3-2-1 Pie Dough and Desserts!

Baked Apple Tart

3-2-1 Pie Dough and Desserts!

I love making pies. I’ve been working on improving my pie dough making for desserts over the past few months. I love making beautiful dessert tarts even more. Sure the rustic nature of a pie is great, but there is an elegance in making a tart.

With the birth of our son Jeremy, we have been blessed with support from family, friends, neighbors and the community at large. I decided to give back to one particular neighbor in the best way I know how, through food, after they gifted us a crib their youngest son grew out of.

I still prefer the 3-2-1 Pie Dough recipe ratio from Michael Ruhlman’s book, Ratio over others I’ve tried. The time it takes to make a solid pie dough and thus tart crust has increased significantly. The time increase mostly comes from the chilling process after working with the dough at each step to relax the gluten and prevent its formation. In my last entry I wrote about Pie Dough and Quiche Lorraine. I didn’t expand much on the pie dough process that much, so this post has pictures to help guide you along.

Pie Dough Ratio:

The first step for the tart dough was of course to make the pie dough ratio. Scaled down for one tart pan (or pie pan) it is:

  • 6 oz flour
  • 4 oz butter (1 stick) cut into chunks
  • 2 to 3 oz of water
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar (this is a sweet dessert after all)

I opted to keep the original amounts so I could make a tart for our neighbors while also being able to savor and judge the results myself. How else am I going to get better if I don’t taste and judge my own products?!

Method:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl or food processor.
    Dry Ingredients in Cuisinart
  2. Break the cold butter into chunks.
    Butter and Water
    Cut Butter
    Cut Butter
  3. Cut the butter into the flour, salt and sugar either by rubbing it in or by pulsing in the food processor.
    Butter into Dry Ingredients
    Combined Butter and Dry Ingredients*Note: Using a food processor makes it less likely that you’ll melt the butter with your body heat. We want to reduce the amount of water we use to prevent the creation of gluten which would result in a tough leathery crust.
  4. Slowly add water until the dough just comes together.
    Adding Water to Butter and Dry Ingredients*Note: It may be sandy or brittle. When resting in later steps, the water will be absorbed by the flour.
  5. Bring the dough together into the shape of a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
  6. Roll out the dough into a disc that is slightly bigger than the tart pan or pie pan you’ve chosen. Wrap in plastic and chill again for 30 minutes.
  7. Place the dough into the tart pan or pie pan you’ve chosen. Ensure that the dough is pressed into the edges. You can use your fingers for this.
  8. Trim any excess dough
    1. If using a pie pan, trim the excess dough from the edges with a knife. Leave a little extra if you’ll be pinching the edge to make it more decorative
    2. If using a tart pan, you can easily trim the excess by rolling over it with a rolling pin. The tart pan will cut the dough and you can peel off the excess.
      Rolling Out Tart Dough
      Rolling out tart dough
  9. Chill your tart pan or pie pan with dough
  10. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees
  11. Blind bake the tart crust for 20 to 25 minutes by either:
    1. Covering the dough with parchment paper and dried beans or pie weights or
    2. Docking the crust with a fork (poking holes). If bubble form while baking, simply poke them with a fork or small sharp knife.
  12. It’s ready when the sides take on some color and dry a small amount. We’ll be baking it long and slow later, so it doesn’t need to be fully cooked.
    Blind baked tart crust

Tart Filling

  • 4 apples, cored and peeled and sliced
  • 1 lemon, to prevent the browning of the apples and to add some flavor
  • ~ 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 oz (1/2 stick) butter, cut into small chunks
  1. Cut the apples into 1/4 inch slices.
  2. Cover the apples with lemon juice as you cut them to prevent browning.
  3. Arrange the apples in the blind baked tart crust
    Lining up apples
  4. Cover the apples with generous amounts of sugar. You may find that you don’t use all of the sugar. That’s ok!
  5. Add the chunks of butter on to of the sugar and apples.
    Butter and Sugar on top of Apples
  6. Bake until the crust is golden and the apples have softened while taking on some color.
  7. While still warm, glaze the apples with the heated apricot jam.
    Baked Apple Tart
  8. Enjoy!

