A Shared Tradition: Popovers

January 13, 2012

In her biweekly column, A Shared TraditionCIA grad and amateur food historian Molly Siegler cruises around the world (and into the depths of her pantry) to explore the versatility of a single food item. 

This week: Molly sinks her teeth into egg-rich pastries literally exploding with flavor. 

popovers
Photo by Nicole Franzen; styled by Mariya Yufest

Molly

I have a thing for popovers. The egg-based pastries are rich and light, crispy and soft all at the same time -- and so easy to create! Popovers puff up (and sometimes over, thus the name) on the strength of the eggs in the batter. The batter is thin and versatile enough to endure lots of experimentation.

My uncle spent a year in Austria in college, and every Sunday night the students living in the boarding house where he stayed would share a giant eggy pancake. The pancake was thinly sliced in strips and served with lemon wedges and powdered sugar. He became so accustomed to this Sunday night tradition, he couldn’t imagine heading back to Kansas without the recipe. The German pancakes he developed with the boarding house cook have been a part of my family's food traditions for decades.

English 
Yorkshire pudding is the mother of all egg batter pastries and is traditionally cooked in the fat rendered from a beef roast.

  • A bit of lard or other rendered fat anchors this pastry’s spot in the savory realm.
  • Pork sausage sliced or whole can be baked into the pudding for Toad in the Hole.
  • Smashed roasted parsnips or turnips pay tribute to the traditional Sunday roast.
  • Mustard thinly spread across the pudding keeps the richness at bay.

Colonial American 
The original popovers are the Colonial riff on Yorkshire pudding.

  • Hot muffin tins or specialty popover tins provide deep wells for the batter to create its characteristic shape.
  • Prime rib cooked to medium rare is a must.
  • Horseradish, horseradish cream, and then some extra horseradish, please!
  • Creamed spinach is a classic supper club addition to this meal.

German 
German pancakes
are one of my favorite things on the planet. 

  • Cooking spray must be applied aggressively or your pancakes will stick to the bowls.
  • A load of butter is necessary for the makeshift syrup that develops with the lemon juice.
  • Fresh lemon juice cuts through the richness of the pancakes and adds an unexpected brightness.
  • Nutmeg -- because it’s traditional and because I think everything should have nutmeg in it.
  • Powdered sugar should be dusted copiously over the pancakes just before serving. I'm not embarrassed to say I have a powdered sugar shaker just for these pancakes.

French
Profiteroles 
(also known as cream puffs), made from pâte à choux, are highly versatile. While they can be used for savory applications, I enjoy making profiteroles for a quick and easy dessert.

  • European-style butter contains a higher percentage of butterfat and adds the best flavor.
  • Milk and/or water will affect the texture of the profiteroles -- balance the two to achieve the right consistency. 
  • Sweetened cream or ice cream is the perfect filling for the puffs.
  • A luscious caramel or chocolate sauce pooled beneath the profiteroles adds a bit of sophistication to the plate.

Brazilian 
Braziian cheese puffs (pão de queijo) are best served piping hot with your favorite cocktail or afternoon coffee.

  • Tapioca starch is used as a thickener in many recipes and adds a pleasant chewiness and sheen. 
  • Parmesan and Pecorino Romano pack the popovers with a salty, nutty flavor that makes snacking on them irresistible.
  • Torrontés, a light, citrusy wine from neighboring Argentina, is the perfect companion.

German Pancake Batter German Pancake
The makings of a German pancake party. If the batter looks funny, you're on the right track (left). The finished product, liberally dusted with powdered sugar and waiting to be doused with fresh lemon juice (right). (Photos by Molly Siegler)

These are just a few of the ways I like to travel by way of the popover. What other regionally inspired flavors would you use to make this puffed up pastry your own? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Do you love a good food theme as much as I do? Tell me what food items or themes you'd like to see featured in this column and your idea could be the subject of an upcoming post!

Like this post? See Molly's previous topic: Egg Noodles.

