Week Twenty-Two: Breads With Herbs
I love cooking with herbs! You can use the same basic ingredients, but completely change the flavor and atmosphere of any dish, simply by swapping one herb for another. For example, the rosemary crisps from yesterday were bold and showy, but would’ve been cooling and fresh were mint substituted, or they would’ve begged for a pairing with seafood had dill been used.
In any of the breads this week, you can absolutely trade one herb for another; but all these recipes were developed or adapted with a particular one in mind, depending on the other flavorings, or even the specific grains used. The herb for today, basil, is often seen with Mediterranean flavors, such as in a traditional pesto, with raw tomato and mozzarella for insalta caprese, or what-have-you. But one oft-overlooked and quite tasty pairing is to partner basil with lime. Maybe it sounds a bit strange, but trust me on this! The lime seems to bring out basil’s less-sweet, more herbal side, while the basil softens lime’s harshness and tang. It’s unusual, fabulous, and will keep people guessing for sure!
But all that aside, I don’t really know what happened with these popovers, you guys! The flavor was lovely, but they came out so flat! When I made popovers previously, they came out fluffy and airy and beautiful – but these were nothing of the sort! They weren’t so much popovers as popunders, since the tops remained flat as pancakes, but there was a little mountain-shaped air pocket that formed under each one. So sad!
I think the main culprit was the use of too much butter to grease my (nonstick) muffin tins. In baking, the popovers need to almost grab onto the sides of the pan in order to rise, but not grab so much that you can’t remove them from the pan. The grease on the sides of each cup also provides a lovely crispy crust, which is part of the charm.
So in oiling the pan, you need an even hand: not too much grease, and not too little. Apparently, I overdid it. You could see the butter sitting in little pools on the edge of each popover, which probably weighed the rising batter down a bit, too. The texture, other than being a bit dense, was pretty good. It was nicely doughy on the inside, and properly crispy on the outside.
I’m not really sure what to tell you here. I’ve made much better popovers in the past, and I refuse to accept defeat here. The flavor of the basil and lime together was so lovely that I almost made a second batch, just to see if I could do better the second time around. (Yes, they are that easy to whip up! Did I mention that? They’re so easy!) But I think I’m going to save that for my second week of re-do’s, which will happen at the end of June. Stay tuned!
Makes 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
1 lime, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1. Preheat oven to 425° F at least 20 minutes before baking. Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Butter or grease 9 cups of a standard muffin tin, or six cups of a popover pan.
2. Measure out the flour and salt, and combine 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 lime juice, whisk, and immediately add the flour mixture. Whisk until fully combined; a few lumps may remain.
3. Divide batter evenly among muffin 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.
3. Be sure to add the lime juice to the milk and egg mixture at the very last second, just before whisking in the flour. Add it too early, and the citric acid will curdle the milk, giving you buttermilk popovers. Now that I think about it, is that a bad thing? Or is that why they didn’t pop over?
I don’t think the grease was the problem. Your oven wasn’t hot enough when you put them in. Even your other photo doesn’t show really light, high popovers. Do you have an oven thermometer? Some people have good luck with a baking stone in the preheated over.
You also need to let the batter stand for about an hour or so before you bake, to make sure the flour has really absorbed the liquid.
Make sure the eggs are at room temperature, so they give the greatest volume. Some recipes separate the whites from the yolks, but that’s too much work for me.
Cooked lime juice doesn’t give much lime flavor either, as the flavor really comes from the oil in the skin.
My oven had been hot for about 1 hour (I made these after cooking dinner in the oven), so I don’t think that was the problem. The other popovers weren’t as tall as you traditionally see since I don’t have a popover tin; I’m merely relegated to a standard muffin tin, but they did puff up beautifully before. That’s a great suggestion about letting the batter stand – I’ve not seen that in popover recipes, but it’s practically mandatory for crêpes, so it’s worth a shot!