I just returned from a much-needed trip home to see my family. While the crisis we're enduring persists, it is an infinite relief and burden lifted to be able to be all together, in the same room, even if it is a hospital room.
A trademark of prolonged hospital stays is the necessity of friends and family members facing the inevitable thrice-daily decision of where to eat. Unfortunately, most hospital cafeterias leave something to be desired (Jamie Oliver, where are you when we need you?!), but truthfully, quite a bit of the time it just feels good to get out of the building for a while, sucking in fresh air and sunshine.
On one of these ventures, my sister decided to take my dad to an old pancake house, one of those establishments that's been around forever, retains a crusty, old-fashioned facade, and serves its regulars by the hundreds throughout the day. While it boasts a typical diner menu, the restaurant's specialty is German-style Dutch baby pancakes. When I received a MOST enthusiastic text message from my sister, describing in detail the "heavenly" Dutch baby, I agreed that they were something I would have to try when I arrived. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that the idea of a Dutch baby sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember where I'd heard it.
The morning after I arrived, we headed straight to the Ol' South Pancake House, ready to devour some Dutch babies. My sister was practically bursting with anticipation, whilst I reveled in the scene. I've always loved diners and breakfast spots in particular. There is something so satisfying about getting up early to eat a good breakfast. I wrapped my hands around the sturdy, thick-handled mug of coffee and we chatted about light, insignificant matters (very comforting in our circumstances) while we waited on our pancakes.
The waitress appeared less than ten minutes after we placed our order, balancing two plates that each held two Dutch babies, and two bowls of warm halved lemons. Fascinated, I watched as she unfolded a Dutch baby, which at that point looked something like a thick omelette-some kind of cross between crepe and pancake. Laid flat, I could see that it was covered with a generous amount of melted butter and a pile of powdered sugar. The waitress squeezed the juice from the lemons directly on top, a flood of tart juice engulfing the pancake. In a matter of seconds, she folded the baby back up again, and pushed the plate across the table, ready to go.
My first bite=HEAVEN. Tart, citrusy warmth cut through the golden, buttery cake, a perfect melding of lemon and sugar...pure deliciousness. As I made quick work of my second Dutch baby, thinking for SURE that it was the best breakfast I had ever had, I finally remembered why they seemed familiar. One of the chapters of Molly Wizenberg's (aka Orangette) book, A Homemade Life, boasts a story and recipe for the Dutch baby. I love the way she described her inaugural Dutch baby meal, and I thought it would be generous of me to throw in the recipe for good measure.
Molly's thoughts on the Dutch baby:
"When Jimmy pulled the Dutch babies from the oven, they were tinged with gold and gorgeously rumpled, like omelets with bed hair. Rebecca and I had no trouble putting away an entire baby each. Doused with lemon juice and dusted with powdered sugar, they were miraculously light, their eggy richness countered smartly by the citrus. I scooped up every last clump of lemon-soake sugar and scraped my plate until it shined."
Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar
adapted from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my kitchen table, by Molly Wizenberg
This recipe is based on the one Jimmy uses, only with a more moderate amount of butter. He likes to make his in two 6-inch cast-iron skillets, but I make mine in a single, deep 8-inch skillet. (A 9- or 10-inch would also work.) If you don't have a cast-iron skillet of the appropriate size, you can also use a metal or Pyrex cake pan or a pie plate.
For the pancakes:
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the topping:
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Powdered sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 425. Put the butter in an 8-inch cast-iron skillet and place over low heat. Alternatively, put the butter in a similarly sized cake pan or pie plate, and place it in the preheated oven for a few minutes. As the butter melts, use a pastry brush to coax it up the sides of the skillet.
Meanwhile, in a blender, mix the eggs, flour, half-and-half, and salt until well blended.
Pour the egg mixture into the warmed skillet. Slide into the oven, and bake for 18-25 minutes. The mixture will rise and puff around the edges, like a bowl-shaped souffle. The Dutch baby is ready when the center looks set and the edges are nicely risen and golden brown.
Remove from the oven. Drizzle-or splash, really; abundance is good here-with lemon juice and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.