January 10, 2018

Dear friends,

What the heck?! I have made gorgeous, puffy soufflés, cream puffs that rise like clouds and gougere that are crisp and hollow. I thought I knew a thing or two about pastries and air when I settled on soup and popovers for lunch with friends.

What a letdown when my popovers stubbornly refused to rise. We ate them anyway, although they were dense and eggy, and we had to pry them from the pan with knives and spoons. Ugh.

I couldn’t let popovers defeat me. In the coming days I read everything I could about the pastries, which are supposed to rise high above the pan until they’re crunchy outside and mostly hollow inside.

I had thought beating the batter well was the key. In fact, my recipe said to beat the batter until smooth. Not true. Popover batter should be treated like muffin or scone batter, and stirred gently just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Otherwise, it will not rise.

I picked up many other tips, too, such as warming the milk and heating the pan to encourage the rise. I also learned that popovers are not just muffin-shaped cream puffs, which was kind of what I imagined. They are the American cousins of British Yorkshire pudding, and are eggy and denser than cream puffs, and only partially hollow.

Here’s the gist of what I learned to make my popovers pop:

•  Warm the milk and have eggs at room temperature.
•  Heat the muffin tin before adding the batter.
•  Do not beat in flour until smooth. Stir it gently, just enough to moisten the flour but leaving some lumps.
• The popovers will stick to the pan no matter how well you grease it. Have patience. After they cool about five minutes, they are easier to remove from the pan.

Popovers are good warm or at room temperatures, plain or with butter or jam. Tony and I ate them with soup for supper and the next morning with marmalade and tea.

POPOVERS

Popovers

 

• 3 eggs, at room temperature
• 1 1/4 cups milk
• 1 1/4 cups flour
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• Neutral oil such as Canola

Place a 12-cup muffin tin in the oven while preheating to 450 degrees.

Beat eggs in a medium-size bowl, preferably one with a handle and spout. Warm milk in a microwave to about 100 degrees, not to a boil. Slowly whisk milk into eggs, beating well.

Combine flour and salt and add to egg mixture. With a spoon, stir just enough to moisten flour. Do not over mix. A few lumps are OK.

Remove muffin tin from oven and brush liberally with oil. Fill cups two-thirds full of batter. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes. Without opening oven door, reduce heat to 350 and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, or until batter is puffed and beginning to brown.

Cool five minutes in pan before releasing the edges with a sharp knife and removing popovers. Eat plain, with butter or with jam. Makes 12.

HELP U COOK
Room-temperature or warm eggs are called for in many recipes  — often because egg whites whip to a greater volume when warmed. If you forget to remove eggs from the refrigerator in time to warm them to room temperature, just submerge the whole eggs in warm tap water until the shells feel warm. This will probably sound stupidly self-evident to some people, but others may have struggled for years until they learned this. Count me among the latter.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Pan-grilled strip steaks, baked sweet potatoes.

What I ate out last week:
Hamburger station hamburger with onions, mustard and pickle, a few fries; half of a roast beef, baby Swiss and onion on ciabatta bread, cup of clam chowder from Shisler’s Cheese House in Copley;  wedding soup, salad and garlic bread at Marie’s in Wadsworth; chicken pot pie, a couple of bites of fried green tomato, bacon and Jack cheese sandwich at Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia near  Beckley, W.Va.; pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw at Sonny’s Barbecue in Brunswick, Ga.; Egg McMuffin and coffee at McDonald’s in Ft. Pierce, Fla.; conch chowder, a conch fritter and shrimp tostones — plantains smashed and fried, topped with Jack cheese, shrimp, chopped red onion, tomato, cilantro, avocado and a spicy white sauce — at Conchy Joe’s Seafood in Jensen Beach, Fla.

THE MAILBAG

No mail this week. Hey, I’m sending YOU mail from Florida. Poke your heads out of the blankets and snowsuits and drop me a line. I’m off in search of Cuban food today. I’ll report back next week.

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