Popovers may be light and airy, but they’re not insubstantial. They offer a taste of American history, as native to us as our democratic government. And that makes them the ideal item to serve at Thanksgiving.
With Yorkshire pudding as their ancestors, popovers have a British pedigree. They come from a line of eggy batter puddings that have been dutifully rising from the drippings of roast beef pans since before the Puritans came to America. But once across the Atlantic, Yorkshire puddings took on a new form: the more ethereal popover.
The lightness of popovers owes nothing to yeast or baking powder – they are leavened by steam, which explains why it’s important not to open the oven to peek while they’re baking. Once in the oven, the supple batter forms air pockets and the popovers balloon.
Crispy crowns pop over the top of the baking cup like chef’s hats. Hoisted on puffs of steam, they’re haphazardly shaped. And while they may resemble brioche on the outside, it’s the hollow inside that surprises once they’re pulled open, piping hot.
For a traditional touch, a nod to the Yorkshire pudding, grease a popover pan with meat drippings. Savory popover recipes often include herbs or fresh chives. But part of what distinguishes them from Yorkshire pudding is that they can be eaten at breakfast or tea, sweet and plain. In fact, the first recorded popover recipe, from “Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving” (1876, updated version from Cornell University Library, 2009) by Mary Foote Henderson, alternately calls them “breakfast puffs.”
If popovers are to pop properly, they need the right conditions. Failed popovers are sad, dense, stodgy things. A hot pan is vital. Early recipes call for baking them in custard cups or even teacups, but modern popover pans’ steep, tapered sides guide the rising batter to a more grandiose puff. Muffin tins will do but are less dramatic.
All recipes agree that popovers must be served immediately. Seldom is this a problem – it’s difficult to keep people’s hands off them. We should all consider it a solemn duty to give proper thanks for the great and glorious popover.
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 cup milk, at room temperature
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 eggs, at room temperature
• 1-1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
Grease popover pan or muffin tin. Set pan in oven and preheat to 425 F.
Mix ingredients with whisk to form thin batter. Pour batter into heated pan, filling cups halfway.
Bake 25 minutes at 425 F.
Reduce oven temperature to 350 F and bake another 15-20 minutes.
For crisper popovers, slit tops 5 minutes before end of baking.