Plated Apple Tart

 

I’m still working on technique, but enjoy making apple tarts. They remind me of my mom as she used to enjoy making them for parties. I hope you enjoy making them too! If you have any comments or questions, please post them below!

Bon Appétit!

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Ratio, Method and the Difference a Pan Makes

“Rebuilding” a kitchen and improper planning sometimes result in lessons learned. Sometimes that lesson is simple, follow the directions.

I like making pound cake. For one thing it’s simple. It’s also a quarter butter and a quarter sugar. The rest is just a matter of necessity. I’ve definitely experimented with size and shape before, but it was more calculated versus a last minute decision. The great thing about ratios is that you can scale up or down pretty easily. In baking, a key component for cakes is the pan in which they are baked in. Not having a loaf pan, I opted to pour my batter into my nine-inch square pyrex pan and hoped for the best. The problem here was that I was now baking in a new oven, with a new pan shape and had to figure out what my new cook time would be. That aside, the one thing I didn’t account for was the pan depth. The batter of course was quite spread out and as a result, the finished product was more crust and less soft and buttery cake. Pound cake requires a particular depth to crust ratio for success which this end result didn’t meet. As I commute back and forth between Boston and New York, I’ll have to bring down a spare loaf pan for my next batch.

Square Pound Cake

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Experimenting with Size: Miniature Pound Cake

Cooking vessels in baking to me are just as important as the recipe and execution because they affect the overall presentation. I was looking for something new, and after making miniature desserts for my mom’s birthday party (yeah, I have yet to write about that), I decided to make mini-pound cakes as an easy breakfast food for the morning using the lighter cake flour variation I had made previously.

The batter was much more difficult to cleanly get into the mini cups.

Mini Poundcake Batter
Mini Pound Cake Batter

The portion sizes, being much smaller took less time to bake which was a plus.

Baked Mini Pound Cake
Baked Mini Pound Cake

After they had cooled a bit, they were taken out of the cups and placed onto a cooling rack so that they did not become soggy.

Baked Mini Pound Cake Cooling
Baked Mini Pound Cake Cooling

The result of these smaller pound cakes was about the same as a full sized loaf. An interesting taste difference was created by the higher crust to inside ratio. Having these pre-portioned instead of having to cut slices for breakfast was really nice. As a breakfast food these are highly recommended, easy to make and delicious.

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I am not doing the “Julie and Julia thing”…

Note: This is not a rant, just a clarification. No need to change the channel.

Ever since I started the Cooking Through Ratio series on my blog, people have been asking me if I am doing the “Julie and Julia thing”. The quick answer to that question is no, I am not doing the “Julie and Julia thing” and it never was my intent.

At the beginning of the year I made the simple decision to learn how to cook. I wasn’t about to plunk down thousands of dollars for culinary school on a whim and opted to design a “course of study” if you will that would allow me to learn mostly on my own. Overtime as I’ve learned about cooking, nutrition, food issues and a myriad other topics I’ve become very focused on cooking method. The reason being, recipes, ingredients and knowledge don’t make great cooks, but rather the perfect execution of methods that bring them all together.

I’ve read through many books and decided that the best way to learn method was to actually work my way through a book or program that taught key methods through a clear lens. Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking fit the bill for what I was looking for. By teaching through the lens of how chef’s look at cooking and by employing simple ratios for ingredients as a base for cooking knowledge I was not bound by the ingredients and recipes I had at my disposal. Instead I could start with employing varied methods and ratios and build a foundation.

So even though I am working my through a book as Julie Powell did, I am not trying to cook my way through recipes to learn a particular type of cuisine. That has its merits, but I am not at that point in my journey. I hope that when I start focusing on a particular style of cooking such as French, Asian, Latin, Italian, Mediterranean or something else, the foundation I am building will allow me to approach the food with confidence not only in my skill but in my ability to experiment while focusing on the essence of the food and not the minute details of a recipe. Moving forward I’ll choose another text to delve deeper into specific methods for cooking and baking while also learning the science.

