CLEVELAND, Ohio — Welcome to Passover 2021. It’s a hybrid holiday this year, some are still gathering online, and others are cautiously getting together with a few trusted family members and/or friends. But regardless how you celebrate the Seder festivities — when Jews around the world convene to recount the story of how they were freed from Egypt, adding commentary, reflections, and songs — plus the remainder of the holiday, the rudiments remain the same. Matzo, matzo, matzo, matzo, matzo, matzo, matzo. That’s seven days and seven nights of big, bland, unsalted crackers, with nary a bit of baguette, focaccia, naan, or even a slice of simple sandwich bread for relief.
But there is a gluten solution that’s as simple as it is elegant, the Passover popover. Made mostly of matzo meal (ground matzo), and/or matzo cake meal (ground matzo that’s ground further) for foundation and lots of eggs to make it rise, just 45 minutes or so in a hot oven creates a beautiful puff of crispness with a soft custardy interior. It’s at its best straight from the oven onto the dining table, spread with good butter that melts and pools in the tiny crevices. Then, magically, the grim prospect of a week without bread falls away and becomes a glorious opportunity to explore popover possibilities; see the recipes below to get started.
And when Passover is over, or if you’re just a casual observer of the holiday from afar, you can make them afresh with regular flour. The texture is a bit more refined and the pop in the popover balloons to Jules Verne proportions. Easy to whip up and bake instantly, they add charm to casual family suppers and a frisson of elegance to small dinner parties. Not just for Passover anymore, a perfect popover can be an everyday joy.
Classic Passover Popovers aka Shelley’s Passover Rolls, with 5 Easy Variations
A perfect popover is made in a proper popover pan (see cook’s note) but as our ancestors remind us, why let the perfect be the enemy of the still pretty excellent. A muffin pan also works well. Or you can make them in the style of my mother, Shelley Segal, who baked them right on a cookie sheet for her five children, cutting them length-wise to make Passover rolls for the salami sandwiches we survived on for most of the holiday. Any way you bake them, they are sublimely crisp outside and soft and tender inside when eaten hot out the oven, and serviceable for sandwiches the following day. Or you can double the recipe, and keep some batter in the refrigerator for a day or two to make popovers on demand, which will happen frequently. They are indisputably one of the culinary highlights of the Passover season.
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups matzo cake meal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
7 eggs, room temperature
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil water and vegetable oil in a medium-large pan. Stir in dry ingredients with a large wooden spoon until mixture forms a ball. Cool 10 minutes, then add eggs one at a time, mixing with hand electric mixer to blend in each egg before adding another.
Place batter in 3-4 tablespoon dollops on Silpat on baking sheet, depending on size of popover desired. Bake about 50 minutes, until golden brown. Do not open oven for the first 30 minutes and after that, you can peek quickly to check browning. If baking in popover or muffin pans, butter or oil the pans first, then fill 1/2 to 2/3 full, and bake about 40 minutes, checking as above.
Yield: 10-12 in muffin pans, 6 in popover pans.
Cook’s note: Popover pans are an unnecessary, but elegant, addition to your cookware arsenal, and are widely available at local kitchenware stores and online.
Though we stuck pretty closely to salami as kids, we now know there are many more ways to personalize a popover:
1. Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives to the batter. Bake as above, let popovers cool slightly and then slice and fill with egg salad for a light alfresco springtime lunch.
2. Cheesy popovers are the natural accessory to tomato soup when grilled cheese sandwiches just can’t be there. Add 1/3 cup finely grated sharp cheddar cheese, and maybe a pinch of smoky chipotle spice, to the batter and bake as above.
3. For the best corned beef sandwiches, add teaspoon dry mustard or mustard seeds (optional), and 1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried), to the batter, sprinkle each popover with sesame and caraway seeds (optional) , then bake as above. Let popovers cool slightly, then slice and fill with corned beef and condiment of choice.
