I did a lot of experimenting with making rye breads at home this past summer—or rather, in a summer cottage with a tiny, poorly insulated and poorly sealed old apartment-size stove. Not the best venue for trying to replicate the wonderful old world rye breads I grew up on. But I wanted that taste again, to eat thick slices slathered with salted butter, to make a really good ham and cheese sandwich, or a favorite of my father’s and mine, an onion sandwich with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, and I had some time. It was summer. Not the greatest bread-baking time, but time.
Surprisingly, recreating the taste was not as difficult as I had anticipated. It was getting the bread to bake to the right size and texture. For the moment, I am blaming the oven, as the breads always went in looking perfect, then generally deflated rather than rose with the initial high temperature, and the crusts became a little hard. There are actually several potential reasons for this, but for the moment I am sticking with the oven as culprit. Everyone who tasted them thought they were excellent—and as I said, the flavor was amazingly spot on—but having eaten pounds and pounds of the best ryes growing up, I knew. Not quite. So I plan to try again this winter, in a different oven and without the 100 degree heat and humidity of this summer. I have some sour, waiting silently in the darkness of the freezer. And I will make some fresh as well (it could, after all, have been my starter).
This is all to say that, in cleaning out my too-full freezer, I discovered a bag of rye flour containing barely enough to coat a countertop—a half cup. Not sure why I bothered to keep it, unless it is the hard-dying “waste not, want not” attitude instilled in me by my grandmother. I do find such things very, very hard to throw out. So compelled to use it, I made these rye popovers. Everyone knows that a popover is a very satisfying thing. A rye popover is different—less delicate--but retains the qualities of crisp exterior and partly hollow, tender and stretchy interior.
Use a cast iron popover or gem pan for best results. You could also use little ceramic custard molds if needed. Be sure your oven is fully preheated. You can whip these up for breakfast. Makes 6-8, depending on your pan.
½ cup rye flour
½ cup a-p flour
¼ tea salt
1 T unsalted butter, melted
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 450F. Lightly butter the pan if it is not well-seasoned, and put it in the oven while it is heating.
In a 4-cup measure or a small bowl, preferably with a spout, sift the flours together with the salt. Pour the milk into a 2-cup measure, add the eggs, and beat with a small whisk until lightly incorporated. Make a little well in the flour and pour in the milk/egg mixture and the melted butter. Whisk for a minute or so until thoroughly smooth.
Pour the batter into the hot pan, filling the openings about 2/3 of the way. If you are using a full size iron popover pan, bake at 450F for 25-30 minutes; they will be high. Reduce the heat to 350F and bake another 15 minutes, until tawny and shiny. If you are using an aluminum pan or smaller gem pan, the timing will be shorter, perhaps by as much as a a third. Bake them at the higher temperature until they are fully puffed, then reduce the heat and bake until they are nicely colored and dry; you can use a small wooden skewer to check them if needed. Watch them and use your judgment. Turn out immediately onto a rack, and poke them once with a tiny skewer or the tip of a sharp knife. You can eat them now, with butter and, if you like, jam. I do, and am partial to apricot with the rye flavor.