Let’s start with the name, shall we? After much searching, I am still completely clueless as to how these delightful little pastries came to gain their rather fetching name. We can speculate, of course, but that’s all we’d be doing, and it seems almost beside the point to try and create a juicy backstory for these little numbers. Especially when, instead of looking around for naming clues, you should be spending your time baking up a batch of nun’s puffs. No, like right now.
With a texture poised somewhere between a choux pastry puff and a popover, only less crisply dry and more eggy in the middle, the nun’s puff might be my new favorite breakfast treat. Because of their relative simplicity, ingredient-wise, they are prime candidates for dressing up in any manner you choose. The richness of the butter, combined with the slight custardy flavor of the eggs, is the prefect backdrop for both savory and sweet applications. The outsides, so crisp and light, mingle delightfully with the airy and soft middle, because of the relative hollowness of the pastry’s middle, you can fill them with any number of things. I stuffed my serving with scrambled eggs, topped with a nice scoop of fried apples’n’onions (thank you, Almanzo Wilder), while my son slathered his with raspberry preserves. Both were absolutely delicious. I also sprinkled half of the puffs with cinnamon sugar before I baked them, and the resulting puffs emerged with a lovely lid of cinnamon crunch perched on top.
For as splendid as these puffs look, they are a cinch to make. Because they are baked in a common muffin pan, you don’t need a special pan, as you do with popovers, and you don’t need to fuss around with the oven, as you do with cream puffs. You mix, portion out, then bake. What greets you after 30 minutes is a dozen of the most spectacular baked goods you’ve ever seen straight from the oven, craggly, tall, and light as a feather.
Last Year: Sweet and Spicy Popcorn
Nun’s Puffs Recipe
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup milk
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
optional: 2 teaspoons sugar mixed with ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Thoroughly butter a 12-portion muffin pan, being sure to butter the edges of the cups and around the top.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. When butter had melted, stir in milk and raise heat to medium.. Bring the mixture to a light boil, then add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Continue to cook and stir the mixture until it comes together in a cohesive ball. Remove from heat, transfer dough to a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes.
When dough has cooled a bit, add the eggs, one at a time, beating for about a minute after each addition. You can beat the egg into the dough with a wooden spoon, a handheld mixer on medium speed, or a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment on medium-low speed. After the last egg has been beaten in, the mixture should resemble an extremely thick, stiff cake or muffin batter.
Divide the dough evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about 2/3 full. If using, sprinkle the tops of the dough with cinnamon sugar.
Bake in center of oven for about 30 minutes, or until the puffs are tall, golden brown, craggly on top, and very puffy. Remove each puff from the pan immediately, and allow to cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve while still hot or warm.