Sugar-Crusted Popovers

I’m not one to easily back down from an argument, especially when it comes to anything food-related. (Well, except about whether brownies should have nuts or not. That’s just something I just can’t get worked up about, as much as some people do.) Recently I was having a bit of a disagreement with someone particularly stubborn about the role of fat in cooking.

sugared popovers

I believe fat is fine, but should be used where it makes a difference. For example, milk is better in hot chocolate than cream, as the heavy richness of the cream overwhelms the taste of the bittersweet chocolate. And I don’t think anyone who tastes a scoop of my chocolate sorbet can tells me it doesn’t have the intense flavor of the deepest, darkest chocolate dessert. I dare ya.

But on the other hand, if you’re going to pan-fry potatoes, a spoonful of duck fat in the frying pan will produce crackly, crisp-browned potato cubes, and they’re going to be a life-changing experience. So I’m happy to use it there. If you still afraid to try it, and are too concerned about eating duck fat, walk to the gym the next time you go, instead of driving there.

Last year Amanda Hesser was reminiscing with me about Maida Heatter, when she asked me to recreate Maida’s popover recipe. For those that don’t know who Maida Heatter is, she’s responsible for writing some of the most amazing, luscious, scrumptiously adjective-worthy baking books over the last few decades. Known for carrying around cellophane-wrapped brownies in her purse, and distributing them freely, she was equally generous with recipes as she was with words.

She’s such a hero to me that I adapted her unusually-good Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake for my book, The Great Book of Chocolate. And how surprised was I that after it came out, I got a letter from Miami, in that infamous distinctive handwriting of hers?

maida heatter letter

The illustrated note was brimming with her typical effusiveness. And in her recipes, few people could get away with using as many superlatives as she does. But because she’s so thrilled about the cakes and cookies she’s baking up, readers can’t help but being swept up in the excitement, and her headnotes make generous use of words like “Fabulous!”, “Delicious!” and “Divine!” And although some folks think words like that are outdated or should be avoided as food writing clichés, one can’t help but being charmed by her sincerity and passion, which invite bakers to dive right into the recipes. And sometimes, you know, a cake or cookie is just simply delicious or scrumptious, and you may as well just use the right word to describe it—to heck with all those rules about food writing.

(And can we just talk about the fact that she sent a letter with no street number or address, and it still arrived? Is there anything Maida Heatter can’t do?)

sugared popovers

Since the project was to re-think one of her recipes, I gave it prime real estate in my brain (where space is, admittedly, limited), and for some reason I kept thinking of the usual savory uses for popovers. Until it finally hit me that my recipe should exploit the crackly shell of a popover and its hollow, airy interior: I was going to turn popovers into sugared, doughnut-like pastries, with that same crispy, buttery, sugared coating, but without the doughy insides.

Like a bagel or baguette, the best part of a doughnut is the crust. And since in most pastries, I pick crisp over soft and damp any day, these sugar-crusted popovers were a revelation. I’m not going to put words in Maida’s mouth, but speaking for myself, I will say that they’re scrumptious, yummy, and fabulously delightful.

Sugar-Crusted Popovers

Makes 9

Adapted from my recipe in The New York Times and Maida Heatter’s Great Book of Desserts

I thought these wouldn’t stay crisp for very long after they were baked and coated with the sugar. But the next morning, I was surprised when I pulled off a hunk and they’re weren’t bad. But they are the best the day they’re made; leftovers can be stored in a container and snacked on the next day. You could freeze them in zip-top bags as well.

I don’t have popover tins, but found these work quite well in standard-sized muffin tins. For this recipe, feel free to use salted or unsalted butter, depending on your preference.

For the puffs:

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 cup (140 g) flour

For the sugar coating:

2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (60 g) melted butter

Softened butter, for greasing the pan

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Liberally grease a nonstick popover pan, or a muffin pan with 1/2-cup indentations, with softened butter.

2. For the puffs, put the 2 tablespoons melted butter, eggs, milk, salt and sugar in a blender and blend for a few seconds.

3. Add the flour and whiz for about 10 seconds, just until smooth.

4. Divide the batter among the 9 greased molds, filling each 1/2 to 2/3rds full.

5. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the puffs are deep brown.

6. Remove from the oven, wait a few minutes until cool enough to handle, then remove the popovers from the pans and set them on a cooling rack. If they’re stubborn, you may need a small knife or spatula to help pry them out.

7. Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Thoroughly brush each popover all over with the 1/4 cup (60 g) of melted butter, then dredge each puff generously in the sugar and cinnamon mixture to coat them completely. Let cool on the wire rack.

Related Links & Recipes

The Queen of Cake (Saveur)

English Gingersnaps (Caviar & Codfish)

Robert Redford Cake (Wednesday Chef)

Mondays With Maida

Chocolate Whoppers (Family Style Food)

Date-Nut Bars (Market Manila)

Date Espresso Loaf (Movable Feasts)

Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts (Culinate)

Pascale’s Perfect Roast Potatoes (Chocolate & Zucchini)

Roast Potatoes in Duck Fat (Wrightfood)

118 comments

  • David,

    You’ll get rid of that dip in the center and have higher popovers if you heat the batter slightly before baking (as you would eggs for genoise–just until warm). I always use wondra flour, which doesn’t need to rest, but regular flour needs about an hour if you want big beautiful popovers. Funny, I saw a recipe just like this around New Year’s on http://breadbasketcase.blogspot.com/
    See her January 9th post.

