I’ve long been fascinated by popovers and for this, I blame Dorothy Parker.
For those unfamiliar, Dorothy was a fabulously wry writer who was among the founding members of “the vicious circle” of writers who made up The Algonquin Roundtable in New York. Starting in 1919, the group of thirty newspaper and magazine writers met almost daily for lunch over the course of about ten years to share gossip, jokes and cultural observations. Through their writings, the conversations around their lunch table in the dining room became national fodder. Dorothy, in particular, became known for her remarkable wit. The group led to the creation of a magazine that you may have heard of, The New Yorker. Many went on to celebrated careers. Parker sold three books of acclaimed poetry, won an O. Henry Award for her short story, “Big Blonde,” and was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing 1939’s “A Star is Born.” While she lived a public life of acclaim, her internal life was often tortured and she slipped into alcoholism late in life. Parker has been one of my favorite writers since I first read her work. Her humor, use of sharp descriptions and subtlety in commenting on important issues still inspire me today.
As a food writer, I did some research on what the group ate during their ten-year lunch. It was the usual fare of the 1920s, continental fare influenced by French. Shrimp cocktails, cold fish cakes with lemon cream sauce, various cuts of beef in red wine sauce, that sort of thing. The hotel manager, happy that the group made its home there, offered them a regular table and waiter along with two enduring food items served gratis: celery and popovers. Popovers? I always wondered why.
The Algonquin has a special place in my heart. When my first book, The Sharper Your Knife, was on its way to auction, I traveled to New York to meet with the ten publishers (yes, ten) who wanted to buy it. As a Dorothy Parker devotee, my husband thought that staying at the city’s most celebrated literary hotel would offer good karma and he found a good deal for a room online. My agent and I went around to meet with seven publishers one day and three the next. After the whirlwind, I packed up and met my long-time friend J.R. in the hotel’s dark wood-paneled bar for a glass of champagne. I tried to be cool, but I was mystified at how this improbable moment could possibly be happening. It felt as if I had somehow stepped into another person’s life. We were talking about popovers and the auction expected to take place the following week when my phone rang.
Oddly, however, I’ve never made them — until a couple weeks ago. I’ve been collecting audio interviews for a podcast that I’m planning to launch soon. One of my first interviewees was Alana Chernila of the lovely blog, Eating from the Ground Up. She arrived in the midst of a busy book tour on a crisp autumn morning to hang out in my kitchen. I wanted to make something from her new book, The Homemade Kitchen, so imagine my delight when I saw she had a recipe for popovers.
- 3 large eggs
- 1½ cups (360 ml) whole milk or buttermilk (for homemade, see page 34)
- 1½ cups (180 g) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick/56 g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- Safflower oil or melted butter, for greasing the pan
- Optional: ¼ cup fresh herbs; 4 ounces (115 g) chèvre
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Combine the eggs, milk, flour, salt, and butter in a blender. Blend until you have a smooth batter, 15 to 20 seconds. Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes.
- Generously grease a 12-cup muffin or popover tin with oil. Divide the batter evenly among the cups, filling them most of the way. Add a pinch of fresh herbs and a dollop of chèvre, if using, to the center of each muffin cup. Bake until puffed and golden, WITH OUT OPENING THE OVEN, 25 to 28 minutes. Serve immediately.