Popovers are soufflé-like rolls invented by Maine settlers as a variation on Yorkshire pudding. The first cookbook to print a recipe for popovers was M. N. Henderson, Practical Cooking, 1876. The first book other than a cookbook to mention popovers was Jesuit’s Ring by A. A. Hayes published in 1892. In American Food (1974), author Evan Jones writes: “Settlers from Maine who founded Portland, Oregon, Americanized the pudding from Yorkshire by cooking the batter in custard cups lubricated with drippings from the roasting beef (or sometimes pork); another modification was the use of garlic, and, frequently, herbs. The result is called Portland popover pudding: individual balloons of crusty meat-flavored pastry.”
Most American popovers today, however, are not flavored with meat or herbs. Instead, they have a buttery taste. Popovers in Acadia are often topped with fruit and whipped cream or butter and jam for breakfast or with afternoon tea.
To make popovers, a simple batter is poured into special popover pans or muffin tins, and then placed in a very hot oven. After 40 minutes, popovers magically POP! out of their cups.
During peak season, the Jordan Pond House alone goes through some 2,500 of the these delicious, custardy rolls every day.
At the Common Good Soup Kitchen in Southwest Harbor, they have mastered the art of the popover. In their early years, when Common Good was in the midst of raising much-needed funds to keep the soup kitchen running, co-founder Larry Stettner added popovers to the menu for the café’s brunches. They’ve been a major part of the organization’s fundraising ever since. His recipe, perfected over time, makes 6 popovers.
1⅓ cups unbleached white flour ½ teaspoon salt 1⅓ cups milk (1 percent, 2 percent, or whole) 2 large eggs or number needed to equal ½ cup when beaten
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix flour and salt in a bowl – one with a lip makes the batter easier to pour later. Stir in milk.
Beat eggs in a measuring cup, then stir into flour mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon or wire whisk, but make sure not to overbeat. Hand mixing is preferred and you are essentially folding the flour into the liquid. The batter should have the consistency of heavy cream. A few little lumps are fine, but try to have a relatively smooth batter. If the batter is too thick, add a bit more milk. But don’t adjust too much. The popover recipe ratios are important!
If using a popover or muffin pan that is older, be sure to spray the bottom of each cup with cooking oil or brush with butter. If using a newer nonstick pan, no spray is necessary.
Fill each cup ⅔ full with batter. Place pan the middle rack of the preheated oven. Leave at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn setting down to 350 and bake for another 18–20 minutes. Do NOT open the oven door during this process! You need to start the popovers in this very hot oven to get them to puff, and then lower the heat halfway through to help them dry out. Without the drying step, the popovers steam and collapse when removed from the oven.
At the end of the baking, remove pan from oven and let the popovers cool before removing them from the pan.
Popover batter can be made a day ahead and then stored in the fridge – just be sure to take it out to warm to room temperature before baking.