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.