Week Twenty-Seven: Try It Again; This Time With Feeling.
This was one recipe that I absolutely had to have another attempt at. The first time I tried it, I was so disappointed! Those poor, flat little popovers, they never really had a chance. I’m still not sure what the major problem was, since I’ve made popovers before with no problems at all.
One possible culprit was the over-zealous buttering of the muffin tins, which created a surface too slick for the batter to cling to as it rose (or didn’t). Another problem was that I hadn’t pre-heated the muffin tin; popovers rise their tallest when the pan is quite hot, creating steam instantly, which is important as steam is the only leavening popovers have. In retrospect, though, I think the most likely offender was the use of lime juice in the batter.
When you add an acid (such as vinegar or citrus juice) to milk, it curdles, turning into an ersatz buttermilk. The reasons behind this phenomenon are quite technical, and it’s a nice trick to have up your sleeve in case you never have buttermilk on hand (like me), but what it means in this case is that my batter became riddled with clumpy bits of coagulated milk protein. I tried to avoid that foreseen result by adding the lime juice at the last minute, thinking the batter would rise and set before it became a problem, but it just did not. The clumps formed, and even the power of steam wasn’t enough to lift them. I think.
Or perhaps my problem was a combination of all these, so I decided to address all three: I buttered the tins lightly, I pre-heated the pan for a good, long time, and I nixed the lime juice, using only lime zest instead. The result? Success! As you can see, these little guys puffed up happily and beautifully. They were properly crispy outside and soft and eggy inside, with just a hint of basily-limey flavor. Whatever the problem was, I fixed it.
I was a bit worried that leaving out the lime juice would make them less tangy, but I needn’t have worried; they were lovely. The combination of the lime and basil resulted in a pleasant freshness, both herbal and zippy. These would pair perfectly with any sort of fish or seafood dish, even a humble tuna salad. I like to serve popovers filled with my favorite tuna salad recipe (not a recipe exactly, I’ve never written it down, but I use capers, a chopped pickle, and a splash of buttermilk), as it’s a slightly unusual presentation, almost a new take on a tuna salad sandwich. These would be just right for that!
Basil-Lime Popovers – Again!
Makes 6 or 9 popovers
4 1/2 ounces (about 1 cup) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, at room temperature
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
Zest of 1 lime
1. Preheat oven to 425° F at least 20 minutes before baking. Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and place muffin tin or popover pan on the rack to heat with the oven.
2. Whisk together the flour and salt in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, water, and olive oil. Add the lime zest and basil, and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture and whisk until smooth and fully combined; a few lumps may remain.
3. Remove heated pan from oven, and carefully butter or grease 9 cups if using a standard muffin tin, or six cups if using a popover pan. Divide batter evenly among cups. Immediately lower temperature to 375° F, and bake in lower third of oven 30 to 45 minutes (see note 1 below), or until well-puffed and golden brown.
4. Remove popovers from the oven. Using a sharp knife, cut a small slit in the side of each popover, and bake 5 minutes more. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Popovers are best served warm.
1. Popovers made in standard (1/2-cup) muffin cups should bake about 30 minutes before cutting slits; bake closer to 40 or 45 minutes if using a popover tin.
2. For the highest-rising popovers, make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature, and heat your (ungreased) pan in the oven. Grease quickly before filling tins with the batter.