Bake

These Sky-High Popovers Might Make You Believe in Magic

May 12, 2015

We should all have a solid command of the ABCs of baking. Thankfully, Food52's Test Kitchen Manager Erin McDowell is here, with tips and tricks to help you master the most essential desserts and the simplest breads.

Today: Need a little magic in your life? Make popovers.

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The first time I saw a popover, I was certain that it was magic. I watched a TV chef whisk the batter together in a total of 3 minutes. He poured it into the pan and, not that I was in the habit of doubting an expert on TV, I thought he was crazy. He said that in 20 minutes he would have towering, warm popovers, which just didn’t seem possible. The batter was easier to make than pancake batter and required no special ingredients—mostly items you could find in an average kitchen.

But when he pulled them out of the oven, I audibly gasped. I felt my stomach grumble. They were gorgeous, and it was truly, absolutely, magic

Popovers are an entertainer’s dream: Simple to prepare but dramatic in presentation, they’re quicker than bread, but have a similarly comforting effect, especially since they’re meant to be eaten warm. They’re great for breakfast, with a healthy dollop of jam, but they also pair well with a hearty dinner. Decadent though it may be, I love them alongside a steak or super crispy-skinned roast chicken. Best of all, I’ve hardly ever found too many folks who struggle to make them. And yet, they seem out of reach for a lot of cooks and bakers.

Fortunately, with this guide, the hardest part will be deciding how much butter to slather on top.

1. The Physics of Popovers
2. Tools
3. Making the Batter
4. Preparing and Filling the Pan
5. Baking
6. Serving

Or, just head straight to the recipe!

1. The Physics of Popovers
While popovers are close cousins of English Yorkshire pudding, they are, in fact, an American creation, appearing sometime in the late 1800s. If you’ve ever seen or eaten a popover, you’ve probably had the same question I once did: How does it work?

Popover batter is mixed similarly to pancake or crêpe batter, but it’s much thinner than pancake batter and a bit thicker than crêpe batter. Popover batter is almost like a custard, consisting mostly of eggs and liquid (usually milk or water) with just enough flour to help set the structure as the eggs soufflé during baking. It's distinguished by its high egg content, which is important because when the popover batter hits the hot pan (see the tip on preparing the pan below), the eggs immediately begin to coagulate. As the popovers cook, the moisture from the batter and the eggs generates a massive amount of steam that builds up inside the popover, pushing the batter upwards (no other leaveners needed—how cool is that?!).

In addition to leavening the popovers, the steam also cooks the inside, creating a soft, custardy texture that is excellent paired with the crispy, crunchy texture of the exterior. When the proteins in the egg, milk solids, and flour are exposed to the edge of the pan and the hot oven air, the heat browns the proteins (this is known as Maillard reaction) and creates a crisp outer crust.

Best of all, the interior of the finished popover is hollow—usually due to one large pocket of steam, which turns into something like a single, giant air bubble in the oven. The hollow interior is perfect for mopping up savory sauces or soups or smothering with butter, jam, fruit curd, or even ganache! (I personally love filling a popover with a scoop of ice cream for a super fast profiterole look-alike.) The popover batter also contains salt and a small amount of fat (usually melted butter, though sometimes a neutral oil) to help promote browning on the exterior.

2. Tools
Generally speaking, I am not a fan of single-purpose kitchen tools. But when it comes to popovers, I have to break my rule (okay, okay, cherry pitters too…but I love me some cherry pie). If you love popovers, if you make them even somewhat regularly, invest in a popover pan. How does a popover pan differ from a muffin pan? Whereas muffin pans are usually narrower at the base than at the top, popover pans have straight sides with taller, skinnier cups. This shape is pretty important for achieving the desired result: The tall, narrow vessel forces the batter upwards as the steam is created. Think of the sides of the pan like high walls that the batter clings to while it climbs; eventually the batter is firm enough to set, but when it’s still liquid, it needs room to grow and assistance to get there.

This begs the million-dollar question: Can you use a muffin pan? Yes. You can even use ramekins or other oven-safe baking vessels. Will it produce different results? Yes again. Popovers made in a muffin pan won’t get quite as tall and may be slightly more custardy inside as a result—there won’t be as big of a steam pocket without the room to expand in the pan. Muffin tin popovers are also slightly more likely to fall over or become otherwise misshapen during baking. But they still taste pretty darn good, so don’t fret if you don’t have the proper pan. 

3. Making the Batter
Popover batter couldn’t be easier to make. Essentially, you just need to whisk it all together. I begin by mixing the flour and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, I whisk the eggs and milk to combine, then pour that mixture into the flour gradually while whisking constantly. Finally, I slowly add the melted butter, mixing just until fully incorporated.

