Spot on

Most weeks, selecting a recipe to tell you about here goes something like a game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe.* For every olive oil citrus cake that makes the cut, there’s an equally worthy bean salad on the bench. Alongside every steaming bowl of tomato soup, there’s a wedge of wild mushroom tart that, for no reason in particular, stays under wraps. I wish I could tell you that there’s some kind of art or science behind what gets tossed up here, but the truth is, it’s usually pretty arbitrary. Then, this week, something happened. The stars aligned, and for once a single recipe emerged as the obvious choice for today’s post. The stars to which I refer are none other than the dashing David Lebovitz and the Queen of Cake herself, Maida Heatter. The recipe? Sugar-crusted popovers.

I’ve had Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts at the top of my nightstand pile for a couple of weeks now. It’s a plump little paperback that once belonged to my grandmother. Every night before bed, I balance a pack of colored sticky tabs on my knees, press open the worn pages, and set myself up for the sweetest of dreams. Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts first came out in the 1960s, before the memoir-style cookbook (cookbook-style memoir?) was all the rage. Maida pins an anecdote or a memory to a recipe here and there, but for the most part, she lets the recipes stand on their own. I have to say, it’s refreshing. Oh, she’s in there alright, but never so much as to crowd out the dessert she’s describing. Instead of monologuing around her recipes, she speaks through them. She’s direct. She’s precise. She couples exuberance with a strict attention to detail like no one else, smiling up at you from every page, then cracking the whip. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll do exactly as she says.

Unless, of course, you’re David Lebovitz, in which case, if you think you might know better, you’re probably onto something.

On Saturday night, I met up with Maida a few hours ahead of schedule when I clicked over to David’s site to see what he had cooking. He had just posted a Maida Heatter popover recipe that he adapted for the New York Times back in March. Just one night earlier, I had been reading about Maida’s popovers in her own voice, “incredible” popovers that earned her mother the title “Popover Queen.” Suddenly, there they were, all decked out in cinnamon sugar and squatting on David’s cooling rack. With both Maida and David pushing popovers, I was helpless to resist. I took it as a sign. That plans were already underway for a Sunday pot of boozy mulled cider – a decidedly sugar-crusted-popover-friendly beverage, if ever there was one – sealed the deal.

Instead of typing out the popover recipe here, I’m going to send you over to David's site and let him tell you all about it. The bottom line is this: He took Maida’s first-rate popover, and with a coat of melted butter and a bowl of cinnamon sugar, made it even better. David set out to create a popover that would channel the crisp, crackly crust of a just-fried doughnut, and he hit his mark spot on. I like to pull apart the still-warm popovers with my fingers, and revel in the custardy dough that clings to the belly of each bite. They’re popovers in doughnuts’ clothing. It’s nothing short of genius.

Before you go, here’s the recipe for that boozy mulled cider. As I suspected, it cozies up willingly to these popovers, and gives you something to sip while you contemplate swiping a second. Or a third.

*No tigers were harmed in the writing of this post.

Boozy Mulled Cider
Adapted from Gourmet, February 1993

We serve a virgin version of this cider at our Chanukah party every year. Instead of adding the spiced rum to the pot, we set a bottle next to the mugs so that guests can spike their own drinks. I was nervous at first about adding brown sugar to the apple cider, since I find even the unsweetened stuff to be pretty sweet. I need not have feared. The brown sugar adds a maple-y depth to the brew, and against the spices and the rum, any extra sweetness goes down just fine. The original recipe calls for Calvados, which you’re welcome to use in place of the spiced rum.

3 c. unsweetened apple cider
2 T. firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. nutmeg
4 whole cloves
Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
½ cup spiced rum or Calvados (optional)

In a saucepan stir together the cider, brown sugar, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Cover the pot and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Stir in the spiced rum, if using, and when the mixture is hot, turn off the flame, and discard the cloves and cinnamon.

Yields 3-4 small mugs.

p.s. - This is hardly postscript material, but I can’t sign off without mentioning the Blog Aid Cookbook which, in the one day since its release, has already raised over $20,000 for the people of Haiti. The project was spearheaded by Julie Van Rosendaal of Dinner with Julie, who invited food bloggers to contribute recipes and photographs. Then, so that 100% of the proceeds could go directly to Haiti (via the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders), she rounded up some very generous designers, editors, printers, and publishers willing to donate their time and resources. Yesterday, the book went to print, just three weeks after Julie’s initial query popped up in my inbox. (Yes, she’s basically some kind of magician.) I’ll be back soon to tell you more about it, but in the meantime, please take a peek at our beautiful book, available in both soft and hardcover.


Liz said...

What a decadent winter treat. I love popovers and never thought about them covered in sugar (covered in some kind of gravy was usually the norm). Thanks for sharing the link, the recipe, and a future book idea!

cdelphine said...

oh goodness yes, I have not stopped thinking about those popovers since David posted the recipe. With this yucky weather (in Md), they are so getting made some time this weekend.

