My Grandma Claire had a tradition. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, she’d round up her various girlfriends and head into the city to hit the big sales. I’m pretty sure this was before the retail world had deemed the day “Black Friday.” For her, it was the best day of the year. She’d wander about Neiman Marcus and visit Tony, her favorite salesman, at the cosmetic counter. He’d fuss and fawn, stuffing her purse with perfume samples, making her over with the latest shades. She loved the attention and for Christmas we would all receive the latest Obsession perfume gift box or Estee Lauder eye shadow kit. For lunch, it was always the store restaurant, The Zodiac. And it was always about the popovers with strawberry butter.
When I moved to Chicago, I accompanied her on this cherished tradition a few times. I had to be careful not to look at something too long or it ended up in a beribboned bag. I’m pretty sure that’s how I ended up with the Swarovski crystal lipstick case. I became very adept and looking at things on the sly, never lingering and never spending too much time in the designer areas. This was her day. It was a relief to sink into the cozy restaurant booths, nestled among our bags after doing some hardcore shopping. Sipping tiny, delicate cups of rich chicken consommé, we felt so special, so elegant. Then came the popovers – big, fluffy, golden, crispy and a touch eggy. Slathered with bright pink strawberry butter, I could eat a dozen easily. In fact, I may have.
I couldn’t tell you what else we ate for lunch. It was probably mandarin souffles and chicken salad or some such ladylike thing. I’m not sure we had much room after multiple popovers anyway but it didn’t really matter. My grandma, a big fan of the color pink, always said they made them special, just for her. I believed her.
The other day, thinking fondly of my grandmother and having some strawberries on hand, I whipped up a batch for old times sake. They were just as good as I remembered. Also for old times sake, I may or may not have eaten the whole batch myself. I admit to nothing.
The recipe is simple – mix it in a blender and let it rest. I added a little vanilla to Mark Bittman’s basic recipe and a bit of sugar too but you could go the other direction and add some savory herbs, perhaps a little parmesan. I also added some fresh lemon verbena to the butter but you could use mint, even rosemary or skip the herbs entirely. A proper popover pan gives you stunning popovers and I was surprised to learn I owned one. Don’t remember buying that. If you don’t, a regular muffin tin works just fine though they won’t be as tall and magnificent. Just as delicious, though be sure to bake them less. Popovers should be golden brown and crisp on the outside but moist and tender on the inside.
Slathered with the slightly sweet pink butter, they will be tough to keep around. Do yourself a favor and make a double batch. I love them hot, right out of the oven but they’re still very good at room temperature. Mother’s Day is coming up and they will be perfect for the mom’s in your life.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: THIS ONE HITS THE HEART. For me, these are deeply personal. I wish that I could have made these for my Grandma – she would have been tickled. I might have stuffed a few perfume samples in her purse on the way out of the door, you know, for old times sake.
CLASSIC POPOVERS WITH LEMON VERBENA STRAWBERRY BUTTER – adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe
Makes 5-6 popovers depending on your pan (more if you use a muffin tin)
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
5 teaspoons vegetable oil
- In a blender add the following ingredients in this order: milk, eggs, vanilla paste (or extract), sugar, flour, salt.
- Blend on a low speed until smooth, about 15 seconds.
- Add the melted butter and blend for a few seconds until incorporated.
- Let the batter rest for 30 minutes before baking popovers.
- While the batter is resting, preheat the oven to 450°F and place the popover pan in the oven.
- Just before baking, remove the pan and add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to each cup.
- Return the pan to the oven for 2 minutes to heat the oil.
- Remove the hot pan and evenly divide the batter among the six cups – fill each cup about ¾ full.
- Immediately return the filled pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes at 450°F. Do not open the oven during these first 20 minutes.
- Rotate the pan and reduce the oven temperature to 350° F.
- Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until popovers are nicely browned.
- Enjoy hot out of the oven with strawberry butter.
LEMON VERBENA STRAWBERRY BUTTER
Makes about 1 2/3 cups
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (2 sticks)
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
½ cup fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon verbena, finely chopped (optional)
- In a food processor, pulse butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Add strawberries and lemon verbena and process until combined, but not totally uniform.
- Transfer to ramekins or small serving dishes.
- Chill until ready to serve, or shape into a log on a sheet of plastic wrap, roll up tight and freeze up to 2 months. Serve at room temperature.