POPOVERS, PUFFED OVEN PANCAKES AND YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS
“Let’s call Yorkshire pudding
A fortunate blunder:
It’s a sort of popover
That turned and popped under.”
It may all have begun in the north of England sometime after wheat flour became commonly available for baking. An overburdened cook, starting dinner late, shoved the pudding batter onto the fire under the spitted roast, cooking both at the same time. The fat from the roast dripped onto the batter, puffing and flavoring it deliciously. The first recipe for “dripping pudding” was published in 1737 in a British treatise on female conduct titled The Whole Duty of a Woman. A decade later, Hannah Glasse, one of the most famous food writers of her time, included a recipe for what she called Yorkshire pudding in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. “It is an exceedingly good pudding,” she wrote, “the gravy of the meat eats well with it.”
The word spread and, before long, Yorkshire pudding was a staple of the British Sunday lunch. The pudding survived the wars and the swinging sixties only to decline towards the end of the 20th century, when working women had less time for cooking. The rise of convenience foods brought commercially prepared puddings, notably the Yorkshire-based Aunt Bessie’s brand, and demands arose in Yorkshire that the pudding be given the same protected status as French champagne or Greek feta cheese. Concern about standards continues; in 2008, the Royal Society of Chemistry pronounced that “A Yorkshire pudding isn’t a Yorkshire pudding if it is less than four inches tall.”
When it immigrated to America, the Yorkshire pudding became the popover, the same eggy batter baked in muffin tins or dedicated popover pans to create individual, light, hollow rolls. According to food historian Evan Jones (American Food, 1975), “Settlers from Maine who founded Portland, Oregon Americanized the pudding from Yorkshire by cooking the batter in custard cups lubricated with drippings from the roasting beef…. the result is called Portland popover pudding…. individual balloons of crusty meat-flavored pastry.”
The northwestern United States seems to have a special affinity for these concoctions: the term Dutch baby reportedly was invented in the early 1900s by one of the young daughters of Victor Manca, owner of Manca’s Cafe in Seattle, which served a trio of small oven baked pancakes as a breakfast special. Manca owned the trademark for Dutch babies from 1942 until his family run restaurant closed in the 1950s.
The name ‘popover’ comes from the fact that the batter swells in the oven, “popping” over the top of the tin as it bakes. M. N. Henderson’s Practical Cooking, published in 1876, was the first cookbook to include a popover recipe. Many variations have followed, some sweet and topped with fruit and whipped cream for breakfast, others savory and flavored with herbs and spices for lunch or dinner.
Puffed oven pancakes are, essentially, giant popovers: eggs, flour, sugar, milk and seasonings are combined and baked in a hot cast iron skillet. The pancake billows and browns in the oven, only to collapse into a crater when removed from the heat. While the relationship with British puddings is obvious, some believe these pancakes descend from the German pfannkuchen that arrived in the United States with German immigrants; in the United States, they may be called German pancakes, Dutch babies (Dutch is a corruption of Deutsch, the German word for German), Bismarcks or Dutch puffs. But while England and Germany are likely antecedents, many other countries have similar pancakes. Danish ebleskivers, Japanese takoyaki, Indian Kuzhi paniyaram and Chinese eggettes are all puffy, spherical, popover-like cakes, baked in similar, special pans.
Though flashy, popovers and puffed oven pancakes are extremely easy to make. Remember that your ingredients need to be at room temperature, and your skillet or popover pan needs to be hot. Most pancake recipes specify a cast iron skillet and, while muffin tins or custard cups can be used in a pinch, a dedicated popover pan yields the best results.
This is the one I use:
Some of these are appropriate for breakfast or dessert and some can serve as a side dish or light main course at lunch or dinner.