If your popover batter is excessively lumpy, you may want to strain it, pressing the batter through a sieve to remove lumps. However, if your batter is slightly lumpy, this is normal—much like making pancake batter. What constitutes excessive? The batter should be easily pourable and relatively liquidy—if it isn’t, you may want to strain. Otherwise, mixing the batter is the simplest part of the process!

4. Preparing and Filling the Pan
A popover pan should be greased. I prefer to use melted butter, but oil or nonstick spray would work too. Greasing the pan ensures that the finished popovers don’t stick and promotes browning on the exterior of the popover. After you’ve greased your pan, place it into the oven while it preheats. It’s ideal to add popover batter to a hot pan because the moment the cool or room temperature batter hits the hot metal, steam begins to form. The idea here is to create an ideal environment to maximize the amount of steam. More steam means fluffier, taller popovers. If you forget to preheat your pan, all is not lost—properly mixed batter will still rise to great heights. However, this is a simple extra step that can make a big difference.

Once your pan is nice and hot and your batter is mixed, it’s time to fill the pan. A good rule of thumb with popovers is to fill the pans just over halfway full. You want to provide room for the popovers to begin to expand before their structure is fully set (when they most depend on those “walls” of the pan). If you overfill your popover pan, they may pop too early, when the batter is still liquidy. They will eventually set, but it will create a big mess in your oven and the finished popovers will be very misshapen.

I like to use a liquid measuring cup to pour the batter into the pan, as it gives me the most control as to the level of the batter inside each cup. Ladles are another solid choice. As soon as your pans are filled, transfer the popovers to the oven. 

5. Baking
The keys to baking popovers are to use a high oven temperature (I prefer 425° F) and to not disturb them (by opening the oven) during the process. I know, I know—I like to peek in on my baked goods, too. But this is one time you really should try to resist. Opening the oven door during baking releases a generous amount of heat, and any reduction can drastically affect the production of steam inside the popovers. Generally speaking, it’s wise to trust your popover recipe. Set your timer for the lower end of the time spectrum provided. When the timer goes off, turn on the oven light and look inside without opening the oven.

Popovers are done when they are tall, “set” (no obvious gooeyness), and very golden brown. If the popovers look like they need longer, set the timer for the amount indicated in the recipe. Standard popover pans filled halfway and baked at 425° F are generally finished within 20 to 25 minutes. It’s also worth noting that lightly baked popovers have a softer, more custardy interior, while more thoroughly baked popovers have a crispier outer shell. You may discover you have a textural preference and you can adjust your own baking time accordingly. 

6. Serving
Popovers are best served immediately. They will, unfortunately, begin to collapse after a few minutes outside of the oven. One way to help prevent this is to puncture the top and/or side of the popover with the tip of a small, sharp knife to help release some of the steam trapped inside. This makes it more likely that the outer structure will stay set as the steam releases, and it also means you won’t end up with a soggy popover.

Even when they collapse, popovers are delicious—ideally, served warm. While this may seem limiting, I love baking popovers for company. They make an excellent (and relatively quick) addition to breakfast, brunch, or a simple dinner party (serve them in lieu of dinner rolls). Leftover popovers should be stored in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days, and re-warmed in the oven for the best effect.  

Popovers

Makes 6 large popovers 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup whole milk
4 eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus more for greasing the pan)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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28 Comments

Michelle S. March 31, 2018
The recipe that shows here and the recipe you see when you click on the link "to see the full recipe (and save and print it) are not the same. They have different amounts of flour and milk. Both say they make 6 popovers and the other ingredients are the same for both versions.
 
Jean F. February 21, 2017
Baked in and served with butter = popover. Baked in drippings from a roast - Yorkshire pudding. Either way = fabulous!
 
Austin R. February 21, 2017
I have found it important not to pour cold batter into the pan. For best results let the milk and eggs come to room temperature before whisking the batter together.
 
Renate June 30, 2016
My first thought was: pop overs? This is Yorkshire pudding. My husband is British. I love yorkshire pudding, whenever there are any leftovers from a roast, we have them with homemade jam as a snack. I also came across a recipe for a Dutch baby, I was intrigued. I am Dutch, so I tried making the (American) Dutch baby once, and it was great. That Dutch baby however seemed more like an oven baked dutch pancake, (though with a clear presence of baking powder). I often make Dutch pancakes, they are baked in a pan on the stove ;) plain or with cheese, or bacon topped with some golden syrup. They make a great breakfast, lunch or dinner.
 
