I’m not sure I’d ever had a popovers up until a few weeks ago, when out of nowhere, a craving for one hit me. They’re certainly not the sort of thing that I ever ate growing up, and they seem antiquated enough that I can’t recall ever seeing them on a restaurant menu. But it was a craving I couldn’t ignore: in a matter of hours the oven was preheating. The problem is that I started out all wrong. The popovers I kept coming up with would have been better as burritos. My first attempt was “Spinach and Pumpkin Popovers with Roasted Garlic and Chestnuts”; then came two variations of spinach popovers, my long trial and error period still taking a while to embarrass me. None of these were any good because the batter was too heavy. They didn’t puff up, and the insides didn’t become hollow. In fact, their centers were somewhat custardy like quiche, but not pleasant.
So I made a batch of straight-and-narrow, classic popovers, using a recipe that Josh of Y-I-Eat-N sent me. These were the popovers I’d been having dreams about—they were perfect. The satisfaction of pulling them out of the oven, admiring all the rustic domes that had sprouted out of the muffin tins, and then gently piercing each one with my paring knife to let out a hiss of steam—well, it was frankly a little embarrassing that I enjoyed it as much as I did. But it reinforced what I’d been doing wrong all along: popover batter must be fairly light, similar to crepe batter.
I wasn’t ready to give up on making a popover variation, and I took a nod from one of my favorite breakfast treats, Deborah Madison’s Quinoa Muffins (from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, probably my favorite cookbook of all time). In my adaptation of Josh’s recipe, I ground the quinoa to make quinoa flour using my spice mill (which is how I almost always make quinoa flour; why on earth is it so expensive?), used it for about a quarter of the flour, and added a touch of brown sugar. These turned out to be a touch heavier and didn’t puff up in the obscene way that some popovers do—but were still light enough to yield a hollow center and a texture that spools away in tender strands—but featured a slightly sandy crust that I found appealing, and the quinoa’s grassy notes were leveled off by the touch of sweetness. I tested it again and: It’s a winner! At last!
The only hitch was in the greasing of the tins (and you can use muffin tins or popovers tins—I actually got a cast-iron popovers pan for my birthday several years ago, and have been thrilled to finally put it to its intended use). It’s important to put the pan into the oven so that it’s hot when you pour in the batter, and many recipes recommend greasing the pan before placing it in the oven to heat up. For me, this resulted in burnt butter—the butter simply scorched as the oven was heating up to 400°. My solution is to grease the hot tins just before you fill them with batter. Chop up about a tablespoon of butter, toss it into a couple tins, which will cause it to melt instantaneously, and then use a brush to distribute among all the tins.
3 tablespoons butter, divided
3 tablespoons quinoa
1 cup milk (I use 2%)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and allow to cool slightly as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. Grind the quinoa in a clean spice mill. (Store-bought quinoa has almost always been rinsed, so there shouldn’t be concerns about the saponin, which otherwise coats the grain and would lend a soapy taste. If you do have concerns, though, you can rinse your quinoa, drain it thoroughly, and then spread it out on a baking sheet to dry overnight.) Don’t worry about sifting out any larger pieces of quinoa.
3. Combine the milk, eggs, melted butter, flour, salt, brown sugar, and quinoa flour, in that order, in a blender. Blend for 30 seconds, stopping to scrape down the sides of the pitcher once. Alternatively, whisk the mixture together by hand until smooth.
4. Place a standard-sized muffin pan or popover pan in the oven and preheat it to 400°. Transfer the batter to a liquid measuring cup and let stand while the oven preheats.
5. Once the oven is preheated, remove the muffin tin. Cut the remaining tablespoon butter into 4 or 5 pieces and divide it among four different tins. The butter will melt immediately. Using a brush, distribute the melted butter among 12 tins to grease them.
6. Pour the batter into the hot, greased tins, filling them between half and two-thrids full. Transfer to the oven and bake for 35 minutes. They should slide out of the pan with ease, but if necessary, run a thin knife around the rim to loosen them. Serve warm.