Posts Tagged popovers

January Popover Experiment, Take Three: Wondra Flour v. Bread Flour

Popovers - Recipe Mistake 2

Nothing about these giant popovers went as planned.

Shirley O’Corriher frightens me. Her book, Bakewise is filled with such abundant detail, such specific instruction, and such extensive scientific knowledge that it fills me with a mixture of excitement and terror. In her extensively researched recipes, each ingredient is absolutely essential, chosen because of its specific chemical makeup.

This means that small substitutions that I’d usually make without batting an eyelash, like substituting two percent milk for whole milk, are out of the question. Don’t have bleached all-purpose flour on hand? Looks like I’m not making her apple cake. Is the store out of full-fat buttermilk? Then the pound cake recipe is out.

But during the January Popover experiment I went against my own better judgement and made a big substitution in Bakewise’s popover recipe. I had started making Saturday night dinner too late, and didn’t have an hour to let the batter sit. But I remembered that The Bread Bible’s Popover recipe uses Wondra flour—a highly processed, quick-mixing flour that allows the batter to be baked immediately. What if I made a teensy, tiny substitution?

O’Corriher’s original popover recipe calls for bread flour, which is the complete opposite  of Wondra flour. Bread flour is a high-protein flour, which makes it especially good at creating sheets of gluten that hold in steam, giving the popovers  a tremendous rise. Bread flour also absorbs more liquid than lower-protein flour, which helps the popovers stay crisp and light. Wondra flour is on the other end of the spectrum – it has a low protein content, creates less gluten than other flours, and absorbs much less liquid.

To top it all off, I was so frazzled in the kitchen that after I put the popovers in the oven to bake, I accidentally turned off the oven! It took me ten minutes to figure out my mistake. Considering that O’Corriher is adamant that the baker shouldn’t even open the oven during the baking process lest the temperature fall, I was convinced that my popovers were toast.

But the result was much stranger than that. The resulting popovers were huge – they rose to magificent heights over the top of my muffin pan. My personal non-scientific and therefore very dubious theory is that, with no gluten to tame the rise, the popover  shot up like a rocket. The popovers also had more of the springy, soft centers than my first two attempts, and the crust was very light and insubstantial.

Popovers - Recipe Mistake 6

Popovers in the pan. They were huge! They expanded so much the tops touch each other.

Would I make this recipe again? Perhaps. But it’s best made by those who enjoy popover centers, more than the popover crust. Since I enjoy both, I’m still looking for my perfect popover recipe. Mostly, this should be inspiration for those cooks who are convinced that they’re not precise enough to bake. Even with my mistakes and risky substitutions, we still had a pretty great Saturday night dinner.

Popovers - Recipe Mistake 5

You can see how much they rose over the side of the pan, despite the fact that I mistakenly turned off the oven when I put them in.

Mistaken Popovers (for reading only!)
Adapted from Bakewise
Note, I’m only putting in this recipe to illustrate my mishaps! For those of you looking for a real recipe, check out The Bread Bible or Joy of Cooking popover entries.

5 large eggs, in the shell
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups Wondra flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Warm the eggs by placing them in a bowl of hot tap water. Drain and refill the bowl at least once with fresh hot water.

Heat milk in a saucepan or microwave until just warm to touch. Place flour in a large bowl and slowly add in milk, stirring with a fork or whisk and making sure there are no lumps.

Separate three of the eggs, keeping the whites and storing or discarding the yolks. Beat the eggs whites with the remaining two whole eggs. Beat in 1/2 cup of the flour mixture into the egg mixture to lighten. Then beat the egg mixture into the flour mixture.

Heat the cream in a saucepan (or microwave, but I find a saucepan leaves less of a chance of having the cream boil over) until almost boiling. Sprinkle salt over batter and whisk in hot cream.

While heating the cream, brush the popover or muffin pans with melted butter and heat in the oven until butter is hot and brown, but not burning, 3-5 minutes.

Remove the hot pan from oven. Pour batter into cups, until they are three quarters full. Place hot pan in the oven.

Mistakenly turn oven off for 10 minutes.

Discover this mistake. Scream and fuss a bunch. Then turn oven back on to 425 and bake for 12 minutes. Lower heat to 325 and bake for 25 minutes more.

Remove pan from oven. Be amazed when popovers are a little soft, but none the worse for wear. Accept Wonktheplank’s comforting that we learn the most from our mistakes, not our successes. Vow to properly make this recipe another time.

Popovers - Recipe Mistake 4

A front view of a mistaken popover.


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Popovers, Take Two: Joy of Cooking’s Low-Tech Popovers

Popovers - Joy of Cooking 3

This Joy of Cooking popover doesn't have an impressive rise, but does have an abundance of soft, eggy center.

As I shared with you two weeks ago, January’s baking challenge is popovers. I’m trying as many different recipes as my waistline can stomach in the quest for the perfect, or almost-perfect, popover recipe.

For my first attempt I used the high detailed and technical recipe from The Bread Bible to create popovers that were extremely high, deep brown, with an abundant brown crust. But the popovers were almost too successful; they were all crust, without enough springy, soft centers that I love so much in a good popover.

