Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for February, 2008
This past Christmas one of my clients — a woman VERY particular about how her food should be prepared and presented — decided she wanted popovers with strawberry butter for Christmas Eve brunch (she’s the same client who sent me home with half the foie gras and black truffles from said brunch). She had seen a chef on Martha Stewart prepare gigantic cheese popovers and wanted me to replicate them (she taped the segment so I could see what they looked like. Indeed, they looked delicious).
I’ve never made popovers before (although I did try my hand at individual Yorkshire puddings one year), but they didn’t seem too terribly difficult: mix milk, flour, eggs, salt and melted butter, pour into prepared popover tins, top with shredded gruyere and bake until puffed and golden brown. Normally I’d practice beforehand, but I didn’t have a popover pan, nor did I have much extra time given my marathon training. I’d just have to hope for the best.
When I downloaded the recipe off of Martha’s site I decided to check out the reviews. Practically all of them were negative; most people said the popovers turned out doughy and didn’t rise that much. This wouldn’t do! I then compared that recipe to others, including one in Baking Illustrated (I always trust the folks at Cook’s Illustrated). Martha’s recipe was for 12 popovers and called for 4 cups each of flour and milk and 8 eggs. The BI recipe called for just 1 cup each of flour and milk and 2 eggs for 6 popovers. Given the disastrous results so many people had with Martha’s recipe, I decided I’d take a chance and prepare the BI one, doubling the recipe.
As I was in the thick of things during the brunch I started to get nervous. I know how important my client’s Christmas Eve brunch with her family is, so I didn’t want to disappoint. I had considered fessing up to using a different recipe, but decided against it. I just prayed everything worked out.
Martha’s chef had you pour the batter to the top of the popover cup, so I did the same (even though BI said to divide the batter evenly). I knew I was in trouble as I filled up the 8th cup: I had barely enough batter left for one more. D’oh! Fortunately I’d only be serving 5 adults and 2 kids, so I thought I could get away with it (there was so much food, I didn’t think people would want seconds on the popovers). I sprinkled the gruyere over the batter and placed the tins back in the oven.
When the timer rang I looked in to see some rather lopsided popovers. They rose, but I think the gruyere kept them from rising straight up. I took them out of the pans and placed them on a rack, where they deflated slightly. I began to panic; have I just ruined my client’s brunch? Fortunately everyone seemed thrilled and no one said a word about the less-than-perfect popovers. I dodged a bullet.
Or so I thought.