By Request

By Betty Shimabukuro

Wednesday, November 4, 1998

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
The Neiman Marcus popover, right, is served with Poha
Berry Butter. Baker Robert Eng, below, pours the popover
batter into custom-made pans.

Good science makes
good popovers

This recipe probably won't work for you the first time. Maybe not the second, either, or the third. "Don't get discouraged if your popovers don't come out perfect the sixth time," says chef Doug Lum of Neiman Marcus' Mariposa restaurant.

It took Lum and his crew five weeks and dozens of tries to perfect a popover formula, even though they'd started with a proven recipe used at Neiman Marcus restaurants throughout the Southwest.

Popovers are picky --sensitive to room temperature, humidity, drafts, oven type and a host of other variables. If conditions aren't perfect, they may refuse to rise. Or they may explode.

"In the middle of the frustration period," Lum says, "we were filling trash cans up with popover shards."

Art But in the end -- victory. Lum's popovers are deep brown, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, with moist inner layers that peel apart.

They are served to every lunch customer, along with Poha Berry Butter and a demitasse of chicken broth -- and they are immensely popular. Lum estimates 700-750 are served daily.

When the restaurant first opened, Lum says, one customer bought 48 popovers to take home, plus a quart of poha butter and the pewter bucket the popovers were served in.

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous -- after all, you don't know what people will say if they find out you've been requesting recipes -- said the popovers were her favorite thing about the Mariposa.

Lum was happy to provide the recipe, with several caveats: It was developed for the store's kitchen, where they use gas convection ovens and custom-made popover pans. This doesn't mean it won't work in your (probably electric) oven, but it does mean you'll probably have to make adjustments.

It's not such a daunting prospect. There are only six ingredients to fuss with, plus oven temperature and baking time. Approach it as an experiment.

The basic science involved: As the dough heats, it releases methane; this is what causes the "pop" and makes the nice, hollow top. Baking powder is responsible for this reaction. If your popovers explode, you need to cut back. If they don't rise, you may need more.

Even heat is crucial to the steady release of the gas, so it helps to know where the hot spots are in your oven and avoid them. Lum suggests rotating the pan once during the process, otherwise keep the door closed. If your oven takes a long time to recover lost heat after you first put in the pan, you might try starting at a higher temperature.

The ingredients need to be at least at room temperature. Lum suggests heating the milk over low heat in a covered pan. As it warms, put all the other ingredients out near the stovetop, so they warm slightly as well.

Also, use a canola-based cooking-oil spray and invest in a popover pan. Muffin pans have wider bases and will require more modifications to the recipe. Other types of cooking oil, Lum says, cause the heel of the popover to push into the top. Not very attractive.

Is all this making your head hurt? Mariposa sells the popovers for just $1 apiece. No adjustments required.


Neiman Marcus Popovers

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
1-3/4 cups milk, warmed to just above room temperature
2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix dry ingredients. Beat eggs until light, then add milk and butter. Slowly add wet ingredients to dry. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.

Preheat a popover tin in the oven 5 minutes. Spray heavily with a canola-based spray. Fill cups almost to the top.

Bake 10 minutes at 450, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for 30 minutes or until deep brown. Yields 6.

Bullet Approximate nutritional analysis, without butter: 300 calories, 13 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 125 mg cholesterol, 410 mg sodium.*


Poha Berry Butter

1/2 pound butter, softened
1/3 cup poha berry preserves

Combine both ingredients and mix until well-blended. Makes 22 tablespoons.

Bullet Approximate nutritional analysis per tablespoon: 85 calories, 8.5 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 90 mg sodium.*

Send queries along with name and phone number to:
By Request, Honolulu Star-Bulletin Food Section,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu 96802.
Or send e-mail to

Asterisk (*) after nutritional analyses in the
Body & Soul section indicates calculations by
Joannie Dobbs of Exploring New Concepts,
a nutritional consulting firm.

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