So for my next baking attempt I decided to go old school, using the popover recipe from the Joy of Cooking. I inherited my edition from my grandmother, which is from 1975, and the recipe is refreshingly simple. There’s no special flour to buy, no letting the batter sit for two hours, no notes about the virtues of using whole milk in the batter. Not that I don’t love the great detail and precision of Shirley O’Corriher or Rose Levy Beranbaum, but sometimes the Joy of Cooking’s simple, reassuring style is a nice change.

I did make a couple of changes to the recipe, upping the amount of salt from 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon, since I like my popovers salty. I also used Beranbaum’s technique for baking the popovers. Rather than pouring the batter into a cold buttered pan, which the original Joy of Cooking recipe calls for, I heated the buttered pan in the hot over for three minutes, before pouring in the batter. This helps create steam from the milk in the batter and helps the popovers rise.

The result? These popovers didn’t have the impressive towers of Beranbaum’s creations, but had the lovely soft, eggy centers, which I just adored. Even though these were much lower tech, I actually liked them more. Now if only I could make a popover that has the right proportion of brown crust to soft center, and I’d be in popover heaven.

Popovers - Joy of Cooking

As you can see, there's a nice amount of soft center in this popover.

Low-Tech Popovers
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 cup milk
1 tbs melted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 beaten egg
1 additional beaten egg

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. If you must cheat, heat your milk until just cool to the touch in a microwave and heat your eggs by placing in a bowl of hot water, replacing the water once or twice if necessary.

Beat the milk, butter, flour, and salt together until just smooth. Add the beaten eggs one at a time, beating until just incorporated. Do not overbeat the batter.

Generously butter a muffin tin or popover pan and place in the oven to 3-5 minutes. Remember, you want the pan to heat up and the butter to brown, but not burn, so keep an eye on the pan. As I found out last time, burning the butter means cleaning the pan and starting over again, which is a pain!

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the batter into the buttered baking cups. Immediately place the pan back in the oven. After 15 minutes, lower temperature too 350 and bake 20 minutes longer. During the entire baking process do not open the oven, or your popovers will fall!

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The January Popover Experiment, Take One

Popovers - Beranbaum

Popovers, take one.

One of the problems with being an amateur baker who, unfortunately, must work to make a living, is that it’s incredibly easy to fall into baking ruts. As much as I want to try new recipes, I never know if they’re going to work, and I hate wasting my precious time and energy on a failed project. This fear drives me back to the tried-and true crowd-pleasing recipes that I know will come out perfect every time, which is why I’ve made more batches of America’s Test Kitchen Molasses Spice cookies than I can count.

But in 2009, I want to stretch my baking chops. So I decided to do an experiment. Every month I want to choose a new baked good to focus on—pie, pound cake, devil’s food cake, etc.—and try a bunch of different recipes for that item. Hopefully, this project will hone my baking skills, force me to bake things I’d never bake on my own, and, of course, have something to chronicle for my domestically obsessed readership. Plus I now have several excellent cookbooks on hand, and this is a perfect excuse to try them out.

After a little culinary soul-searching, I decided that January was going to be popovers month. Why? Well, for one thing, they’re fast and easy to make. I can serve them with dinner for two nights in a row without inciting protest from WonkthePlank, who loves them. When done right, they taste delicious, with a salty, buttery and crisp brown crust, and soft, springy middle. And there’s a certain magic in a good popover—the liquid batter looks like it’s too soupy to bake into anything at all, but the mystical force of the oven transforms it into towering brown puffs of dough. That kind of magic is why I love baking.

My first popover attempt was based on Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from the The Bread Bible, which is hands-down my all-time favorite cookbook. In the book, Beranbaum explains that popovers are a type of batter bread, meaning that the dough contains a double amount of water than a basic bread dough recipe. Basic popover recipes call for mixture of flour, eggs, and milk, but Beranbaum adds melted butter, salt and sugar as well. Despite their towering height, popovers do not use yeast or any other leavener. Instead, when placed in a hot oven, the milk in the batter creates steam, creating that magnificent rise.

Beanbaum’s recipe also calls for Wondra flour, which is a low-protein, highly-processed, granular flour that dissolves instantly in liquid. General Mills calls it “quick mixing” flour that can be used for gravy or sauces, but many bakers have found that it works well in certain breads and cakes. Wondra flour is perfect for popovers because the flour absorbs the liquid instantly, so the batter can be baked immediately. Many traditional popover recipes call for the batter to sit for several hours before baking, during which the flour becomes fully hydrated.

In my admittedly small amount of research on popovers, I’ve found that there’s variation in the way that popovers are baked. Some recipes call for popover batter to be poured into a buttered muffin or popover tin and then placed in a hot oven. However, the Beranbaum recipe calls for the buttered tins to be heated for a couple of minutes in a hot oven before the batter is added. This is the traditional way that Yorkshire puddings are made—although, in that case, they are cooked in beef drippings, rather than hot butter.

The recipe below is an adaptation of Beranbaum’s Bread Bible recipe, which I made last Friday night. While the popovers did, indeed, rise to stupendous heights, I think they almost rose too much. One of my favorite parts of a popover is the spongy, soft middle that clings to the crisp, brown crust. When I made these, there was an abundance of brown crust and not enough spongy middle. Still, if you like a crusty, buttery popover, then this recipe is for you.

The Popover Recipe

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