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Poppin' accomplished
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I've been on a mission to create the perfect popover for months. I've eaten so many popovers I could pop - which is just what the perfect popover does.

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If you're not familiar with popovers, they are like a big hollow roll. While baking, their tops begin to rise like a volcano on the verge of eruption, with steam popping them way up over the top of the pan. They are crunchy on the outside and moist from steam on the inside. Served piping hot, they are best eaten with butter. They are delicious with a cool summer salad.

Created from just a few ingredients of eggs, milk, flour and sometimes a little oil, you'd think popovers would be easy-to-make goof-proof bread. But every recipe gives different directions on how to make them, producing a variety of results.

First I pulled out a recipe that I clipped from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine in 1991. I know I've made them at least twice, and I'm pretty sure they turned out great. But this time, flop. No pop.

I tried the same list of ingredients several times using many different techniques that I'd read in other recipes. I used cold ingredients, I used room temperature ingredients. I put the popover batter in a cold oven and in a preheated oven. I mixed the batter smooth and I left it lumpy. All flops.

One day I went to a friend's house for lunch. I brought along everything I needed to make popovers. My friend said her mother-in-law used to make perfect popovers every Saturday morning for breakfast. She had secrets to her popover success. First, put oil or butter in each cup of the popover pan or in each glass custard cup. Then put them in the cold oven and start preheating. When the oven is preheated to the right temperature, take out the empty pan and pour in the popover batter. So, that's what we tried. The kitchen was smoky but the popovers turned out better this way, although still not what I had in mind.

I found a recipe for Never-Fail Popovers. My hopes were high as I tried again. Never-Fail Popovers were a flop. They looked and tasted like spongy muffins.

My frustrations were running high. How could this be so difficult? But I would not give up.

A couple of weeks ago I received a new cookbook as a gift. As I flipped through the pages of "Food for Show - Food on the Go - the Next Generation," I came upon a recipe for Perfect Popovers. This one was a little bit different. It called for more eggs and water along with milk. Water produces steam, so I could just imagine how big these popovers could get. Back to the kitchen I went.

I followed the basic outline of the recipe, but I used some techniques that I had acquired through all of my experimenting.

I preheated the oven, then preheated the baking pan. I had all my ingredients at room temperature. The batter rested during the 15 minutes that the pan was preheating. I oiled the hot popover cups and poured in the batter. It sizzled. I baked the batter for 30 minutes and never once opened the oven door. I did turn on the oven light, though. Oh, did those popovers pop. Very high. They were amazingly impressive looking.

The hot popovers were mostly air when I broke them open and light and crunchy on the outside. They were so crunchy that Wrigley, my golden retriever, thought I was eating toast and came over to wait for the traditional "last bite."

Dripping with butter, Perfect Popovers were delicious with a pasta salad. I baked them again and served them with a cradle of homemade strawberry butter. Oh, what a breakfast.

You'll never be able to eat just one Perfect Popover. But that's OK. They're mostly air, right?

Perfect Popovers

6 jumbo eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup skim milk, room temperature

1/4 cup half-and-half, room temperature

1/2 cup water, room temperature

1/4 cup canola oil plus more for greasing popover cups

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Position oven rack in lower half of oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. When oven reaches 450 degrees, place popover pans or glass ramekins or custard cups on a baking sheet and place in hot oven for 15 minutes.

While popover pans are heating, break eggs into an 8-cup glass measure or a mixing bowl. Whisk them briefly. Add milk, half-and-half, water and oil. Whisk gently to blend. Add flour and salt. Mix gently. Batter may still have some little lumps of flour. That's okay. Don't overmix. Allow batter to rest at room temperature while pans are preheating.

Remove hot pans from oven. Brush the inside of each cup with oil. Working quickly, immediately pour batter into each cup, filling them 1/2 to 3/4 full. Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake 15 minutes more. Serve piping hot. Makes 8 to 10 popovers.

Adapted from "Food for Show - Food on the Go - The Next Generation," a collaboration of Mount Sinai Community Foundation and Sholom Home Auxiliary, Minneapolis.

Tips from the cook

--Do not open the oven door during the first 30 minutes the popovers are baking.

--During the last 5 or 10 minute of baking, I like to poke the side of each popover with the tip of a sharp paring knife to allow steam to escape.

--Do use jumbo eggs.

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