You know that old saying, “Practice makes perfect”? My daughter Jessica Buonocore, owner of Love Food, lives by this motto. First it was mayonnaise and aioli, then ombre frosting flowers. And then, she took a deep dive into the art of the popover.
Why don’t people, including me, make popovers more often? The very simple mixture of eggs, milk, and flour magically morphs into towering, crisp structures that contain within tender, eggy layers and airy pockets to hold butter and jam.
Jessica’s recipe search revealed much fear of failure; many of the recipes were overly complicated in an attempt to make them foolproof. One called for making true choux paste, another for whipping the egg whites, and most recipes claimed everything must be hot—the batter, the pan, and the oven—for success.
Leave it to Marion Cunningham, a.k.a. Fanny Farmer, to give us a no-nonsense dump-and-stir recipe and this plain-spoken advice: “Forget what you’ve read elsewhere. The secret in making good popovers is to start them in a cold oven.” Worked like a charm.
I would add one more secret for success: Forget what you’ve read about making popovers in custard cups. It’s too hard for the batter to climb the slippery sides of wide-bottomed Pyrex cups. And you won’t get enough loft with a standard muffin tin. You need a popover pan—narrow, deep “wells” connected by thin rods so that there’s plenty of air circulation for quick heat transference, better browning, and room for the popovers to grow. I like this dark, carbon steel one from Instawares. You could try vintage, deep custard cups, but, like everything else in cooking, it’s much easier with the right tool for the job.
Marion always preferred salted butter, and these popovers are the perfect opportunity to indulge in fabulous salted butters like Vermont Creamery cultured butter with Celtic sea salt, or beurre demi-sel from France, such as President brand.
The recipe says it makes about 10 popovers. True, if you use a pan with 2 x 2.5-inch wells. You can easily double this recipe.
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 cup white flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly, without overbeating. Half-fill buttered muffin pans or custard cups. Put them in a cold oven and set the heat for 450°F. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Test one to be sure it’s done by removing it from the pan: it should be crisp outside and moist and tender inside.
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)