The first time I had ever heard about a popover was back in Connecticut. There was a restaurant in Wallingford, which is a city north of New Haven, called the Yankee Silversmith Inn which was kind of an institution in the area having been in business for well over 100 years. It was a good restaurant by reputation although I never went there. I just never had the occasion to go. But, for those who did go, they would come back telling you about the popovers and how they were delivered fresh to your table throughout the meal. There was someone in the restaurant whose job it was to bring around popovers, fresh from the oven, delivered in a little basket and placed on your plate by the popover-pusher yielding her tongs to your delight. I heard the popovers were big and fluffy and flaky and truly a unique part of the experience. You heard other good things about the restaurant too, but the popovers always stood out. Sadly, after a fire, the restaurant shut down for good in 2008 so I’ll never get to see that popover magic in person.
The first time I ever ate a popover was at a bed and breakfast in Bethlehem, NH called the Adair Country Inn. Bethlehem is up north in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Lola and I were just having a little getaway in the late spring and set out to do some hiking and exploring. I think I found the Adair online and it seemed cozy enough, so we made a reservation for an overnight stay. We were pretty much the only people in the inn being the offseason (there may have been one other couple there), so after a comfy night, we sat down for breakfast and it was basically us and the innkeepers. After some awkward chitchatting, they brought out our breakfast. The popovers came first. They were HUGE! They looked like giant flaky pastry balls, almost too delicate to touch. What was this sorcery? Where had they been all my life? I couldn’t wait to dig in. When I first cut in, the inside was hollow and for a moment, I thought I was getting gypped. But then it all made sense. The inside was doughy, almost eggy, and steaming hot. The outside was crispy and flaky. I spread on the butter and it was a pastry delight unlike I had ever had. I was so intrigued. When we left, we picked up a copy of their house cookbook which included the popover recipe. We still have the recipe book (somewhere) although we never made the popovers.
After that trip, with the joy of popovers forever etched in may mind, we went back to life on the New Hampshire seacoast. I was beginning to think I would never see the joy of a popover again until the fates intervened and one day a new coffee shop and bakery opened their doors in the middle of Market Square in Portsmouth (NH). The place was called Popovers, and suddenly I had a supply of popovers whenever I needed one. Over the years, Lola and I would go there somewhat often. We’d meet up for coffee or breakfast. Sometimes Lola would bring her computer and set up shop there for the day taking advantage of the view and the wifi. You could order a popover by itself and it would be served with some maple butter, or sometimes it would come with whatever you ordered like scrambled eggs or soup. It was their signature item and they were pretty great. They had mini ones available, but the regular ones were always the most tempting. They were big and puffy, with golden brown flaky crust and that soft, warm doughy center. We miss that spot, especially enjoying a nice big cup of cappuccino on a sunny weekday morning overlooking the happenings on the street before us and a nice fresh made popover on a plate in front of us.
I thought there would be an elaborate history to a popover, but not really. Most references merely say they are an American version of a Yorkshire pudding. The first recipe for one appeared in a cookbook in 1850, but there’s not much more info on them than that. The name is an obvious reference to how it cooks with the dough rising so high, it essentially ‘pops over’ the sides of the pan.
Today was actually National Blueberry Popover Day so that made it pretty specific. Throughout my quest, I have used the National Day Calendar as my source of holidays. Usually whatever holidays they say are being celebrated on a particular day, I celebrate. They also give you a bit of info on every day. For Blueberry Popovers, they included a link to a recipe on a site called Doughmestic.com. I looked it over and it seemed really easy, so just like that, I had my recipe. Luckily I had picked up some fresh blueberries at the store on the day before because we were snowed in for most of the day on Friday. So with all my ingredients in house, I was ready to get baking on a beautiful snowy day.
The recipe calls for a popover pan which I do not have. A popover pan is kind of like a muffin pan, but the cups in a popover pan are deeper and narrower. They are also spaced out a little farther apart so the popover can really expand when it’s rising. The recipe said that I could use a muffin pan if needed, so that’s what I did. You start by plopping butter into the muffin cups of the pan and putting that into the oven for about three minutes for the butter to melt. Apparently that’s part of the popover process – the dough will soak up all that melted butter. The dough is actually easy to make with eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and flour. The recipe was for coconut blueberry popovers so it had you add some toasted coconut to the batter as well. When the batter is all together, you pour it over the melted butter in the muffin pan. Then you add in the blueberries – a cup’s worth distributed equally. Then they bake for about 25 minutes. It was a pretty easy recipe.
They puffed up nicely but a far cry from the giant ones I have seen at the Adair and at Popovers. I think that has a lot to do with the pan, but also adding blueberries would probably weigh down the dough a bit. I let them cool for a few minutes and naturally some of the puffiness shrunk down, but they still looked nice and golden brown on the outside. They were kind of opened face and you could see the blueberries and fluffy inside without cutting in. Again, I think that was a product of the pan. I served up a couple alongside a cup of coffee to Lola who was busy writing in our family room. I had made a quick batch of whipped cream because they suggested serving them with that and I had also made a coconut syrup from a recipe online because that too was one of their suggested serving ideas. I put the syrup and whipped cream in little ramekins on the side so Lola could control her own popover condiment intake. She was delighted at the sight of her coffee break snack. I put it down and then went back to the kitchen. After a minute or so, I started to hear a banging noise coming from the family room. Actually, it was more of a slapping sound. I looked back and Lola was slapping her hand on the chest that’s in the family room and also emitting yummy sounds. This was Lola-speak that meant she was digging what I had served. I had myself a hit.
I tried one too opting to douse mine in whipped cream. When they were cooking, I wasn’t sure how these were going to come out, but I will say they were pretty great. The dough was nice and soft, with just the right amount of crunchiness to the outside. The blueberries started to break down in the middle and their flavor seeped into the dough which was also flavored with the coconut, but not overpowering. The inside was nice and flaky. There is kind of an egg consistency to any popover and this one was no exception, but in a delightful pastry way. The whipped cream was nice complement to it too. It would have been fine by itself, but the sweetness of the fresh cream gave it just a bit more twang in every bite. Lola says these should be included in the “Best of”list for the whole quest, so that’s a high compliment. A surprise success that I am sure Lola will want me to make again in the future.
When I sat down today, I was worried that I wouldn’t have anything to say about popovers. But then the memories came and it turns out popovers have been and interesting little part of my life. They brought happy memories back too, and after today, I’ll have even more. It made me miss a few things like coffee in Market Square, spring in New Hampshire and adventures with Lola. Beyond all the memories, popovers are just so damn tasty. Life needs more popovers. That’s why in the end, I was glad we were celebrating them today, plus we got to enjoy them with wonderfully fresh blueberries as well. That’s a win in my book and why I raise my glass (or maybe my cappuccino) to the wondrous delight of the popover. May they always rise up and be served to happy eaters.
Next up: National Oatmeal Nut Waffles Day