Molly is a chef and food educator living and cooking in Northern Wisconsin. When she's not dreaming up themed menus, she's dishing out other delicious content as the editorial assistant for the Whole Foods Market Cooking program.

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12 Comments Add a Comment
  • Missing_avatar

    Deb Chabot says: After reading your blog i decided to try the King Arthur popover mix I had received as a Christmas gift. And it worked!Next time I will heat the muffin tins though. Ready to move on...My mother used to make cream puffs and I seem to recall she mixed the batter on the stovetop? Is my memory failing me? I remember how the batter ended up as a nice cohesive ball, then went into the oven to bake. thanks for inspiring me to take a first step.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Hi Deb! So glad you made popovers! Aren't they so yummy and fun? As for the cream puffs, I bet your mom started with a pate a choux (see the profiterole recipe above) which is first cooked on the stove then eggs are added off the heat and the batter can be piped out or spooned on a baking sheet before cooking. This is the same batter that makes the base of gougeres, too -- my go-to dinner party appetizer. Thanks so much for writing! Let me know of any more cooking adventures you have.

    over 2 years ago
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    Rivertree kitchen says: We are the proud owners of half an organic pig. The duck fat comment made me think that bacon fat from our glorious pig might not be a bad idea to use in popovers. I've always stuck with butter before.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: That would be such a yummy rendition for a decadent Sunday brunch! Please let me know what you end up serving with your savory bacon fat popovers.

    over 2 years ago
  • Profile

    alexandracooks says: Molly, those popovers look like the very best I have ever seen! I've never seen such height. I need to perfect these before Easter... glad I have some time. Or maybe I'll surprise my husband for Valenine's Day? So much fun. Also, which recipe did you use for these? Is it the link under the "Colonial American" header?

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Hi alexandracooks! I will check with the photographer to see what precise recipe was used for the photo. Aren't they gorgeous?! In my experience, spectacular height comes from making sure your oven is super hot (425 or even 450) and that you have a cooking vessel that is deeper than it is wide -- which is why popover tins are so perfect. What might be on the rest of your romantic V-day menu? Thanks so much for commenting!

    over 2 years ago
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Ina Garten's popover recipe produced the beautiful, photogenic popovers -- http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/popovers-recipe/index.html

    over 2 years ago
  • Profile

    alexandracooks says: Thanks for responding Molly! I actually own a popover pan just like the one in the photograph and, I hate to admit it, but I've never used it. So, I'm really excited to try these now. I'll make sure the oven is super hot and will snap a pic if time allows! Thanks so much for your tips and for the link to the recipe. As for the rest of the menu, I'm thinking maybe venison medallions — the husband has been hunting again — and maybe a fun/wintry salad, and something decadent for dessert. We shall see!

    over 2 years ago
  • 290

    aargersi says: Duck fat Yorkshire Puddings. I think I MUST TRY!!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: Whoa! That sounds super yummy...if you have duck fat on hand, why not go all the way and make some duck confit for your Yorkshire pudding? Let me know what you come up with!

    over 2 years ago
  • 290

    aargersi says: I always have duck fat on hand :-) You idea sounds great! On the list it goes!!

    over 2 years ago
  • Missing_avatar

    thegreenfog says: Just be ready to eat your popovers as soon as they come out of the oven. Nothing is more disheartening than a cold popover!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Missing_avatar

    Katy says: I have always loved yorkshire pudding yet never make it myself because I'm too scared, but now I feel braver! I've always read you should use some type of meat drippings for the lard, but would just butter work? and this is probably my favorite post of all time, every single one of these preparations sounds so amazing, I must be a puff pastry type of gal!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Molly1bw

    molly's kitchen says: I hope you try to make your own Yorkshire pudding -- it's very easy, I promise! Butter can certainly be substituted for the meat drippings -- you may just need to alter the time the baking dish spends in the oven without the batter as you won't want to burn the butter. Thanks for commenting!

    over 2 years ago

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