Sunday, November 21, 2010


God knows that my childhood was not one of gumdrops and...and....I don't know, other sweet happy shit. But there were some things I have very happy, fond memories of. The human mind and body are wonderful things. Little things can trigger a smile.

When I was a little boy, we had a farmhouse in the country in upstate New York. We go drive there every weekend and just enjoy being out of the city. In many ways, I think I appreciate it more now than I did then, although I loved being there when I was a kid. I used to love on winter mornings waking up early, going to the fireplace, stirring the ashes around and building up the fire from the night before, then curling up in a chair with a book on my lap and sink into the book for hours before anyone else was up.

Sometimes though, for whatever reason, I would sleep a little late, and my mother would wake up before me, and I would wake up to a smell I was very familiar with. Popovers. I don't know what it is about these things that I adored so much, but I went crazy for them. I pestered my mother to make them almost every damn weekend, the poor woman. Sometimes she would, sometimes she wouldn't. Sometimes, just to be extra special, she would put cheese in the batter. Mmm, popovers.

Time passed, and popovers became a distant memory, all but forgotten. I don't remember when exactly, but about a year or two ago, I was zipping around amazon, and I stumbled onto a popover pan. I had never heard of such a creature and looked it up. It seemed that they are a little different from regular muffin tins- the cups are slightly deeper, more narrow, the slope of the sides different. They also tend to be freestanding cups held by wire- which is a bit more thermally efficient. Apparently you really need one to make perfect popovers. I thought back to my childhood. I remember how much it used to drive my mother completely crazy that the popovers would collapse. They still tasted scrumptious, but the tops would cave inward. I, as a child, didn't give a shit- I cared about the taste. But I as an adult (and a somewhat anal retentive cook) was curious to see whether or not I could pull off the perfect popover. So, I put the pan on my wishlist, and pretty much forgot about it. A few weeks ago, I had a little cash and decided to buy some stuff from my wishlist. Scrolling through, I found the popover pan. I argued with myself about the cost (not much- $17 I think it was) and was it worth it, would I ever make them, etc. etc.

Then I figured, fuck it. I bought it. Well, naturally as I was waiting for the order, the company stopped selling them and replaced it with what looks like the identical thing but $1.50 cheaper. Idon't care- when a company discontinues a product and replaces it with something they claim is the same but cheaper, it usually means it's shoddier. And, hell, it's a buck fifty.

So, it arrived last week and I didn't have a chance to use it, naturally. All my chinese friends, coworkers, wife, all looked at me weirdly when I described them. When I showed pictures, the unanimous reply was always "Do you fill it with cream?" I was scandalized. Also a little mystified that every single chinese person said the same thing. Go figure, it's a cultural thing.

So last night I decided that I would wake up early and make some. I informed my wife who asked "Are you going to fill them with cream?"
"Well, can you put cheese in them?"
"Well, yes, my mother used to. But I'd rather try making one normal batch first, before I start screwing with it."
"Well, can you put herbs and spices into it?"
"Yes, but I really would like to just make one normal batch first."

So. Out of curiosity, I looked up various recipies, and decided that most of them are bullshit, or have all kinds of weird requirements, etc. For example- you don't need to use kosher salt. It's going to melt in anyway, who cares what kind of salt you use? I used coarsely grained sea salt, but only because it's all I had (just ran out of mortons). Or how the eggs and milk need to be room temperature- nope, I took mine straight from the fridge.

Please please please do not try to make this recipe "healthy." The popover is a fairly delicate thing, and using crap like soy milk, margaine, whole wheat flour, egg whites, whatever- will fuck it up, make it nasty, and hell, why are you bothering to make it if you aren't going to make it well? Just stick to the damn recipe, okay? Yeesh.

You will need:
1. 1 cup flour, bleached white all-purpose
2. 1 cup whole milk (none of that reduced fat or soy whatever, have some pride in your cooking, you fucking hipster).
3. 2 tablespoons butter, melted. You can have a little more, but you need this much.
4. 3 large eggs.
5. 1 pinch salt

Preheat your oven to 425. The tray will go onto the lowest rack, so position that ahead of time. Take your popover pan or muffin tin or whatever you use and grease the inside of the cups with some butter (not the melted butter, this is just butter used as a grease). Set the pan aside. Now, for the batter, you can use a hand mixer, a food processor, whatever. I used my kitchen aid with the whisk attachment. For those of you who care, my milk and eggs were straight from the fridge, the butter was freshly melted and still kinda hot.

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix. To my chagrin, my flour wasn't sifted or anything, but had some fairly large lumps. I did the best I could, but it was still kind of gooey on the bottom of the bowl and such. After the mixture became homogenous (couple minutes on the second-to-lowest setting) there was a light froth on top, but not much. Enough that I knew that oxygen had made its way into the batter. The batter is fairly liquidy. From my work with creme brulee, I noticed a could of pieces of cooked egg floating in the batter. Probably because of the hot butter. I strained the batter into a mixing bowl. Good thing I did, as I strained a hell of a lot of junk out- cooked egg, gooey flour, etc. I ended up with a very nice, smooth batter. Plus, my mixing bowl has a mouth to pour, while the kitchen aid bowl does not. I poured an even amount into each of the six popover cups and put the pan into the oven, on the lowest rack.

Do not open the oven until you are ready to take the popovers out.

Keep the oven at 425 for 25 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 350 and walk away. After 15 minutes, come back and take your fresh popovers out of the oven. You will want to eat them within five to ten minutes from the oven.

While baking, enjoy the smell. I walked around my apartment with a smile on my face from it- I had forgotten that smell, but with it, it brought back memories of delight from when I was a kid.

It's sad, but while popovers are an american dish (they are. Yorkshire puddings are very similar, but not quite the same) most americans are unfamiliar with them. It's one of the few points of american cuisine that we should take pride in, but they are almost completely unknown anymore. So, I want to thank my mother for exposing me to popovers, one of my favorite treats in the world.

And for those of you wondering, I took some pictures when they came fresh out of the oven. You can see them below. You will note that they did not collapse, and take my words on it when I say that they were perfectly cooked- crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, just the right balance of flavors. The only weird thing is that the very bottoms have that weird bell shape. I guess it must be a side effect of the pan or whatever, but it doesn't really matter- they're beautiful and delicious.

Next week, maybe I'll make another batch, this time with some cheddar. Oh, and do pay attention to the times- 25 and 15, and you'll get beautifully golden popovers.