4. Cinnamon-sugar popover mini-pastries are even better than donut holes. Bake small popovers in a mini-muffin pan or as small dollops on a cookie sheet (450 degrees for about 25 minutes). As soon as they’re out of the oven, brush with melted butter and toss in a bowl with granulated sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of nutmeg. Shake off excess and serve with alacrity to cheers.
5. For a quick, easy, and reasonably swanky dessert, add 1 more tablespoon of sugar to the recipe, then bake as above. Cool completely, then split and fill with lightly mashed ripe berries, adding a squeeze of fresh lemon and sugar if necessary, and freshly whipped heavy cream. Top with fresh berries and more cream and a dusting of sugar.
Hamburger Popovers for Passover
It’s hard to believe, looking at the plethora of publications now devoted to the holiday, that Passover recipes used to be confined to a section in community cookbooks and your mother’s and grandmother’s memories and recipe cards. But there was one book, The Complete Passover Cookbook, first published in 1981, that led the way to the present abundance of options. Written by Frances R. AvRutenik, whose husband was a rabbi in Connecticut, “complete” is an understatement. it’s an encyclopedia of holiday cuisine, more than 500 quality recipes, from Red Sea Slaw to Sukiyaki to Savarin with Strawberries, including over 116 pages devoted to desserts. The Hamburger Popover recipe adapted here is indicative of her creativity. It’s a kosher for Passover re-imagining of the traditional English recipe, Toad in the Hole. Instead of sausage links suspended in Yorkshire pudding– the egg-rich savory dish that is the antecedent of the original popover– she introduces beef meatballs in individual popovers. They make for a charming light family supper or, subbing the meatball with a similarly-sized sautéed mushroom cap, a vegetarian rendition that would be just as satisfying.
2 teaspoons oil
2/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup cake meal
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 tablespoon matzo meal
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, minced or equal amount, dried
Oil for muffin pan
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, prepare the popover batter by beating the eggs with the oil, water, and seasonings. Stir in the cake meal. Blend well. Let rest for 30-45 minutes. In the meantime, thoroughly blend the hamburger ingredients in a small bowl. Shape the mixture into twelve 1.25 inch balls; set them aside on a dish.
Oil and heat a 12-muffin pan for 5 minutes. Pour the batter into the heated pan. Put a meatball in each cup. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the meatball is cooked through and the popover is puffy. Remove and serve at once.
Adapted from The Complete Passover Cookbook, Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.
King Arthur’s Not-For Passover Popovers
Fine-grained and crisp, with a rich eggy interior, these elegant popovers are welcome all year long. Taken from the hot-off-the press The King Arthur Baking Company’s All-Purpose Baker’s Companion, a revised and updated version of the James Beard 2004 Cookbook of the Year, the book is a worthy successor to the original champion volume, as close to a Holy Grail for bakers as can be purchased today.
4 large eggs, warmed in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes before cracking
1 1/2 cups (340g) milk (skim, low-fat, or full-fat), lukewarm
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (177g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or similar
3 tablespoons (43g) melted butter
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Position a rack on a lower shelf. The top of the fully risen popovers should be about midway up the oven. What you don’t want is for the tops of the popping popovers to be too close to the top of the oven, as they’ll burn.
Use a standard 12-cup metal muffin tin, one whose cups are close to 2 1/2″ wide x 1 1/2 deep. (Want to use a popover pan? See “tips,” below.) Grease the pan thoroughly, covering the area between the cups as well as the cups themselves. Make sure the oven is up to temperature before you begin to make the popover batter.
Use a wire whisk to beat together the eggs, milk, and salt. Whisk till the egg and milk are well combined, with no streaks of yolk showing.
Add the flour all at once, and beat with a wire whisk till frothy; there shouldn’t be any large lumps in the batter, but smaller lumps are OK. OR, if you’re using a stand mixer equipped with the whisk attachment, whisk at high speed for 20 seconds. Stop, scrape the sides of the bowl, and whisk for an additional 20 to 30 seconds at high speed, till frothy. Stir in the melted butter, combining quickly.
Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling them about 2/3 to 3/4 full.
Make absolutely certain your oven is at 450°F. Place the pan on a lower shelf of the oven . Bake the popovers for 20 minutes without opening the oven door. Reduce the heat to 350°F (again without opening the door), and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until they’re a deep, golden brown. If the popovers seem to be browning too quickly, position an oven rack at the very top of the oven, and put a cookie sheet on it, to shield the popovers’ tops from direct heat.
If you plan on serving the popovers immediately, remove them from the oven, and stick the tip of a knife into the top of each, to release steam and help prevent sogginess. Slip them out of the pan, and serve.
If you want the popovers to hold their shape longer without deflating and settling quite as much, bake them for an additional 5 minutes (for a total of 40 minutes) IF you can do so without them becoming too dark. This will make them a bit sturdier, and able to hold their “popped” shape a bit longer.
Tips from our Bakers
For cheese popovers, add 1/4 cup (28g) Vermont Cheese Powder to the batter along with the flour. For herbed popovers, stir 1.5 teaspoons of Pizza Seasoning, or your favorite dried herbs, into the batter along with the flour.
Using a popover pan, this recipe will make six standard popovers; or 18 minis. The minis need to bake about 10 minutes less than indicated; the standard popovers, about 5 minutes more.
Want to make the batter in a blender? Go for it. Blend eggs, milk, and salt; add flour, blending until smooth; then add the melted butter at the end, blending until frothy.
Serve with honey butter or maple butter: 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) softened butter mixed with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 2 to 3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup. Or, serve with cheese butter: 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) softened butter mixed with 2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) Vermont Cheese Powder.
Courtesy of The King Arthur Baking Company’s All-Purpose Baker’s Companion, Countryman Press
BONUS RECIPE: “I Can’t Believe They’re Passover Bagels” Passover Bagels*
The name says it all. Yes, there’s been many Passover “bagels” in all of our pasts.
Those were as ersatz as they come; mere Passover rolls with an indent poked in the middle. These are actual bagels, boiled and then baked, glazed with egg and topped with dried garlic or onions. *And they’re gluten-free (which makes them attractive for a whole other year-round audience). And truly delicious. Another Passover miracle, approximately 3,331 years after the first one (Chabad.org). Let us be grateful for them all.
3 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1 cup tapioca starch
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2/3 cup warm water
4 tablespoons baking soda
1 large egg, beaten
Dried toasted garlic or onions; sesame seeds or poppy seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, blend together the dry ingredients, ensuring there are no lumps. Make a “well” in the center. Add the vinegar, honey, and warm water. Stir together until completely blended and smooth. Allow the dough to rest for 2-3 minutes. Divide the dough into 6 even pieces.
Add baking soda to a medium pot of water, 2/3 full. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and stir to incorporate the soda. Roll a piece of dough between your hands (wet hands or vinyl gloves work best) until a ball forms. Pat the dough down slightly to make a disk. Using your index finger, make a hole in the center of the disk. Carefully place the bagel in the simmering water. Allow it to cook until it floats to the top. Using a slotted spoon or spatula remove the bagel from the water and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bake the bagels for 10 minutes. Remove the bagels from the oven and brush with the beaten egg. Top with the dried onion and/or garlic, and the seeds, if using. Return the bagels to the oven and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the bagels from the oven and allow them to rest for 10-15 minutes before eating. Adapted from koshereveryday.com
Beth Segal will be moderating a virtual cooking demo, Passover Cooking Around the World on March 18, at 7:30 p.m. The event features celebrity chef/owner of the former Bistro 185, Ruth Levine, who will be highlighting kosher-for-Passover dishes from Eastern Europe, Morocco, Egypt, and Italy for a unique spin on the Seder menu. The event, sponsored by Park Synagogue, will benefit the Cleveland Kosher Food Pantry and Cleveland Chesed Center. For details and to register: www.parksynagogue.org/events