Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ratio Rally! Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Cinnamon & Star Anise Popovers

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Cinnamon & Star Anise Mini Popovers

I know I'm not the only one when I say that the beginning of the year is a "busy time."  It's actually quite a laughable understatement.  But alas, it's when I'm at my busiest that I've learned that slowing down is the best way to keep up.  Counter intuitive? Yes.  Counterproductive?  Anything but.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post: the Gluten Free Ratio Rally.

Now if you're unfamiliar with the Ratio Rally and its mission, let me catch you up right quick.  Beginning with ratios, Michael Ruhlman penned an awesome book (appropriately titled, Ratio) in which he laid out the general ratios purported to form the foundation of baking and cooking.  From cakes to cream sauces, the book's premise suggests that one should pay less attention to measurements and amounts and more attention to weights and proportions.  And as for the 'rally' part, last year, right around this time, Shauna James Ahern (aka Gluten-Free Girl) assembled a group of bloggers to begin testing the ratios to see if they would translate when using gluten-free ingredients.  Each month features a different baking challenge, ranging from donuts to pancakes, cookies to popovers.  

What's a "popover" you ask?  Well, as luck as would have it, that's this month's challenge.

Popovers are a crusty bread roll, if you will, crisp and golden on the outside and soft, fluffy, and mostly hollow on the inside.  They begin as a somewhat thin batter, but once placed in a hot oven, they rise dramatically due to steam from the vaporization of water within the batter, puffing up and "popping over" the rim of the baking tin. 

Ruhlman describes them in his book as "so, so easy" and "very forgiving."  I chuckle as write that, because as I progressed through my baking trials, I personally found quite the opposite to be true.  From trial to trial, with little to no change in ratio, ingredients, or preparation, I found my results to be all over the map.  One would rise, one would fall, the colors would be different, one would be awesome, one wouldn't cook through, etc.

At least most batches were edible.  Not batch #9: adding more milk.
Utterly discouraged and on the brink of sitting this month out, I went to the internet to see if any light could be shed on my 'popover dilemma.'  And boy, oh boy, did I find some light.

For every single success story of achieving "fool-proof" popovers, there were four to five stories of people's struggles to get a popover to actually "pop."  The one that really stood out to me was about the famous "Neiman Marcus Popover" and how it took the staff at one of their restaurants five weeks and dozens of trials to perfect the already "proven" recipe.  The opening quote from Doug Lum, one of the chefs at that particular restaurant, seemed to speak directly to me at that moment: 

"Don't be discouraged if your popovers don't come out perfect the sixth time."

After reading that (as well as receiving a much needed nudge from Jenn Oliver, a fellow Ratio Rallier), my attitude thankfully took a turn for the better.  I now felt encouraged to not only learn from my mistakes, but to share those mistakes with others, so we can all benefit from the lessons therein.  It was the perfect reminder that the ratio rally isn't about producing something perfect, proven, or foolproof.  The more important objectives are sharing knowledge, building community, and finding opportunities to feel more confident in baking gluten-free.

So with that being said, after nine trials, here are the ups and downs of my 'popover experience.'

Batch #1 with pomegranate preserves. Before I knew to add oil to batter.

#2, looking just like that.  Too much oil = fried omelettes.

3rd time was the charm!

Wide-mouthed GFDF popover.

I knew a vegan popover wouldn't work, but I had to try if just for a laugh.

#5 in a proper popover pan.  I thought this would be the one.

Nope.  Not the one.

#6.  Very popular with my foodie friends.

#8 did taste very good.  Maybe 100% humidity had something to do it...

One of my core values in sharing recipes is doing my best to make sure that others can apply them.  If I can't duplicate a recipe, then I need to go back to the drawing board before I even think of publishing it.  And the tricky thing with popovers is the amount of variables to take into account.  Temperature of ingredients, temperature of the oven, type of baking tin, mixing technique, humidity, and on and on.  Small tweaks can make a huge difference, so it's best to change just one thing at a time.  Which, of course, takes time.  And a lot of eggs. 

