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what's wrong with my popovers?

  • f

i've been making popovers, using the bittman how to cook everything recipe. the first time, they were awesome, puffy, soft inside, delicious. and simple to make. i was delighted.

in my subsequent three failures, i haven't really done anything differently. they've been dense, flat, unpuffy.

what am i doing wrong?

(the recipe is essentially 2 eggs, 1 tbsp melted butter, 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, some salt, some sugar, with no baking powder or baking soda. mix the flour in slowly, keep the batter smooth. preheat buttered pan while mixing everything, bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then 350 for 15 minutes)

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  1. j
    JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

    My first guess is that the batter was overmixed. Mixing too much will develop the gluten in the batter, and the recipe just won't work right. It's the same reason muffins and pancakes come out tough and chewy instead of light and fluffy. Cook's Illustrated mixes all the wet ingredients except the melted butter together, mixes the dry ingredients together, then whisks the two together until lumpy. Then they add the melted butter and mix it until it's smooth. The other thing to do is make sure you don't dally around once you take the preheated pan out of the oven, as it can quickly lose the heat it has retained. Pour the batter into a large liquid measuring cup, take the preheated pan out of the oven, then quickly pur the batter into the popover cups and get that pan back into the oven.

    1. I make my popovers in the blender, everything in, zap, done. Preheating the popover pan is essential.

      1. Are you peaking at any time during the baking? Opening the oven door could cause that dense, flat result.

        Also, I brush the insides of the popover pan with a bit of butter before it goes in for preheating (which is brown and wonderfully nutty when it's time to put the batter in. This is a wild guess, but could it be that your popover batter isn't releasing well from the sides while baking and can't rise enough?

        5 Replies
        1. re: Dev

          nope, bittman writes specifically not to peek until 30 minutes in, and i listened.

          and i buttered the popover pan too. it stressed me out the first time because it browns and almost burns but the results on the popover were delightful

          not releasing from the sides is an interesting thought, but for my first successful batch, it seemed more that the popping came from the bottom or the insides more. so i'm not convinced i buy your theory...

          but maybe it's how buttered the pan is?

          1. re: freddie

            Sorry, I tried.

            So maybe it is overmixing? I read an article that said Wondra is the best flour to use b/c it dissolves into the mix more easily, so that's what I use. If you were using an AP flour, maybe it had to be mixed more (too much) to make it smooth?

            1. re: Dev

              There's no better comfort food than warm popovers just from the oven. I hope your next batch turns out well!

              1. re: Dev

                i agree entirely. hence my persistence. i hope they'll be better next time too, in deference to the accumulated wisdom of a bunch of great cooking hounds.

            2. re: freddie

              If your baking containers are really glossy, the batter may not be able to "climb" the sides. Try dusting the inside of the buttered container with flour or grated parmesan. The cheese is a nice addition to a savory popover. I've never added sugar to my batter.

          2. I agree with the poster who said you might be overmixing. I make popovers often and have found that it's perfectly fine to leave small lumps in the batter. What works for me is mixing the wet ingredients, including the melted butter (even though it will form clumps when it hits the cool milk), adding the flour and salt (I don't add sugar), and pouring the batter into a non-preheated popover pan. Bake at the higher temp for 15-20 minutes, then lower the temp for another 15 minutes or so. And don't open the oven until they're done!

            1. Could this be a weather=related problem (humidity, air pressure)? Sounds strange, but it can happen with delicate recipes.

              1 Reply
              1. re: MommaJ

                Is the butter here only for greasing the tin or also for mixing in the recipe?

              2. Sorry to hear about your recent deflated attempts. Nothing much sadder than a flat doughy popover. I have only made popovers once before, but I had good results w/ Marion Cunningham's recipe in Baking w/ Julia.

                Looking at that recipe, I recommend these:

                1. Whizzing everything in a blender til smooth and pouring straight into pre-heated pan. I don't think overmixing is a huge concern here. Popover batter reminds me of clafouti batter, which is very loose and is supposed to get smooth and aerated in the blender.

                2. Baking at 425F for at least 20 min. before turning oven down and finishing. I don't think 15 min. is long enough. My recipe calls for baking at 425F for 25 min. and finishing at 350F for another 15-20 min. to dry out the interior. Do less if you like a slightly custardy middle.

                3. Make sure you're greasing your pan w/ melted butter and heating that up w/ the pan.

                4. Make sure milk and eggs are at or close to room temp.

                In case you're wondering, Marion's ingredients are:
                1 c. AP flour
                1 c. whole or 2% milk, room temp.
                1/2 tsp. salt
                3 large eggs, room temp.
                2 TB unsalted butter, melted

                Melted butter for greasing tin

                3 Replies
                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Correction: You DO NOT need to pre-heat pan. After Karl's query above, I double checked the recipe, and no pre-heating necessary. I confused this w/ my recent yorkshire pudding attempt.

                  Of course, you want to make sure the oven is indeed at 425F before baking. Recipe also recommends that if you're baking in muffin tins, you fill each w/ 1/4 c. batter. Also bake in bottom third of oven. Good luck!

                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    Is the butter here only for greasing the tin or also for mixing in the recipe?

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      I make these popovers all the time and no, I don't pre heat the pan. They almost always come out fine. I say "almost" because while I've never had a failure (they always puff beautifully,) I HAVE had them come out sometimes with this weird little "pinched" bottom , kind of skinny and shriveled looking, while the rest of the popover is gorgeous . I really don't know how else to describe it and I have no idea why it happens sometimes. They always still taste great, they just look a little...well, weird. Anyone know why this happens???