Thanks for all of the comments and encouragement. I enjoy interacting with readers while sharing ideas and experiences. The learning process has been fun with the future filled possibilities looking even more exciting as I learn more each and every day.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Stocks and the Amazing Things They Allow You to Do – Clear Soups and the Consommé – Beef Consommé

Consommé. One word evokes thoughts of an impossible culinary challenge. I first read about it in Michael Ruhlman’s book The Making of a Chef. Subsequent books also made mention of it and proper technique. I recently saw it made on an episode of Iron Chef on the Food Network and here it was as the next food item to make. Was Ruhlman serious? He expected the average home cook to attempt consommé, something so delicate and refined that it is a frequent cause of a bad practicum grade in culinary school? I haven’t shied away from a challenge yet. It was time to get moving.

The chapter starts with “Clear soups are among the easiest, most satisfying, and nutritious dishes you can make. If you have good stock. Good stock is critical. If you don’t have a flavorful stock, you have to spend all your effort hiding bad flavor of canned or boxed stock by adding all kinds of good ingredients. Any why would you want to put good ingredients into a bad one?” (pg. 105). I wasn’t using boxed or canned stock, but my own that I had made previously. Still the question remained…did I make a good stock? Would the effort result in a good dish?

The ratio for consommé is 12 parts stock, 3 parts meat, 1 part mirepoix and 1 part egg white. As it turned out, I would be using the entire batch of stock that I had made previously. Not only that, but 12 ounces of ground lean meat. Given the delicate process and expense, it’s no wonder why restaurants don’t feature it on menus very often.

I established my mise en place not only to ensure that I did not find myself scrambling for a missing ingredient during a critical stage, but in actuality because it has become part of my cooking process now.

Consommé: Ingredients
Consommé: Ingredients

I filled my stock pot with all of the ingredients save for the stock as it was frozen.

Consommé: Meat, Mirepoix, Egg Whites
Consommé: Meat, Mirepoix, Egg Whites

I turned up the heat at placed the stock on top to melt over the ingredients.

Consommé: Added Frozen Beef Stock
Consommé: Added Frozen Beef Stock

Once the stock had melted, I used a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom and move the egg white away from the sides. I could see that what is known as the “raft” was starting to form.

Consommé: Raft forming
Consommé: Raft forming

When the mixture was at a simmer, I lowered the heat to keep it there. I didn’t want to boil which would cause the raft to break.

Consommé: Raft growing
Consommé: Raft growing

The raft is made up of the meat and vegetables along with the egg whites that collect any impurities as they rise to the surface through the cooking process.

Consommé: Raft formed
Consommé: Raft formed

After about an hour the cooking was done. The raft had really come together, but perhaps most shocking was how much of the liquid had actually evaporated over time.

Consommé: Ready
Consommé: Ready

Using a ladle, I carefully moved the liquid from the stock pot to a large glass bowl being extra careful so as not to break the raft or capture any impurities. The liquid was poured through a coffee filter and metal strainer.

Consommé: First Try
Consommé: First Try

It was amazing how much the liquid had transformed. It was perfectly clear. I opted to refrigerate it over night and save it for tonight’s dinner. When I pulled it out tonight I was also surprised by how much gelatin there was in the consommé as was evidenced by the gelatinous globs that had formed in the bowl.

Consommé: After A Night In The Fridge
Consommé: After A Night In The Fridge

As suggested, I blanched some carrots as garnished, a process I had never performed before and heated up a portion.

It definitely was a light start to dinner and I could clearly see (sorry for the pun) why it is often served as a first course. This was no hearty stew. The subtle flavor was very enjoyable.

Consommé: With Blanched Carrots
Consommé: With Blanched Carrots

With another challenge under my belt I definitely feel like I am learning a lot. Consommé is not likely to be something that I’ll make on a regular basis. Truth be told it was actually fairly easy although expensive when you consider what goes into it with respect to time and ingredients. It’s another great example of culinary lore being more than culinary reality. Stay tuned for the challenges ahead.

consomméconsommé
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Cooking Through Ratio: Choosing The Right Ingredients

Pound cake has become part of my repertoire and for good reason. It’s delicious, satiating, easy to make and the ratio is easy to memorize. 1 part butter, 1 part sugar, 1 part egg and 1 part flour. I first made pound cake in August, added blueberries as a twist, made it with brown butter as a tribute, and many other times in between. Pound cake is simple and yet versatile and a perfect candidate for variation and yet with all the flavor components that can be added, the basic ingredients matter just as much if not more when it comes to the final product.

