Friday, September 24, 2010

Parmesan, Herb, and Garlic Popovers . . . When Inflation is a Good Thing!

Until I made these fragrant parmesan, herb, and garlic popovers a few days ago, I'd only experienced one other kind  before. Those were the popovers of my childhood. They were richly brown and very crisp, with a bright yellow interior. Egginess abounded, one might say. We poked holes in the tops as soon as they were done, and ate them just after they stopped steaming. With soft salted butter and strawberry jam, those were classic storybook popovers.

I don't remember anyone except my mother and I liking them, so we were typically the only ones around when we baked them. Because I hated eggs as a kid, and anything that obviously contained them, I wasn't crazy about the moist innards. I'd sort of peel away that doughy membrane and concentrate on crunching the shiny shell.

My fascination with popovers likely had more to do with their form than anything else. The way they'd inflate in the oven, like hot air balloons preparing for take off, astounded me. Our huge white stove--the kind with an oven that required holding a lit match above the flow of gas--didn't have a window, and I recall my mom explaining the necessity to refrain from peeking while the popovers baked. Emerging from the heat, they were wondrous oddities, quite unlike any food I'd ever seen.

Now that decades have passed and time has modified my negative opinion of eggs, I figured it was time to take on a new and different popover recipe. This one, which I adapted from chef Kevin Garvin's beautiful book Neiman Marcus Taste: Timeless American Recipes, produces a startling contrast to the popover I'd known before.

Besides the inclusion of grated parmesan cheese, dried herbs, and garlic, this popover is by comparison positively "bready" inside. The hint of egginess is still there, but it's only a hint. There is none of that overly moist, stretchy stuff to contend with once you break one of these open. The outside of the popover is just as crisp and burnished as one could want. Oh, and these smell magnificent while they're baking.

Probably not something you'd necessarily want to serve with breakfast, these are a perfect partner to a hearty salad or a bowl of soup at lunch. Or, they can accompany dinner if you like. I served them for supper, warm in a basket, alongside tri-color tortelloni in marinara sauce, with a tossed salad.

I have only one bona fide popover pan (got it from Williams Sonoma--these babies aren't very easy to find, nor are they cheap!), with six cups, but the recipe makes twelve good-sized popovers, so I decided to bake half of the batter in jumbo size muffin cups. Those didn't rise as high as their brothers in the official pans, but they were equally delicious. (Though traditional popovers don't freeze well, I froze the leftovers, and I've reheated these in the oven with great success. They crisp up again very nicely.)

These are really, really good. Give 'em a whirl, if you're so inclined.

Parmesan, Herb, and Garlic Popovers

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

3 and 1/2 cups milk (I used 3 and 1/4 cups of  2% milk, and 1/4 cup of half and half,  since I didn't have any whole milk)
4 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
1 and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking powder
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 and 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. dried mixed herbs (I used 1 Tbsp. parsley and 1 Tbsp. thyme, along with one quick grinding of black pepper. Fyi, the original recipe called for dried rosemary as well, which I chose to omit. The original also called for a total of 1/4 cup dried herbs--I thought that sounded like far too much so I cut the amount in half, and I'm glad I did!)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed garlic (depending on how much you love the stuff!)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 12 equal chunks

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Generously grease 12 popover cups or jumbo muffin cups; grease the top of the pan(s) as well. Place each pan on a baking sheet.

In a saucepan, heat the milk until it's just lukewarm, about 110 degrees, then take it off the heat.

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.

In the large bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the wire whisk, beat the eggs on low speed for about 3 minutes, until they look pale and foamy, then add in the warm milk. Add the flour in gradually, still mixing at low speed, then raise the speed to medium and beat for 2 more minutes.

Let the batter rest in its bowl, unrefrigerated, for one hour. While the batter is resting, mix together the parsley, thyme, and pepper in a small bowl, then mix the garlic into the herbs. Grate the cheese and mix that into the bowl as well.

After the batter is done resting, fill each well-greased cup with batter, almost to the top.

Sprinkle at least one tablespoon of the cheese-herb mixture on top of each one. Plop a chunk of butter on top of that.

With the pans on baking sheets, place the popovers into the oven and bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Then, turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Bake 30 to 35 minutes longer, or until the popovers look very crispy and are a deep golden brown on the outside. Don't peek at them while they're first baking if you can help it; wait until they've been in there a while. As soon as you take them out, puncture the tops carefully with the tip of a knife; this will allow excess steam to escape and help prevent the insides from becoming soggy.

Best served warm, right after they're made. You can freeze any extras after they're cooled. Reheat them easily, even if frozen, in a warm oven. They'll be almost as good as new.

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