                    2. My guess (from experience) is that your oven is not maintaining the correct temperature. You might want to have an appliance repair person look at it. The part that maintains the correct temperature deteriorates over time and might need to be replaced.

                      1. General question for popover mavens: what's the difference between cold oven and hot oven popovers? It seems that there is a minority camp insisting that cold oven is the way to go.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Karl S

                          I can't see how starting with a cold oven would work, since it's the batter hitting the hot pan that creates the steam that makes the popovers *pop*. But having said that, I haven't tried it, so who knows?

                          Re the OP's question -- maybe that first (successful) time you allowed the batter to rest for longer? I generally try to let it sit for about an hour before baking, to give the gluten a chance to relax. Once you've mixed the batter enough to be even *close* to smooth, you've activated the gluten; I wouldn't try to leave it lumpy as one would with a muffin/pancake batter.

                          One other suggestion is to leave the melted butter out of the batter entirely -- I think it weighs down the popovers. Instead, put a thin slice of butter on the bottom of each pan before you preheat. This way the outside fries a bit and gets extra-crisp.

                        2. I find mine do better in heavy-gauge metal. Thinner (cheaper) versions don't work as well.

                          1. The key is the flour: sift the flour before you measure it, and your popovers will work every time. I suspect that when your popovers worked, you had drier flour (there are a million reasons why this might be so). When they didn't, there was more moisture in the flour, so it threw off the liquid-to-solid proportions.

                            Weighing the flour would be most reliable, but I've had good success with the sift-then-measure method.

                            (Try an experiment: measure a cup of flour using the dip-and-sweep method, then sift it and measure out a cup again. You'll have leftovers.)

                            1. I have made them a number of ways with nary a failure. In regards to overmixing most recipes recommend whisking until large bubbles form and then stopping. After reaching that point I usually let the batter sit for 1/2 hour then give a quick whisk and put them in the oven. I've tried both preheated pans, and room temp pans - doesn't seem to matter.

                              Are you using cold eggs? That might be a problem. What kind of pan? Williams-Sonoma has a non-stick popover pan that I have found to give foolproof results. Good luck.

                              1. Also make sure you use all-purpose flour. I have been making popovers from the same receipe for 30 years with success every time ... they are made in a blender BTW. The only time I had a resounding flop was when I used different flour.

                                Should be all-purpose flour.

                                Do NOT use bread flour.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: SilverlakeGirl

                                  We just made popovers this morning. The recipe I use, from the original Fannie Farmer cookbook, begins "Forget what you've read elsewhere. The secret in making good popovers is to start them in a cold oven." I have always done this and my popovers rise tremendously and are light and fluffy. I vote for over-mixing as the culprit here...ours come out flat when my over-zealous 3 year old does the mixing! .fyi the times/temp Fanny gives are 15 min at 450 (from the cold start) then 15 min at 350. I also do not add sugar.

                                2. I make popovers as the side for prime rib. I was alternating between excellent popovers and ones that were miserable flops. It was driving me batty. In retrospect, the best results were on days when I wasn't in a hurry; worst when I was pressed for time. So I took an afternoon to see if I could figure out what was going wrong. I tried various pans, 3 different ovens in various modes, temps, etc. (Briefly, the recipe I follow is one that favors room temp ingredients, batter resting for an hour, preheated pan with hot butter in the bottom, 450F/20m + 350F/25m, no peeking, etc.) I had a hunch that my failures might be connected somehow to the eggs. I use eggs up slowly and suspected I was using eggs that had been in the fridge for too long, so I got fresh eggs to explore that avenue as well.

                                  Long story / short:

                                  What appears to have been my problem was that I sometimes warmed the egg / milk mixture briefly in my microwave oven. Now when I get a late start I warm the egg in a cup of lukewarm water. Warming the milk in the microwave oven didn't seem to have any detrimental effect as long as the egg was hiding across the room. I have had no failures since I stopped microwaving the egg for a few seconds to take the chill off.

                                  1. THE PANS!!!!!

                                    I made popovers over and over again copying my mother since I was ONLY 9 years old!

                                    I made them all by myself without my Mom around; and I beat the snot out of the batter with an electric mixer, used COLD eggs and cold milk right out of the refridgerator; basically broke all the rules!

                                    I ended up with HUGE popovers; and I mean HUGE! EVERY TIME!

                                    What was the difference in the technique I follow today, following ALL the rules and STILL ending up with Flat muffins?????

                                    OLD FASHION BAKING PANS of heavy metal or iron; they were pretty heavy and they were non-stick.
                                    My only other guess would be incorrect oven temperature.
                                    When I was just a kid I didn't follow ANY of these rules and again, STILL ended up with HUGE popovers.
                                    All the rules are important but, with the right pans, you can't lose.

                                    Now, all I need to do is figure out what kind of pans they were.
                                    I do belive they were "cast iron".

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: julie2

                                      I make popovers in a cast iron pan with 6 deep wells. I got it at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant.

                                    2. I've been making popover for years. But I have found that the last couple of times they didn't rise or pop, they were small, hard and a real disappointment. I've been using the same recipe for years! Not what I want to serve my family. I came to the conclusion it's the eggs! They were not fresh. Once I made sure my eggs were fresh the popovers were great! Now I test my eggs first.

                                      All you need are the eggs and a bowl of cold water.
                                      Gently drop the egg into the bowl of water. If it:

                                      sinks to the bottom and stays there, it is about three to six days old.
                                      Sinks, but floats at an angle, it's more than a week old.
                                      Sinks, but then stands on end, it's about two weeks old.
                                      Floats, it's too old and should be discarded.