Little miss particular

Popovers are picky. They can always think of some little-miss-particular reason not to rise. The ovens too cold, no too hot! they cry. My batter isn't warm enough! you used the wrong flour! you peeked before I had time!

But when you get them right—when they can think of no complaint—oh! are they a delight. They are warm, eggy, flakey, crisp: every nice adjective there is. They pull apart and deflate in your hands. They melt butter into a salty, golden stream, and pour it down their insides. They lap up jam, absorb the sweet, and then hand themselves over, submit.

And on a chilly morning, when it's still blue out, just barely light, there are few things better to have in your hands. They leave a bit of a mess, of course, in their wake, but like any favorite child, they manage to get away with it every time.

There's a laundry list of tricks and rules frustrated bakers have come up with over the years to coerce them into rising. It's said they prefer all-purpose flour, unbleached; large eggs, not cold but warm; and their whole milk at room temperature. They like their wets and their drys mixed separately, then folded gently to combine. They like to have their oven and their pan warmed up before they get in, and they like to sit on the bottom shelf. They like their pan greased but not too oily, lest they slip and their puffed tops fall. And most of all, they like their privacy. They do not like to be peeked at constantly; they prefer you keep the door shut while they go about their business. They rise with steam, and an open door means cold, condensation, and collapse.

If you can manage to keep all this straight, they might just show you a good time.


adapted from the Joy of Cooking, 1997 edition

makes 11 popovers in a standard muffin tin

2 large eggs
1 and 1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup all-purpose flour, unbleached
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, ground

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grease a popover or muffin pan and set it on the stovetop to warm up. While the oven is just warming up, pour the milk into a small mixing bowl, put the butter in another, grab the eggs, and put all three in the oven to warm up. After 5 to 10 minutes (depending on how quickly your oven warms up), or when they are about room temperature (65 to 70), take them out and whisk all together in the milk bowl. In measuring cup, combine flour and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet until just mixed (it's no big deal to have a few small lumps).

Pour batter into warm pan, filling 11 wells about 3/4 full with batter, and the remaining one with water to avoid burning the pan. Bake 15 minutes at 450, and 15 to 20 minutes longer at 350. Remove popovers from oven and slit sides immediately with a knife so they don't deflate as they cool. Enjoy hot, with butter and jam.


Anonymous said...

I am really not in to popovers -- I don't know why, they're too eggy or something -- but I loved this post! Your writing is so fresh and clever and fun. Nice job, Little Miss Writer. XO, Mama

Emily Qi Wheeler said...

hey e-
never heard of doing just 11 and filling the other with water, cool! you'd be so proud, josh and i are cooking up a storm! in the last week, we've done a delicious quiche, chili, shepperd's pie, and various breads. im hoping we can find the time to come visit you and taste your cooking in february!
love, Em

Elspeth said...

I hadn't either, but a cookbook recommended it. (Of course, I didn't discover this trick until the second round of popovers, so I had already burned the pan!) But better luck for you all. So glad to hear you're cooking...I've been thinking of shepherd's pie myself. Come visit soon!



ccinnkeeper said...

I've had good luck with putting popovers in a cold oven. If you try it I'd love to know how it works for you.

Elspeth said...


I will certainly let you know if I try...that sounds like a good trick.



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