Parmesan, Basil, & Black Pepper Popovers

POPOVERS! Yep that’s my enthusiasm coming through. I love popovers. To me they seem like a fun excuse for a dinner roll. They are both super enjoyable to say and to break open and access their airy insides.

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It must be the Midwestern girl in me that associates a full and complete dinner only with the presence of a bread, biscuit, roll, or some other carb. This is why I could never move to California. Carbs rule my life. And sugar of course…

Popovers are awesome because they taste of bread and egg and anything else you put in them. Popovers are also incredibly interesting from a food science point of view. At first glance, the batter is so thin. There’s no way it’s going to bake into something that puffs up like popovers. It’s more the consistency of pancake batter than a puffy bread mix.

So what makes popovers tick? Or rather pop?

The first magical part of popovers has to do with the ratio between flour and liquid. There is quite a bit of liquid making the batter rather thin. There is also quite a bit of flour. Not enough to thicken, but enough to make this next part work. The liquid hydrates the gluten in the flour creating a strong network of protein. The liquid component comes from milk and eggs.

In the oven, the liquid evaporates quickly to steam. The strong gluten network stretches as the steam evaporates and tries to escape. That is what makes the batter pop up. The liquid is a very large proportion of the batter, so the gluten network, protein from the egg, and softened starch from the flour are all pushed to the top, bottom, and edges of the popover as the water evaporates. That is why popovers are hollow on the inside and full of air.

The first part of the baking process is at a very high temperature to facilitate rapid steam production. This is the actual popover formation where the important stuff happens. It is necessary to note that as much as you want to look inside the oven, do not open the oven door! The sudden blast of cold air will decrease production of steam and cause the popovers to fall. Any steam in the air will also escape ruining the popover formation. The second part of the baking process is at a lower temperature. At this point, the hard work is done. The remaining heating time finishes the baking of the starch and egg on the interior of the popover.

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If you want your popover to remain tall and not fall following baking, poke the top with a sharp knife directly after removing from the oven to allow remaining steam to exit and not condense on the bottom of the top of the popover preventing the dome from falling.

If you’re curious about the remaining ingredients, read on! They are not integral to the popover formation, but they are important for the taste. The egg provides liquid, as mentioned previously, but it also provides further protein structure making the overall structure stable. The yolk from the egg emulsifies the batter, and it also provides excellent flavor. The butter and the egg attribute to the browning of the popover, while the fat from the butter (and in my recipe from the sour cream) crisp up the outside of the popover.

I use muffin pans to bake my popovers because I’m cheap, but popover pans allow for better heat distribution and an overall better popover.

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Parmesan, Basil, & Black Pepper Popovers

Adapted from Food52

Makes 12 popovers

2 cups skim milk

4 eggs

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon full-fat sour cream

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour (or a blend of half bread and half all-purpose for a stronger popover structure)

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano

5 leaves basil, chopped finely

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, finely grated

1. Heat oven to 450⁰F. Lightly coat a 12-cup popover or muffin pan with oil.

2. Whisk together the milk, eggs, melted butter, and sour cream until smooth. You could also do this in a food processor or blender. Make sure the milk isn’t too cold, otherwise the melted butter will begin to harden again.

3. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well getting rid of any lumps. Again, several pulses in a blender or processor can be used.

4. Optional (not necessary unless using a cast iron pan): place the empty pan in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes just prior to filling.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 cups (filled to about the top of the cups) and bake for 18 minutes or until the popovers are as tall as you want them for they will get no taller from here.

6. Lower the temperature to 350⁰F and continue to bake until the popovers are golden brown—about 15 more minutes. Cool briefly before devouring!

To reheat the best, bake for 5 minutes in a 350⁰F oven.

PSA: These taste amazing with garlic jelly

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