Recently the show Good Eats featured pound cake as an American Classic food. Though born in England, the pound cake is equally popular as an American food staple. Alton adamantly believes that the ratio, despite many attempts to class it up or change proportions is a “good eats” as is. One key difference is that he suggests the use of cake flour instead of all purpose flour. Cake flour, according to the box is 27 times finer than all purpose flour. It also has less protein which means less gluten and has been chemically altered to produce better results with cakes. I decided to give this a try and see if my results in fact did yield a softer, smoother final product with the same great taste I enjoy.

The process was the same. Using the creaming method, I combined room temperature butter and sugar together. I then added in the eggs, one at a time as they were incorporated and a teaspoon of vanilla. Lastly, after slowing down the mixer to it’s lowest speed, I added the cake flour, just until it was incorporated, being careful not to over-mix so as to not create any more gluten than necessary which would make the pound cake chewy and tough.

The batter was a lot smoother and easier to scrape and pour than ones made with all purpose flour. The benefit of using cake flour would be evaluated after its baking.

Pound Cake Batter
Pound Cake Batter

After about 90 minutes, the baking was done. No difference was visible at first glance. The truth was locked inside.

Baked Pound Cake
Baked Pound Cake

Once cooled, I sliced into the bake loaf and discovered the truth behind the wisdom of using cake flour. The inside was certainly smoother while the taste of course was unaltered with a softer mouth-feel.

Pound Cake Slices
Pound Cake Slices

This was an interesting experiment and as with most food experiments, I am willing and  happy participant. Not having cake flour on hand will not prevent me from making pound cake in the future, but this was a great lesson on how ingredients can affect the overall results of a food product.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Stocks and the Amazing Things They Allow You to Do – Stocks – Chicken Stock

I recently made chicken stock and followed the same process and ratio of  3 parts water and 2 parts bones that I used for making beef stock.

Chickent Stock: Bones
Chickent Stock: Bones
Chicken Stock: 3 parts water
Chicken Stock: 3 parts water
Chicken Stock: Simmering
Chicken Stock: Simmering
Chicken Stock: Requires Skimming
Chicken Stock: Requires Skimming
Chicken Stock: Mirepoix
Chicken Stock: Mirepoix
Chicken Stock: Tomato Paste
Chicken Stock: Tomato Paste
Chicken Stock: Done Cooking
Chicken Stock: Done Cooking
Chicken Stock: Requires Straining
Chicken Stock: Requires Straining
Chicken Stock: Straining
Chicken Stock: Straining
Chicken Stock: Cooled & Requiring Another Skim
Chicken Stock: Cooled & Requiring Another Skim

Interestingly enough, even though I did not roast the chicken bones and had more meat on them than the beef bones, the end result including consistency and color were about the same as the beef stock. The tomato paste overwhelmingly changed the body and color of the final product. Of course the taste was much different, but labeling is definitely required for storage.

I now have 2 basic stocks under my belt and now look forward to using them to enhance the flavor of my food. This is one of those challenging food lessons that is tough to gauge. While I do in fact have stock in my freezer ready to use, having not made stock before and no good final product to compare it to, it is hard to say if I made a truly good stock. This is another example of being able to learn method in the absence of a teacher while still missing the guidance and evaluation that in class and/or in person training can provide.

Stay tuned for more challenges ahead!

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Cooking Through Ratio: Stocks and the Amazing Things They Allow You to Do – Stocks – Beef Stock

“…the single preparation that might elevate a home cook’s food from decent to spectacular  ” (p. 89) is how Ruhlman describes the importance of making a good stock.  In fact when the idea for the book Ratio was conceived, stock making was its beginning, often considered the foundation of cooking knowledge. Stocks are a key difference between home and restaurant cooking and often are the one thing that makes replicating your favorite dish at home difficult. I have never made stock before, was eager to try and recently had the pleasure of doing just that. That may sound funny but making a stock was actually a fun process combining a simple ratio, quality ingredients, a little method and time.