For the most part, my ratios were consistent with Ruhlman's except for the eggs, which weighed less than 2 oz each.  

Ruhlman's Popover ratio - 2 parts liquid : 1 part egg : 1 part flour
My "Popover" ratio - 2.29 parts liquid : 1 part egg : 1.14 parts flour*

* - my flour blend was adapted from a suggestion for making your own flour blend on the King Arthur Flour website.  

So understanding that this is still in the works, here's the most successful recipe to date.

Cinnamon and Star Anise Popovers
Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free

228g or 8 1/8 oz unsweetened coconut milk beverage
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
98g or 2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon GF vanilla extract
2 teaspoons agave
56 g or 2 oz canola oil
1 fresh cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon psyllium husk
70g brown rice flour
20g tapioca starch
22g potato starch
1-2 tablespoons canola for greasing

1.  Preheat oven to 440 degrees, setting the rack for use in the middle of the oven.
2.  I cold-infused the milk with the star anise and cinnamon stick by crushing both and leaving them in overnight.  Another way to infuse it is to simmer the milk with the crushed spices.  With whichever method you choose, I found best results when I heated the milk until it was slightly warm just before use.
3.  It is best if your eggs are room temperature before use.  If need be, bring them up to temp in a warm bowl of water.  Place the eggs in the blender.  On medium speed, blend the eggs until they're mildly aerated, and uniformly light yellow.
4.  Strain spices and add milk, vanilla extract, agave, and canola oil to blender.  I included the extra 1/8 oz since the spices will absorb some of the milk and not all of it will pour from the container.   Grate approximately 1 teaspoon fresh cinnamon into mixture or use ground cinnamon.  Fresh cinnamon gives it a nice bite.  Blend on medium speed to combine until the mixture is just frothy.
5.  In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and whisk lightly until uniform in color.
6.  Before combining all ingredients, place greased popover or muffin pan in preheated oven.  Allow it to heat for at least 5 minutes.
7.  Just before the 5 minutes is up, add half the dry mixture to blender and blend on medium speed.  When just combined, add remaining dry ingredients and blend for about 5-10 seconds on medium speed.  The resulting batter will have a consistency between a pancake and a crepe batter.
8.  Remove preheated pan from oven and fill each cup 2/3 to 3/4 full.
9.  Working quickly, replace the pan back in the oven.  Set a timer for 13 minutes.  Do not open the oven during this step in order to maximize both retention of heat within the oven and potential for "pop."
10.  After the 13 minutes is up, lower temperature to 365 degrees and set timer for an additional 25 minutes.
11.  After the 25 minutes, remove the popovers from the oven and make a small slit in the side of each one to release the steam.  Return to oven and bake for 5 more minutes to ensure that the insides bake all the way through.
12.  Best served fresh from the oven.  Makes 6 if using a large popover pan, and 12 if using a regular sized muffin pan.

Cold infusing crushed cinnamon stick & star anise (one left whole for looks).

The use of the blender made a big difference for me.

Tiny bubbles.  Would not mind making this 'mistake' again.

I was warned on numerous sites that gluten-free and dairy-free popovers just won't pop, which was definitely the case most of the time.  But one time they did pop, and another time they almost popped and turned into delicious profiterole-like puffs.  So there's got to be something there, right?

While nine trials is a bit much, even for the uber-perfectionist that I am, I honestly feel better at the end of the day for all the hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing.  It helped me to slow down and it helped me to find patience, self-compassion, and perspective just when I thought I was at my limit.  And it was a timely reality check reminding me that growth does not come from doing things that come easily and being perfect right away.  Growing results from a combination of embracing imperfection and persevering in the face of hardship. 

One day, after who knows how many more trials, I will find a way to make these gluten-free, dairy-free popovers pop consistently.  It just won't be today, and that's alright. :)

A big "Thank You!" to Mrs. R from Honey From Flinty Rocks for hosting this month's challenge.  Here is the complete list of all the other wonderful bloggers tackling this month's challenge.  Pop on over and check 'em out (I'm SO sorry, I just couldn't resist...).