  • OH MY GOD. I just made these and they were delicious. And I guess I should amend that. I didn’t actually make them. I made my boyfriend make them for me for my birthday. I hate donuts but absolutely adored these.

  • I, too, am a huge fan of Maida Heatter and have been fortunate enough to receive one of her handwritten letters in response to one of my own. My love for that dear lady is unsurpassed and I was happy to find her sauerkraut cake in your chocolate book. Might I add that I think your writing style is every bit as wonderful. I enjoy your sense of humor, your directness and your ability to make me want to head to the kitchen and try something you suggest right away.

  • I have now made these popovers in doughnuts’ clothing twice, and wow, David, you totally nailed it. I love everything about these babies. I somehow missed the recipe in the New York Times back in March, so thank you for publishing it here. You and Maida make a great team.

  • This immediately brought back memories of popover-making when I was little. They were promptly and without hesitation declared to be magic puffy clouds, and we ate them with honey butter. These look fabulous as well!

    -Katie

  • There is a bakery in Mission, KS called Chacko’s that makes cinnamon rolls baked in a jumbo muffin pan, then rolls them in cinnamon sugar hot out of the oven. They call them downtowners, and you have to buy them early in the day, because they almost always sell out. This recipe reminds me of them, except that I’m hoping I won’t have to hoist myself out of the chair when I finish eating one of your popovers the way I do with a downtowner. Seriously, downtowners are so rich and so heavy and the portion so huge, that I’m always surprised I don’t have to adjust the steering wheel over my belly before I can drive home. So, this recipe, well, dear David, it appeals. Thank you.

  • KathyK: These popped right out of a really liberally buttered (non-nonstick) muffin tin after I waited a couple of extra minutes for them to cool.

    Forgot I had gotten rid of my pastry brush, though, so I improvised a “mop” out of a rolled up paper towel. Any one out there use a silicon pastry brush and like it?

    Also, should they puff up or should they be sunken like in your photo, David? I’m thinking I may have overblended.

    Great recipe. Thanks!

  • Chris S: Mine puffed, and then receded in the middle. Some do that, some don’t. Since I was adapting the recipe from another source (Maida Heatter), I assume that was the intent.

    Matthew: That’s interesting and looks worth a try. I don’t know if the sugar-cinnamon combo was in Rose’s bread book, although I don’t have a copy so can’t tell. (I’m sure it’s a great book, but I don’t bake bread.) But sometimes, great minds think alike~

    Amy: Lol about the steering wheel! I always see people buying those giant cinnamon buns at the airport to bring on the plane, thinking that they’re going to be charged for excess baggage!

    Crystal: I tried a few variations when I did the original recipe, including adding some butter and caramelized sugar in the batter, which was a rock-hard, lava-like disaster. So I don’t futz with the recipe, I just make it as is.

  • I love all members of the Yorkshire pudding/popover/hooligan pancake family.

    Did a batch of savoury ones (cheddar and chives) yesterday, followed by these today. Naturally the ones that weren’t weighed down by 1 cup of shredded cheddar rose more : )

    Based on previous experiments, I warm-oiled the muffin pan by sticking it in the oven while preheating, then running a stick of butter a couple of times around each indentation once the oven beeped.

    I sprinkled some cinnamon into the batter for no reason but to have my kitchen smell lovely!

    This was the pre-dredging result.
    I don’t know why the one on the right puffed up in the middle, unlike the rest.

    Had a leftover for supper, which was cold and soggy but toasted up nicely in the toaster oven.

  • I made Blueberry Popovers for my breakfast yesterday and they were *unbeliveable*. I just put up a post about them and looking at the photos just made me want to make them again. I’d love to try the sugared version, what a great idea!

  • I just made these according to your recipe. What better thing to do when you’re snowed in then bake? I must say my husband and I almost swooned with the first bite. They were excellent. I used three different dredgings: sugar (since my husband doesn’t like cinnamon), sugar and cinnamon, and powdered sugar. Powdered sugar was nice, but didn’t have the crunch and that was half the fun of eating so I’ll stick with cinnamon and sugar. I will take your word for it that the popovers hold over until the next day. We won’t have any left to test that theory. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Love the sugar coating and I agree totally about the wonderful flavors a good fat can bring to any dish. Never forget the first time added a TBL of duck fat and it took the dish to a totally different level!

  • I finally made these for breakfast this morning. It had been years since I made popovers. They used to be a dinner staple, before I mastered biscuits. Although your recipe varies from the ancient Betty C. one that I used, it was wonderful, and so easy when done in the blender. I do believe these will become a regular again, thanks!! (Have added your next book to my Amazon wish-list…perhaps for my anniversary or Mother’s Day.)

  • I thought about dropping out of high school and selling these for a living. For a bit.

  • David,
    Love the blog, LOVED these popovers. I made them during one of our big blizzards here in DC along with thick dark hot chocolated. Perfect snowbound comfort food dessert.
    Jeff

  • This looks so mouth watering! I wish I could eat one right now!

  • Hi David,

    So glad you brought up Maida Heatter! I used to make her Swiss Walnut Cake way back when and somehow have managed to lose track of the recipe and my copy of her Desserts book. It was published in the early to mid 80s–any chance you have the book and recipe?

    Tucker

  • I was searching for a popover recipe to make for my family on Christmas morning and found this one. It looks simple and amazing. I’ll have to give it a test run before the big day! Maybe tomorrow! ; )