Popovers are dramatic and impressive when brought to a table; as an added bonus, their crisped exterior and elegant pockets of dough and air on the inside make them an ideal platform for presenting cheese. This batter is wonderful because it can be made as much as one day in advance, and then you simply bake and present. With the holidays on the horizon, this is one recipe that you can literally tailor to suit your mood, occasion, and pantry contents.
Makes 12 popovers
2 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour
½ teaspoon fleur de sel
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white, green and red peppercorns
Generous pinch (about 1 heaping teaspoon) finely chopped fresh herbs (If substituting dried herbs, use about ¼ teaspoon. To release the aromatic qualities, rub the dried herbs between your fingers before adding to the mixture.)
2 cups milk, at room temperature
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon butter, melted, plus additional for greasing popover pan (or use vegetable oil)
1 heaping tablespoon cheese chunks, cut into 1/8” dice (see variations below)
Preheat the oven to 425° F (see Chef’s Note). Brush a nonstick popover or large muffin pan with melted butter. Place the pan in the oven while preheating.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, fleur de sel, pepper, baking powder, and herbs. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until pale and foamy, about 1 minute. In a larger bowl, whisk together the milk and melted butter to combine. Combine the eggs with the milk and butter.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk until combined. Your batter should be the consistency of heavy cream. Take care not to over-whisk when combining ingredients. Allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes, or up to 1 hour. Can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight. Allow to come to room temperature before proceeding.
Pour the batter into the prepared and heated pan to within about 1/4 inch of the rim. Drop the chopped cheese in the center of each filled cup.
Bake for 20 minutes at 425° F. Make sure you do not open the oven door during this time or the steam will escape and you will lose the “pop” effect. Reduce the temperature to 350° F and continue to bake until the popovers are brown, crusty and puffed, about 20 minutes more.
Remove from the oven and serve immediately, or let cool on wire racks and hold at room temperature for up to 4 hours. When ready to serve, reheat in a 350° F oven for about 10 minutes.
[Chef’s Note: If your oven is accurate, you can push the heat to 450° F for the preheat and initial baking time. The extra heat will help to create a super-crispy crust. Watch the popovers carefully, though; the heat may need to be reduced at 15 minutes if your popovers are becoming too browned. Again, an accurate oven is a must.]
Gruyère and Spinach: Use walnut oil to coat the muffin or popover pan. Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh spinach leaves to the batter in place of herbs. Drop 1 teaspoon of chunks of Gruyère into the center of each cup.
Gruyère and Marjoram: Add 1 heaping teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram to the batter in place of the herbs. Drop 1 teaspoon of chunks of Gruyère in the center of each cup.
Camembert, Chervil and Warm Plum Compote: Add 1 heaping teaspoon chopped fresh chervil (or finely chopped parsley) to the batter in place of the herbs. Drop 1 teaspoon of chunks of Camembert in the center of each cup. While the popovers are baking, prepare the warm plum compote.
Warm Plum Compote: Halve 3 ripe, black plums and pit. Slice into wedges. Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon butter. Place plums into the heated sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon sugar. Cook, while stirring occasionally, until the plums begin to soften and release some of their juices, about 3 minutes. Add the juice of ½ orange (no more than ¼ cup) to the pan, and allow to simmer over medium heat until plums soften, and juices thicken. Set aside to keep warm.
When the popovers come out of the oven, place in a warmed serving bowl, and slice the popover open. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the plum compote into the center of the popover and serve immediately.
Cabrales (blue cheese) with Thyme and Red Onion: Add 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves to the batter in place of the herbs. In a small bowl combine ¼ cup red onion, chopped in a small dice, and about 2.5 ounces of chunks of Cabrales. Drop about 1 teaspoon of the mixture into the center of each cup.
Cheddar and Dill: Add a scant teaspoon of fresh dill in place of the herbs. Drop 1 teaspoon of chunks of Cheddar in the center of each cup.
Cheddar and Chives: Add a teaspoon of fresh chopped chives in place of the herbs. Drop 1 teaspoon of chunks of Cheddar in the center of each cup.
Asiago and Thyme: Add a teaspoon of fresh chopped thyme leaves in place of the herbs. Drop 1 teaspoon of chunks of Asiago in the center of each cup.
Brie and Rosemary with Honeyed Pears: Add ½ teaspoon of fresh chopped rosemary leaves in place of the herbs. Drop 1 teaspoon of chunks of Brie (with bloomy rind) in the center of each cup. While the popovers are baking, prepare the honeyed pears.
Honeyed Pears: Peel and core 2 firm but ripe Bosc Pears, and chop into a 1/4” dice (to yield about 1 cup). Melt 3 tablespoons of honey in a sauté pan over medium-high heat until the honey bubbles and begins to turn amber. Add pears and one sprig of rosemary and sauté for about 2 minutes until the pears are well glazed. Add 1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar and allow to cook for 1 additional minute. Remove from heat and reserve until popovers are ready for service.
When the popovers come out of the oven, place in a warmed serving bowl, and slice the popover open. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the honeyed pears into the center of the popover and serve immediately.
Manchego with Chives and Roasted Red Pepper: Add a teaspoon of fresh chopped chives and ½ teaspoon fennel seeds in place of the herbs. Drain a small jar of roasted red peppers and place on paper towels to absorb excess liquid. Coarsely chop. Drop 1 teaspoon of chunks of Manchego cheese in the center of each cup along with ½ teaspoon of chopped roasted red peppers. Serve with a drizzle of aged sherry vinegar.
Sweet Cheese with Lavender and Chocolate: Prepare the sweet cheese: Combine 2 ounces of cream cheese and 4 ounces of mascarpone cheese (both at room temperature) in a bowl. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar (to taste) and mix well to combine. Set aside. Coarsely chop 4 ounces of dark (semi-sweet or dark) chocolate and set aside. When preparing the popover batter, omit the pepper and add ½ teaspoon sugar. For the milk addition to the batter: Add 1 teaspoon lavender to cold milk and warm gently (until you see bubbles just starting to appear around the rim of the pan). Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain the lavender from the milk and proceed with the recipe. When you remove the heated popover tin from the oven, just before filling each cup with batter, sprinkle the inside of the cup with a generous pinch of sugar. Add the batter. Drop rounded teaspoons of the sweet cheese into each cup. Bake as instructed. When the popovers come out of the oven, place in a warmed serving bowl, and slice the popover open. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the chopped chocolate into the center of the popover and serve immediately.
Recipe and photo by Donna Marie Desfor