Easy and Authentic New England Popovers
Although I wasn’t born in New England, I’ve lived here long enough to consider myself a full-fledged New Englander, and along with that comes a true affinity for popovers. The tall, top-heavy, and irregularly shaped orbs are somewhat of a cross between bread and pasty. Their odd appearance, however, belies their addicting qualities — the crisp, golden-brown exterior that yields to amazingly moist ribbons of custardy interior with a buttery, slightly eggy flavor.
I can still recall the first time I experienced the magic of a popover. I had just moved to Boston and I was helping to cater a wedding. The head chef had made hundreds of popovers for the event. I was in awe, especially after learning that perfect popovers are typically made in small batches. But each one looked absolutely perfect to me, and the wedding guests swooned. I, too, fell in love with the popover.
Now that I’m in the know, I find that my friends from other parts of the country are often unfamiliar with popovers — and completely suspect of my obsession — leading me to believe that they’re very much a regional delicacy. Popovers have evolved considerably from their native English roots in Yorkshire pudding — a soufflé-like popover cooked in the fatty drippings of a roast. The purely American version that we know has nixed the beef drippings, morphed into individual servings, and become a totally neutral canvas that's ready for slathering with butter and jam, or stuffing with savory fillings. Like our Puritan roots, the ingredients couldn’t be simpler: flour, milk, eggs, butter, and a pinch of salt. That’s it — yet they seem so tricky to make. Well, that’s probably because there are a few tricks to achieving properly popped popovers. They are the epitome of the science and chemistry of baking.
Without going into a long, scientific diatribe, I’ll simply say that time and steam are the keys here. (If you want the science, you can find it here.) First, take the time to rest your batter before baking the popovers — at least an hour, but ideally overnight. This will make for much taller, tastier popovers. Next, take advantage of all that steam. The combination of a very hot oven and a very fluid batter are what cause the pop in popovers. The batter begins to set as soon as it hits the high heat, and the evaporating liquid creates a ton of steam that pushes the setting batter further and further upward. This is another reason why a very hot oven, and a pre-heated popover pan are essential.
One last trick that Korinn Koslofsky of Ula Café swears by is “the poke trick.” This is simply poking the popovers just before they’re done baking to allow some of the steam to escape, thereby setting the structure of the popovers and avoiding an unfortunate collapse when they emerge from the oven. Korinn uses a convection oven to create the unstoppable rise of her popovers, making them a unique creation that’s harder to achieve at home. However, if you follow the tips and tricks offered in this recipe, you can enjoy authentic New England popovers anytime. If you’re not quite convinced, or just want to sample some great popovers around town, there are a few suggestions of where to find them after the recipe. Get ready to fall in love.
New England popovers (Adapted from Korinn Koslofsky of Ula Cafe)
This recipe is very scalable — double or triple it if you need more popovers. Since the batter holds quite well (up to a couple of days), you can make it in advance and only bake as many popovers as you need. A popover pan with 6 cups is the standard for this recipe, but a 12-cup muffin tin can also be used following the adjustments in the recipe. The muffin tin will produce slightly shorter, denser popovers. Popovers are best eaten within a few hours of baking, but if you want to reheat them, it’s best to use the oven. Avoid the microwave or you’ll get rubbery popovers.
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk milk, eggs, and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until combined (some lumps may remain). Let batter rest for at least 1 hour, or overnight. If resting overnight, refrigerate batter but bring to room temperature for at least a half hour before baking.
2. When you are ready to bake the popovers, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position, place popover pan or muffin tin on a baking sheet, place it on the rack, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
3. When the pan and oven are preheated, carefully remove the pan from the oven. Quickly brush the cups with the remaining tablespoon of melted butter, and divide the room-temperature batter evenly among the cups. (If you’re using a standard 12-cup muffin tin, fill only 6 of the cups and stagger them so they are not directly next to each other.)
4. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Then, without opening the oven door, lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 15 minutes, until the popovers are dark golden brown. Quickly poke each popover with a skewer or the tip of a paring knife and continue baking for 5 minutes.
5. Immediately turn hot popovers out onto a cooling rack, and enjoy!
Popovers around townFor a really authentic New England popover experience, head to Ula Café in Jamaica Plain. Owner, Korinn Koslofsky and her team are turning out hot, fresh, and absolutely enormous popovers ($2.00) every couple of hours so you can almost guarantee a perfect, steaming popover straight from the oven whenever you stop by. Korinn says the popovers at Ula are so popular that customers will call ahead to find out when the next batch is coming out of the oven. Plus, great coffee, hand-crafted sandwiches, and a chill atmosphere make this a one-stop shop, no matter what you’re craving.
Ula Café - 284 Amory St. Jamaica Plain, MA, 617·524·7890
If you’ve perused many of the local farmer’s markets lately, you may have spotted The Popover Lady. With a variety of flavors in traditional and mini sizes, Naomi Cannistraci and her team are taking a unique approach to popovers. Try them dusted with cinnamon sugar, drizzled with chocolate, or laced with asiago cheese ($3 each, $7/3, $24/dozen). Naomi says her popovers appeal to adults and kids alike, bringing a bit of nostalgia to those who recall their grandmothers making popovers years ago.
For locations, visit thepopoverlady.com.
For your early morning breakfast cravings, pop into a Clover Food Lab for their savory popover sandwich: a light, airy popover split open and filled with sliced tomatoes, cheddar, roasted smoky tempeh, fried leeks and a schmear of mayo ($5.14). It’s decadent, but totally worth it. You can also get plain popovers ($2.34) to eat on the go, or top as you wish, but get there early before they run out.