Most weekends when I head into the kitchen I come out four or five hours later with two or three concoctions that taste good, look more or less like the book says they should, and I enjoy a brief sense of accomplishment for having done something that makes me feel like a grown-up, before returning to my normal state of feeling overwhelmed.
This was not one of those weekends. On Saturday I made blueberry muffins and oatmeal muffins (both from America’s Test Kitchen recipes, which can be found here), which were good but just not inspiring for some reason. I made this recipe for dinner at my father’s request. (Note: I do not know who came up with the labels “simple” and “healthy” for this dish–the healthy label was applied on another site. It is neither. It was somewhat tedious to prepare, if not terribly difficult, and no dish consisting of stuffed pasta topped with fried pork wherein the [
also fried sauteed] vegetables are effectively a garnish has any business being called healthy.) It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great either; my father ate a few bites, threw most of his serving away, and then insisted that it had been my idea to prepare the meal in the first place. I was not pleased.
On Sunday I lacked the heart to spend much time in the kitchen, so dinner came out of packets from the refrigerator and the freezer and there was no dessert. We had roast beef, though, so I decided to make some Yorkshire puddings to go with it.
Yorkshire puddings are one of those things that taste like home to me–they are a reminder of childhood Christmases in England when the holiday was a week of fun and new things with family I rarely got to see, before worry about budgets and the stress of preparing things crept in. My mother would only ever make them at Christmas, and was never happy with her results: they were always soft and buttery and pancake-like, never achieving the crisp edges of the store-bought ones, which I have never seen on this side of the puddle. I didn’t care–I’ve always found them delicious no matter how soft they were, and still prefer them slightly underdone at the base. They are comfort food to me, like hot chocolate, fresh blackberries, or a grilled cheese sandwich, and I needed something to cheer myself up this weekend.
I tried my hand at them for Christmas about three years ago, and achieved entirely by chance what she had always tried and never managed: crisp, rounded edges with a dip in the middle. Her recipe book of Classic English Cookery insisted that the batter be chilled before pouring it into the pan and set in the oven, but things had been a bit hectic in the kitchen that day and I had set the batter aside while other things were baking and promptly forgotten about it for an hour. When they came out of the oven they were perfect, and didn’t deflate. Aside from a poached egg, this is the only thing I have ever been able to cook better than my mother did.
She would only cook them at Christmas; I try to make them at least once a month. I would do them more often if I thought they were remotely healthy, but unlike roasted brussels sprouts, they are not a vegetable, so I don’t get to use every excuse to make them. It has taken me a bit of fine-tuning to get them to really crisp up at the edges and not deflate once they’re out of the oven. I’m still having a bit of trouble getting the ones at the center to puff up properly; the one thing I haven’t tried is doing them on a convection cycle, so I will do that next time.
The recipe is simple: two eggs, one cup of whole milk, one cup of flour, pinch of salt. When I don’t have whole milk on hand, I find that adding a couple of tablespoons of cream to low-fat milk does just as well. Add all ingredients together and whisk until smooth. The batter must be at room temperature before baking: this can be achieved by leaving the eggs and cup of milk out for a few hours, or mixing up the batter and leaving it to rest for at least an hour before baking–I haven’t noticed any discernible differences in results.
Heat the oven to 425 F. If you have any beef drippings (or bacon fat) on hand, put a good pinch (about 1/2 to 3/4 of a tablespoon) in each cup of a twelve-cup muffin pan–butter or oil will also do. I usually use butter, but drippings will give you the best flavour and have always produced the best results in my experience. Put the pan in the oven until the fat or butter is quite hot–I wait until I can hear it sizzling. Take the pan out of the oven and pour the batter into the cups–I start with about 1/4 a cup in each muffin cup and top up a few if there is any batter left over. Put the pan back in the oven and bake for at least 20 minutes. If the puddings are not turning a dark brown along the top edge, leave in for a few more minutes–taking them out too early will result in deflated puddings. Still delicious, but not crispy.
I did a bit of research online, wondering if there were other variations on the recipe. Some versions I found indicate that the batter ingredients should be doubled (4 eggs, 2 cups milk, 2 cups flour) and the muffin cups filled to the top; some also insist that the batter should indeed be cold, as per my mother’s old cookbook. This has never worked for me either–like my mother, I get tasty muffin-shaped pancakes, not Yorkies.
Yorkshire puddings are traditionally served with roast beef–still the rule in my house, otherwise I’d be making them every week, and that would be bad–but I don’t see why they couldn’t be served with any sort of roast meat. The batter can also be poured into a pan and sausages laid in a row down the middle to make toad-in-the-hole, but they must be British sausages, which are exorbitantly expensive here when they can be found at all, so I’ve never tried this for myself. What Trader Joe’s describes as Irish sausages are not actually Irish or anything like a sausage produced in the British Isles. (Here in the US you can sell solid chocolate bars that are only 11% cocoa and “taco meat filling” consisting of only 35% beef, but apparently you’re not allowed to label a sausage a sausage if it contains a certain percentage of breadcrumbs….) They’re a nice attempt, but don’t have the flavour or consistency of the real thing. If you have a UK imports shop near you, you might be able to find Cameron’s or some other version of the real thing.