Prior to my last CSA pickup I made a request of them for bones as part of my share. They generously came through for me with four large beef bones included in my cooler.  Stock, despite it’s overall simplicity is a hotly (sorry about that one) debated topic in the culinary world when it comes to method. A key point of contention is the difference between making a light or dark stock which is primarily affected by the decision to roast the bones or not.

The ratio for stock is 3 parts water and 2 parts bones. It is a forgiving ratio that can be judged by sight with experience, but I weight everything out to be sure I got it right. I also opted to roast the bones with the hope of adding more flavor and body to my stock. They were placed on an oiled  sheet pan while I cranked up the oven heat to 425 degrees F.

Beef Stock: Raw Bones
Beef Stock: Raw Bones

As the bones roasted for the required 45 minutes with rotation half way through, smoke started coming through the stove top. The high heat was cooking the fat and filling my apartment with smoke. It didn’t take long for the smoke detectors to start going off. I was glad that I chose to do this on a weekend afternoon.

Beef Stock: Roasted Bones
Beef Stock: Roasted Bones

I put the bones into my stock pot, trying to get them in there efficiently so that the did not require any more water than the ratio required.

Beef Stock: Bones in Water
Beef Stock: Bones in Water

The measured water was  added which was the perfect amount to just cover the bones. With the water in the stock pot, the stove heat was turned on. Using my thermometer I let the temperature of the water rise to just below simmering at 180 degrees F which turned out to be just below medium on my small stove top coil.

Beef Stock: Simmered Bones
Beef Stock: Simmered Bones

At that temperature, the good stuff started happening. The flavor was extracted from the bones while the gelatin, the key component that adds body to a stock, was released as well.

Once everything was to temperature, I skimmed the the top to get rid of the fat and impurities. The water and bones simmered for 5 hours. With an hour left to go I created mirepoix, carefully dicing carrots, onions and celery. I chose not to sweat them prior to cooking and threw into the pot.

Beef Stock: Mirepoix
Beef Stock: Mirepoix

I also added pepper and tomato paste to add additional taste and color.

Beef Stock: With Tomatoes and Pepper
Beef Stock: With Tomatoes and Pepper

After an hour had passed I removed the pot from the heat to cool briefly.

Beef Stock: Cooked Mirepoix
Beef Stock: Cooked Mirepoix

After removing the aromatics, the stock was poured through a cheesecloth lined strainer to take out the impurities.

Beef Stock: Straining
Beef Stock: Straining

Everything was strained into a glass bowl to be chilled overnight. This would allow the stock to cool down and the fat to coagulate for easy removal.

Beef Stock: Strained
Beef Stock: Strained

The next day a light film of fat had developed on the top which I skimmed before dividing into plastic bags for freezing.

Beef Stock: Coagulated Fat
Beef Stock: Coagulated Fat

While having a ratio for making stock was not entirely needed, following a simple guide through the process made the first time around fool proof and easy. Having one batch under my belt will make future ones a lot easier and hopefully as time goes on the process will become second nature. Hopefully as I get comfortable and stock making becomes more routine I won’t have to use the wretched pre-made “broth” found in the grocery store. My stock alone may not elevate me to a great home cook right now, but it’s a step in the right direction and a satisfying one at that.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Quick Cakes – Crepes

The final quick cake in the Cooking Through Ratio series involved making crepes. Crepes have always had a mystique about them for me. They seemed fussy and delicate and of course are oh so French. They are fun because they can be eaten at any time of day and are a great vehicle for flavor. Depending on the ingredients they are made of they can be used as part of savory dishes, desserts or as they are commonly eaten, breakfast food.

Ruhlman states that a basic crepe ratio consists of 1 part liquid, 1 part egg and 1/2 part flour. They have a higher liquid / egg ratio to flour than pancakes which result in a thinner batter and flatter food.

Last night I went on a run after work with a co-worker that left me winded and utterly tired. My cardio-fitness level has become a sad state of affairs. I needed a dinner that would involve simple preparation while balancing protein and carbohydrates. The crepe was perfect and happened to be next in line for this series. Timing really is everything.

