It’s no secret that cooking — unlike baking — is more art than science, which is in no small part why I like it. If I were more of a left-brain thinker, I would probably be a much better baker. I often think I must have missed that day in school where we learned about math and ratios. Still, I do find the science aspect of the culinary arts fascinating, bordering on magical.
How can we take eggs, milk and flour, mix them together, cook them in different ways and come up with crêpes one time and popovers another? Of course, there’s a perfectly logical explanation involving steam, egg proteins, gluten and, well, science. While I’ll leave the complexities of heat and moisture to Alton Brown, Harold McGee and Shirley Corriher, who offer a far better explanation than I, but I do know that nothing makes a cook more excited than seeing a pan of perfectly popped popovers coming out of the oven.
Grown-ups aren’t the only ones who find the transformation of a thin batter into an airy, crispy, golden puff amazing. Kids find it equally awe-inspiring. I mean, you can actually sit by the oven and watch them POP! I love it when theater and cooking come together.
There’s a good bit of mythology involved in the making of a successful popover. I’ve read everything from using room temperature ingredients to starting them out in a cold oven, to preheating the popover tins before you pour in the batter. Maybe I’m lucky, but I typically just throw all the ingredients in the blender for a quick spin, pour the batter into the tins, put them in a preheated oven and enjoy the show. It’s never failed me yet, though as my husband says, “Ignorance is bliss.” One truism involving popovers is that you should never open the oven door while they’re baking. The ensuing drafts tend to deflate the popovers.
Once they come out of the oven, they can be eaten simply, with butter, or as the foundation of a meal, as is the case with these Green Eggs and Ham Stuffed Popovers. Spinach is sautéed with ham and combined with soft scrambled eggs to make a delightful filling for crispy, Parmesan-laced popovers. The result is an easy, but sophisticated brunch dish, or a deliciously light dinner, paired with a green salad. While the Dr. Seuss reference might seem like a ploy to trick your little ones into eating their spinach, they’re sure to appreciate the real “magic” coming out of your kitchen.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.