Mrs. R /  Honey From Flinty Rocks / Popovers - Gluten & Dairy Free
Brooke / B & the boy! / Chocolate & Sweet Potato Popovers
Charissa / Zest Bakery / Lemon Vanilla Popovers with Minnesota Raspberries
Claire / My Gluten free home / Chai Popovers
Erin / The Sensitive Epicure / Popovers
Ginger / Fresh Ginger / Chive + Black Pepper; Toasted Onion + Aleppo Pepper Popovers
gretchen / kumquat / Strawberry Cream Cheese Popovers
Heather/ Discovering the Extraordinary / Basic Popovers
Jenn / Jenn Cuisine / Chocolate Popovers
Mary Fran / FrannyCakes / Honey Coconut Popovers
Morri / Meals with Morri / Little Bitty Popover Bites
Rachel / The Crispy Cook / Corny Popovers
TR/ No One Likes Crumbley Cookies / Sweet Cherry Popovers


  1. You really committed to this popover project! Eight batches. I'm impressed. Great job for the Ratio Rally.

    1. Thanks, Rachel! I always strive to do my best, and popovers, while simple in ingredients, are far from simple in execution. So many ways to go about it - I just had to try as many as possible.

  2. I'm amazed at how many times you gave these a try this month! What determination you have! And they look delicious - I'd love the cinnamon and anise combination!

    1. Thank you, Caneel! I was amazed at times, myself. Am I really baking popovers at 2am? lol.

  3. Your suggesting with putting the remaining butter into the batter worked wonders. And I agree with the humidity part, because I used a steaming method in the oven and it helped the popovers rise significantly.

    I love your dedication for this month's GFRR. 8 times? EIGHT?! And I giggled at the vegan popovers trial, though I'm sure they tasted delightful. AND your final version was dairy free... awesome.

    <3 M.

    1. I'm so glad that helped you as well! It made a significant, perhaps even crucial, difference in my popover attempts. I'm taking a break from popovers for now, but I will definitely try the steaming method when I get back to it.

      Thank you for your kind words, Morri!

  4. Jonathan!! I am so glad you didn't sit this one out!! Your popovers look wonderful. And the knowledge you impart to the gluten free baking world is invaluable.

    1. That is so sweet! I'm also glad I didn't sit it out. Thank you for being a wonderful hostess for this challenging challenge. :)

  5. Wow they look awesome, and what a great flavor combination! Congrats!!!

    1. Would I have followed through with all 9 batches if not for you? Probably not. Thank you for all your support & well-timed words of wisdom. It means a lot, Jenn. :)

  6. Wow! 9 batches! you are so dedicated I feel like I should mail you dozens of eggs to keep experimenting! I admire your persistence to be sure.

    1. Do you think they would mail well? :) Thank you, Ginger, and Welcome to the Rally!

  7. I like your choice of flavors! Thanks for sharing...I'm glad mine aren't the only ones "in the works"!

    1. Thanks, Heather! There was so much to learn about popovers. It definitely made me rethink my own posting guidelines. 'In the works' isn't a bad thing - it just means we're still learning and growing. :)

  8. Kudos to you for your determination! I would've given up after 2 trials...I love the pockets in popovers - perfect for nestling lots of jam or butter. ;)

    1. I'd actually not had a popover previous to this challenge. Since I rarely bake with eggs, at first it was off-putting to me. But around batch #6, I started to come around. :) Thank you for your comment, Lillian!

  9. I am so impressed... also mad that I couldnt sit there and eat all of your "mess up's"...tisk tisk my beloved... next time call me, your guinea pig baker bestie! Mooo

  10. Gosh, finally getting to read all the other Rally posts, while I feared it would be demoralizing, has inspired me to the nth degree. Things I will try for future batches: 1) longer blender time 2) whipping egg whites into a meringue 3) incorporating glutinous rice flour.


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