I combined the ingredients which included a bit of salt, sugar and vanilla extract for flavoring and blended them together with a whisk. I chose milk as my liquid for extra flavor over water.

Whisked Crepe Batter
Whisked Crepe Batter

Crepes call for resting the batter for at least 30 minutes. This allows the flour to hydrate, resulting in a smoother batter without lumps of dry flour.

Hydrated Crepe Batter
Hydrated Crepe Batter

So far so good. The moment of truth was upon me. With a hot buttered pan ready to go I poured the batter into the pan. Everything cooked well, but the end result was a crepe that was too thick.

Thick Crepe
Thick Crepe

I added more water to the batter, whisked and after a few attempts with varying amounts of batter ended up with the thin crepe I was looking for.

Thin Crepe
Thin Crepe

After cooling on a rack, I plated the crepes and covered them with butter and maple syrup for another delicious breakfast for dinner meal.

Crepe with Buter and Maple Syrup
Crepe with Buter and Maple Syrup

These weren’t nearly as hard as I had expected. Each one that I made was better and easier than the one before it. There were a few things that I did note. I’m sure that while the milk aided with the flavor, it also added to the overall thickness of the batter. Trying out different combinations and ratios liquids to get the right thickness will help next time around and overall with success.  Simply adding water might be all that is needed. Also using a measured ladle to get a consistent pour into the pan is something I’ll have to try next time around. Dropping the batter in by sight and spreading it out over the entire pan was tough to do.Overall the results were pretty good and didn’t require to much effort, the perfect simple recipe to cook after a hard workout.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Quick Cakes – Popovers

Popovers
Popovers

The Cooking Through Ratio series continues with a final quick cake, popovers. While popovers may fall under the umbrella of quick cakes, they are distinctively different than their brethren and have characteristics more familiar with pâte à choux. The reason I say this and as Ruhlman points out is that through the baking process they undergo a dramatic transformation. High heat causes causes the batter to steam and balloon the final product into a wonderful column with a delicate balance of texture and flavor.

In general, popovers are 2 parts liquid, 1 part egg and 1 part flour. Again the order here is important. To make what are described as “Basic (but amazing) Popovers”, I measured out the liquid (milk), eggs and flour while also measuring out a bit of butter and salt. I also preheated the oven to 450 degrees F; the high heat was necessary to quickly raise the temperature of the batter which would create the rise. An interesting twist was that while the oven was pre-heating I also placed the muffin tin (I don’t have a popover pan) inside to warm up to help things along even more. The rest was easy.

The milk and egg were whisked together so that they were combined well.

Popovers: Milk & Eggs
Popovers: Milk & Eggs

Next, the salt and flour were added and thoroughly combined.

Popovers: Batter
Popovers: Batter

The mixture was left to sit for 30 minutes so that the flour could absorb the liquid, reducing the lumps that were present. After 30 minutes I gave everything a quick whisk.

Popovers: Hydrated Flour
Popovers: Hydrated Flour

I then pulled the muffin tin out of the oven and placed some butter, which was melted in the microwave into three open cups.

Popovers: Melted Butter in Muffin Tin Cup
Popovers: Melted Butter in Muffin Tin Cup

My understanding was that the hot butter and muffin tin / popover pan were supposed to help quickly raise the temperature of the batter. When I placed the batter into the muffin tin the laws of physics prevailed and the heavier batter fell to the bottom causing the butter to rise.

Popover: Batter and Butter in Muffin Tin Cup
Popover: Batter and Butter in Muffin Tin Cup

I quickly moved the muffin tin to the oven to prevent any heat loss. After ten minutes, the heat was reduced to 375 degrees F. 30 minutes later the baking and the transformation were complete. What came out of the oven was wholly different than what went into it a mere 40 minutes earlier.

Popovers
Popovers

Wow oh wow. Yum. The crispy texture and buttery flavor were exceptional and reminiscent of Yorkshire Pudding, something I enjoyed eating while working in London. Indeed not all English cooking is bad.

These were easy to make, although the sitting time for the batter and baking time were longer than my stomach could bear after coming back from the gym. Needless to say I ate them all along with my “merguez pattie” dinner. I saved half of the batter for later and definitely will enjoy making these again to accompany a more elaborate meal.

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