A dissertation on popovers begins here; for the recipe, skip down below.
Popovers are among the more thrilling transformations in the baker's repertoire: anyone can produce fabulous results from a simple batter and easy instructions. They start out looking like pancake batter but rise to extraordinary heights and strange shapes in the oven. They are baked muffin-style but they are nothing like muffins.They look solid and sturdy but, like so many of us, they are full of hot air. Popovers taste eggy and light, crispy-textured in some spots and soft in others. They must be eaten hot from the oven, and you won't be satisfied with just one.
Popovers are interesting for their texture but not so much for their taste; they are primarily a vehicle for as much butter and jam (strawberry is traditional) as you can manage to load them with — although some people like to fill one with a scoop of ice cream, then pour on chocolate sauce. Either way, is there anything greater that a few lowly ingredients could aspire to?
Popovers are the tradition at the Jordan Pond House, a restaurant ("teahouse," originally, back in 1870) in Acadia National Park, where thousands of popovers are baked and served every day — and very quickly, since they need to arrive at the table while hot from the oven. I tried to estimate the daily quantity the last time I was there, it was awesome to contemplate. Popovers accompany practically everything on their menu from salads and soups to sandwiches and beverages. I would love to see those bakers in action. I'll bet they never eat popovers. But for the rest of us, it would be a crime against nature (we're in a state park, after all) if we didn't savor at least one popover.
A hot popover awaits its butter and jam, accompanied by iced chai.
It's traditional to sit outside under the sun or an umbrella, at a green-painted table with benches, enjoying the view of Jordan Pond with the two Bubble Mountains in the distance. Below you'll see the view from our table, in an area insiders know as "the Swoop." This is a curving outdoor row of a few tables under umbrellas, next to a sun porch. It's always shady, and more secluded than the crowded benches on the lawn, where kids and dogs are running around, chasing butterflies. The mountains are still in the distance, and the popover on your plate is much more interesting anyway.
It's easy to make popovers at home. It helps to have a popover pan. A greased muffin tin will do in a pinch, as would greased, oven-proof teacups or glasses spread out on a baking sheet, I suppose. Whatever cups you use should be deep, since the batter triples in size in the oven. Popover pans are designed to maximize air circulation, so keep that in mind if you're being creative. Use only the corners of a muffin tin, for example.
I'm suspicious when it comes to fancy or specialized kitchen equipment; the cooks in my family worked miracles with old knives and crappy pots from the 5&10. It took me 30 years to break down and get a blender... and I've used a wine bottle for a rolling pin. But even I had to own a nonstick popover pan, so don't feel guilty about spending under $20 to get your very own.
My pan is made by Wilton but any brand that looks like this will work.
I've been looking at "Jordan Pond House Popovers" recipes all over the Internet for you. Although I've found many that are said to be official, they are not the one that I always use, which I copied out of an actual Jordan Pond House recipe book, while standing in their gift shop, more than 10 years ago. Almost none of the other recipes I've found mention the importance of letting the batter sit overnight, for example. This is the secret of the Jordan Pond popover.
If I had to use any of the recipes I just found, I wouldn't bother because I am lazy. I rarely find it necessary to sift all-purpose flour (just use a very light hand as you fill the measuring cup). It bores me to run an electric mixer until batter has been pummeled to submission. And I'd make a total mess if I had to put the batter through a sieve to remove lumps. (Lumps are our friends! They help the batter rise, or so I've been told.)
So here's how I make popovers, using just a whisk to mix the batter in a 1-quart measuring cup, so it's easy to pour.. I've always gotten great results... except for that time they exploded all over my oven. (As I said, popovers are among the more exciting things you can bake.) Barring that one memorable disaster, which I attribute to too much baking soda, mine have always looked and tasted exactly like the ones we've eaten on the Swoop. (I've also been known to use skim milk without a significant difference in the texture or taste.)
Jordan Pond House Popovers
(makes 6, serving 2 or 3 people)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/12 teaspoon soda (that's not a typo, you need only a tiny amount)
Blend the milk and eggs, and add the dry ingredients. Stir until mixed but still lumpy.
Refrigerate overnight. Remove one hour before baking and bring to room temperature. Stir a bit.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees and fill the cups of your nonstick popover pan. (You can grease the cups, but I never bother, of course.)
Bake for 14 minutes, Then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake another 15 minutes or so, until they are golden brown. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR WHILE BAKING.
Remove and serve with softened butter and jam.