut/almond milk blend(any dairy-free milk will do)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1.5 oz vegan butter substitute (roughly 3 Tbsp)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 8.5 oz bread flour
Combine everything in the pitcher of a blender and blitz for 30 seconds, then scrape down, and blitz again for another 5 seconds or so. Pour into a container with a spout(a big measuring cup would be ideal, or possibly a pitcher) and cover with plastic wrap. Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours. (Apparently, the longer the better.) If you plan on only letting it rest for 30 minutes, take this time to preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

Prep your popover pan(yes, you need POPOVER PAN, not muffin tins) with a light bit of either pan spray or melted butter. Preheat the pan itself by putting it in the oven for 2 minutes. When the pans are ready, break out your batter!

Pour your batter into the molds to a little over 2/3rds full. Turn your oven down to 400 and then set the timer for 45 minutes. DO NOT PEEK. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN FOR ANYTHING. TAPE IT CLOSED IF YOU HAVE TO. DON'T PEEK. Just let them bake until rather dark brown and crisp on the outside.

Evacuate them from the pans immediately and let cool for at least 5 minutes before consuming. You can eat them piping hot(which I recommend) or have them at room temperature with jam, with cheese and fruit, or just on their own. They're honestly perfect mid-afternoon snacks, and I really think that more Americans should be baking these on the regular. For as technical as they are, they're truthfully the quickest things ever to prepare. The batter takes mere minutes to prepare, and the longest time is the waiting. If you do try them, with success, without the resting period, please let me know - I'd like to meet a superior human. 

Have fun trying this one, you guys! Happy cooking and happy eating!

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