Whenever we have overnight guests, be it family or friends, they have come to expect a basketful of popovers fresh from the oven gracing the breakfast table, especially during the holiday season. Of course, I have no one to blame but myself. An easy yet elegant breakfast treat, popovers have been in my kitchen repertoire for years. So visitors, and especially my two grown daughters, feel short-changed when they don’t awake to the aroma of popovers baking in the oven.
When my daughters were little, popovers were a staple of the Sunday morning fare, served up in the dining room – not in the kitchen – the table replete with cloth napkins and the heirloom china, crystal and silver. I figured back in those days, when we had more time than money, it was an inexpensive way to put something special on the table and expose them to the finer things in life. The formal setting put them on their best behavior – which means they tried hard not to spill the orange juice – and they eagerly slathered their popovers with butter and preserves. And the tradition has remained over the years. In fact, to meet the needs of the growing family – my oldest daughter was married last summer – my daughters presented me with a new popover pan for my birthday this year so I can set out a double batch to make sure everyone gets their fill.
Truth be told, popovers, while they appear elegant, are actually very easy to make if you follow a few simple rules.
Rule number 1: Get yourself a popover pan. While cookbooks will tell you popovers can be made in any muffin tin with deep cups, or even individual ramekins, the task is infinitely easier and the results are practically guaranteed if you invest in a decent popover pan. Today, most popover pans have six individual cups welded to a wire frame and come with a non-stick coating. They can be found for less than $20 at any decent cookware store.
Rule 2: Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature. It matters. If you try to use cold ingredients, the popovers won’t “pop” right and will be dense and heavy, instead of airy and majestic. Since the dish calls for only five ingredients – eggs, milk, butter, flour and salt - it’s pretty simple to get them to room temperature with a little forethought. But to speed things up, one trick I use is to place the uncracked eggs in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes and warm the milk on the stove. Just take care not to overheat it, or the batter will tend to be too thin.
Rule 3: The oven must be fully pre-heated with the oven rack set in the bottom third of the oven. Popovers require heat only from the bottom of the oven. If you have a heating element in the top of the oven – and most ovens don’t today - it must be switched off or disconnected.
Rule 4: Pre-heat the popover pan in the oven while you’re preparing the batter. This helps ensure they get the proper lift in the first few minutes of baking.
Rule 5: No peeking. The oven door must not be opened during baking, or the popovers will either fall or won’t gain the necessary height.
Rule 6: Pierce each popover with a sharp, thin-bladed knife immediately after they are removed from the oven. This allows the steam to escape and will help keep the exterior crispy.
Rule 7: Serve them while they’re hot. Popovers won’t wait for your guests to drift to the table. Time it right so you have everyone seated before you pull the pan from the oven. Left to sit, popovers tend to get soggy and though they can be re-heated, the results are simply not the same.
And that’s it, really. Follow these simple rules and perfect popovers can grace your breakfast table, too, in just 30 minutes of preparation and cooking time.