Char said...

with the cider and popovers i might can survive the thought that i may be sitting in an airport on Sunday.

Amy said...

I have had this book for years and love it. Made many recipes from this and her Chocolate Dessert Book as well. How could I have possibly missed this recipe???? I know what's on my baking list now!!

molly said...

Well now. I noticed David's mention, and bookmarked it in my brain, as popovers are already a hands-down, knock-out fave around here. But two mentions might bump this one to the TRY IMMEDIATELY!!! No, sooner... List. I do hope they go well with snow, also.

megan said...

O.M.G. I am coming over right. now. for this combo. (Although there might be a snowstorm in the way...) Happy weekend!


Linda said...

great photography jess...love the "mood" ...even your banner appears a different coloration...
kudos to you & your fellow chefs who contributed to blog aid cookbook...your generosity of spirit & heart are amazing...i hope the press picks up on julie's (et al) wonderful story & you sell the heck out of the cookbooks...i ordered mine yesterday (hopefully it is printing now) & cannot wait to receive it.
btw: thanks for the freezing info on the olive oil citrus cake...i am going to freeze one & let you know the eventual outcome.

diva said...

I love a spiced mulled cider. Perfect for when it's cold and bleary outside! Thanks for the recipe. I've actually got all the stuff needed for it :)

Sean said...

I love cider, though I usually only drink it around Halloween, there something about cider and haunted houses that go so well together.

Kate said...

I might do this, it certainly sounds delicious enough, but I would have to wait for a weekend alone without the guys around because I know that dunked in butter and a snowfall of cinnamon sugar, those popovers would all just about dance themselves into my mouth with nary a crumb to share. Not a bad thing. Once. Maybe twice.

Jess said...

Liz - It's brilliant, isn't it? Thank goodness for David Lebovitz. Maida Heatter's original recipe was indeed for savory popovers. I would definitely pass on the gravy with these!

cdelphine - We were actually supposed to be in Maryland this weekend, but our flight was cancelled because of the snow! From the pictures I've seen, it looks like you got quite the dump. That's popover and cider weather, for sure.

Char - Oh no. At least we found out that we were grounded before we showed up at the airport. Wishing you safe and speedy travels. (And some popovers and cider, too.)

Amy - Hi! I'm just getting started with this book, so I'd be curious to hear which recipes are your favorites. I can't wait for you to try these popovers.

Molly - Yes, yes! Top of the list. And I can assure you that they go very well with snow.

Megan - Because if a snowstorm were not in the way, you'd be here, right? I think the real problem is all of those pesky states in the way. Happy weekend to you, too.

Linda - Thanks for all of your kind words, and for contributing to our Haiti relief effort. I still can't believe that Julie managed to get this project off the ground so quickly. It's such an honor to be a part of something like this, alongside other bloggers whose work I admire. And then to know that readers of this little blog of mine will have it in their hands... Wow. So cool.

And thanks for your help in testing the olive oil citrus cake. I hope it fares well in the freezer. Either way, I'll look forward to hearing how it goes. Thank you!

diva - That's actually one of the things that I love about both of these recipes: I usually have all of the ingredients on hand. Enjoy!

Sean - Hmmm, well, perhaps you could scare up a few ghosts to join you for a mug?

Kate - Sharing is overrated sometimes. Especially when there are popovers on the table. I think a double batch is in order, one for the guys, and one for you.

Rosiecat said...

Oh my, after the week I've had I could use a spiked cider! Can I get a double shot of the booze in mine, please? Jess, I love the cider photos in this post--lovely and warm, just like the cider.

Hope your weekend is treating you well! xo

my spatula said...

lovely shots! i was gawking at the popovers when david posted them. you've just confirmed i need to dive in and give them a go.

Jess said...

Absolutely, Rosiecat. One extra-strong cider coming up. I'm sorry to hear that it's been a rough week, and I hope that things are looking up. (About the photos - thanks! I was intent on capturing that steam.)

my spatula - Thank you, and yes, yes, dive away! You won't be sorry.

Nithya said...

Hey Jess! I'm afraid I haven't visited for a while, but the good part is now that I'm here I have a whole bunch of your posts to read up.

We've only begun discovering donuts here in India, there's a shop near where I live that sells donuts that ooze ganache. These popovers sound simply divine, I can't wait to make them the next time I go home. The cider too! Though it's about 30 degrees C here, I have a suspicion it'll still go down pretty well here.

Jess said...

Hi, Nithya. I'm so glad you're back. From where I sit, wrapped up in wool socks and a sweater, that heat sounds pretty darn nice. Happy Monday to you!

bluejeangourmet said...

someday we'll spend a whole day in a kitchen together & you'll make these for me, right?

I love, love, love popovers & spiced cider may have to happen this weekend, before I give alcohol up for Lent! xx

Jess said...

Sheesh, I've just found a handful of comments that came in last month that somehow I missed. I'm sorry, Nishta! The answer, of course, is YES! Both to a day in the kitchen together and a batch of these popovers made especially for you. xo.