Back when I was earning my wage as a cook at a co-ed fraternity house, I received a special dinner request from a few exchange students from Cambridge University: toad-in-the-hole, the classic British dish of sausages baked into a large Yorkshire pudding. Only problem? I had no idea what a Yorkshire pudding was. It was described to me as “sort of like a batter and you pour it into a pan and you bake it.” Rather than, say, doing some actual research, I decided to wing it.
Pudding, I thought to myself. That ought to be rich and moist and sort of spoonable like a custard, right?
I ended up with essentially that: sausages baked into a vast pool of eggy custard, their tops just poking through the surface, like a construction worker who’s fallen into a vat of half-set concrete. (And the dish was just as heavy as it looked.)
The one good thing about cooking for a fraternity house is that college students will eat anything. Still, at the behest of the British students, I dove a little deeper and discovered that Yorkshire pudding is really nothing more than the British equivalent of the popovers that my mother loves. Sure, our popovers are baked in specialized tins and typically served sweet while Yorkshire puddings are served with beef drippings and gravy, but conceptually, they’re pretty much exactly the same.
This was well over a decade ago and I’ve spent several months in northern England as well as many hours in the kitchen baking pudding after pudding since then.
Printed recipes for Yorkshire pudding go back as far as the mid-18th century, and the dish likely existed long before that. It’s simple—almost primal—in its ingredients and process: Mix together milk, eggs, and flour with a pinch of salt to form a batter (“as for pancakes,” according to the 1937 cookbook The Whole Duty of a Woman), then pour the batter in a pan that has been greased with the drippings from a roast. Originally, that roast was mutton; these days, it’s more likely beef.
A Yorkshire pudding works on the same principle as a French pâte a choux, the thin pastry used to make cream puffs, Parisian-style gnocchi, and gougères. Those recipes all start with a high-moisture dough and rely on the power of steam to puff and rise into their light, crisp final forms. Yorkshire puddings and popovers take the same concept to the extreme, using a batter that is so moist that it pours out like cream and puffs up to at least quadruple its volume.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk until well blended. Whisk in the flour one cup at a time until frothy and well blended. Set aside.
Distribute the oil equally among 12 muffin cups, a little over a teaspoon per cup. Place in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until smoking. Remove from the oven and quickly ladle about 1/4 cup of batter into each cup.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven. Serve immediately. I turn my oven off and leave the door partially open with the yorkies inside to keep them from deflating while waiting for everyone to ask for seconds.