Yorkshire L. April 10, 2016
Every Yorkshire person reading this will be seething I tell thee, it's a chuffing Yorkshire pudding that is meant to be served with a roast dinner. All those Americans asking if you can use a muffin tin the answer is yes, as that's what most Yorkshire folk use. The oven should be on high the tin should be hot before pouring the batter in and got best results melt a little dripping into every muffin space. Come visit Yorkshire, we'll gladly show you how to do them properly plus you know Yorkshire is beautiful ?
 
I was about to write the same about the roast. It just isn't Yorkshire Pudding without the roasted prime rib and gravy in our house :)
 
lohoatx April 3, 2016
I make them all the time, too, and the best recipe - which is virtually identical to this - is from Nieman Marcus. The Zodiac Room - a restaurant inside the stores in Dallas - serves hot popovers with strawberry butter as soon as you're seated. (Softened butter is mixed with strawberry preserves. YUM.) The big tricks: make sure your milk is slightly warm and eggs are at room temp, then let the finished batter rest for an hour. To. Die. For. My popovers are always a hit.
 
culture_connoisseur April 2, 2016
In the oven now in my popover pan!
 
tia February 29, 2016
I make popovers all the time. One trick that I got from Serious Eats was to make the batter up to 24 hours in advance. They pop higher that way. It's pretty impressive. I also just drop a pat of butter into the pan before putting it in the preheating oven. Once the tin is hot, I pour the batter in and it's ready to go. I'm also trying to remember to put a sheetpan under the tin because the grease keeps dripping on the bottom of my oven. Ugh.<br /><br />I always use the BH&G cookbook's recipe (the red and white plaid one).
 
Catherine February 29, 2016
Please, I wish you would also include metric weights in your recipes!
 
Harriet S. October 7, 2015
Can you make them with nonfat milk too?
 
Sharon O. May 13, 2015
I don't have a popover pan. I bought 2 cast iron "cupcake" pans. Over 50 years ago. Needless to say they are great. I make sure I wipe them clean them with a damp towel so the seasoning doesn't have an aftertaste. Roasts-drippings, Sweet-butter. Works every time. been doing it this way since high school! Sharon
 
Pamela May 11, 2015
Indeed YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS !!<br />
 
Ross May 11, 2015
They're+called+Yorkshire+puddings.+A+staple+for+every+British+Sunday+Dinner.<br />http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/29303/award-winning-perfect-yorkshire-pudding-recipe.aspx
 
jbfalise May 10, 2015
Tried this recipe and it didn't work out for me...they hardly rose. However, I've always had much more success with starting the oven at 450F, then lowering it to 375F after about 15 min. Also, past popover recipes I've made have had runnier batter (better for the necessary steam to get that "pop").
 
Nanda G. May 11, 2015
This is the standard recipe (starting at the higher temp and lowering midway through) I've used for almost 40 years (this was the first thing I learned to bake as a child). Always works as long as you never open the oven during baking. Not sure why this recipe skips the temperature lowering step. Any thoughts from others?
 
Dawn May 10, 2015
What+would+you+serve+with+the+popovers?
 
EVELYN May 10, 2015
We serve them for breakfast and have them with eggs and breakfast meat. Most of u eat them with butter and jam but my grandson fills them with maple syrup inside so they are like sopapilla.
 
Arthur I. May 10, 2015
I love popovers as a Sunday morning snack before working in the garden!
 
Pamela May 10, 2015
Pamela+<br />Love+your+site!!+In+the+UK+we+call+these+beauties+'YORKSHIRE+PUDDINGS'+they+are+served+as+a+savory+traditionally+with+Roast+Beef+and+as+a+dessert+with+jam.+We+also+had+them+served+as+a+starter+(those+who+ate+most+Yorkshire+Pudding+got+more+meat)+a+rouse+to+fill+us+up!+Still+a+family+favorite+best+served+with+'gravy'+!
 
Pati C. May 7, 2015
Gluten/Dairy free popovers https://www.facebook.com/patisrecipes/photos/a.1582845691970671.1073741850.1551017098486864/1582845701970670/?type=3&theater
 
Jade G. May 2, 2015
"This begs the million-dollar question: Can you use a muffin pan?" <br />Regarding "begs the question" -- I do not think it means what you think it means. It isn't a synonym for "raises the question."
 
Penny May 3, 2015
you really need the proper pan for air and heat circulation. I would try it though
 
Nanda G. May 11, 2015
I never had a popover pan until recently and it always worked with a regular muffin tin, they just don't get as sky high since the muffin pan is shallower.
 
Trudy G. April 3, 2016
Yes, but do not use the middle cups. It's all about heat distribution.
 
sherrybakes May 2, 2015
Will this work at high altitude (8200')?
 
Penny May 3, 2015
I+have+made+them+successfully+at+7000+feet.++that's+getting+close.