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Dutch baby pancake brings a side of drama to breakfast

Emerging from the oven bulging like it’s about to explode, the Dutch baby brings a side of drama to breakfast. It’s a magic trick you get to eat afterward, with powdered sugar and lemon, or if you prefer, cardamom brown butter.

You could call it a baked apple pancake, but "Dutch baby" goes better with the sweetness and minor air of indulgence.

Apparently there are places where this style of pancake is called a Bismarck. I’m not sure if this particular breakfast is named after the battleship, but it would make sense: Meet one of these, and I’d want to attack it with everything I had.

Whatever you want to call it, the basic pancake requires little more than common household ingredients. In its simplest versions, the batter includes eggs, milk, flour and a pinch of salt. Sweetness comes from the toppings, whether a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and spray of fresh lemon juice, maple syrup or your favorite jam.

The next stage in elaboration starts with fruit. Sauteing apples briefly in the pan before pouring in the batter helps start a caramel layer in the pan. But it tends to increase the amount of fruit that can get stuck to the pan, so if you’re planning to serve your pancake sticky-side-up, I would take that into account.

If you’d like to go the Martha Stewart route and try the brown butter cardamom version, stir the cardamom into the sugar and use a tablespoon of the mixture as the sugar in the batter.

Then it’s time to brown the butter. Heat it in a pan over a medium flame until it bubbles up, and the water boils away. Don’t get distracted, because soon it’ll smell toasty and you’ll be able to see little golden crumbs of caramelized milk solids. (If it goes to black, you’ve ruined it, so wipe out the pan and start over.)

When the butter dust turns bronze, drop the apple slices in and stir, which will bring down the pan temperature in a jiffy. Then pour in the batter, and place it in the oven.

When it’s done, dust the hot pancake with more cardamom sugar. A dollop of sour cream and fresh-squeezed lemon are also appropriate enhancers.

If you are a bacon enthusiast, you can slip a pan of thick-cut bacon slices in the oven at the same time. The combined scent of roasting apples, bacon musk and cardamom vapor is a rare intoxicant.

The apple pancake comes out of the oven after 20 minutes of baking. It begins deflating as it cools. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Apple Dutch baby recipe

(Adapted from Martha Stewart, Serious Eats and Food52.)

4 tablespoons butter (preferably unsalted)

5 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

¼ cup whole milk yogurt (optional)

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

3 eggs

2/3 cup milk

2 to 3 apples

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting (optional)

Sauteeing the apples first is optional. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees, adjusting the rack if necessary to allow 6 inches headroom. You don’t want this billowing beauty popping against a low-slung rack.

If using, stir cinnamon or cardamom into sugar in a small bowl.

The batter is poured over the apples in the skillet and put into the oven. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

In a bowl or blender, whir or beat eggs until evenly light yellow. Add the other wet ingredients – milk, vanilla, yogurt if using – and continue until combined.

In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients: salt, flour, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar.

Beat or whir dry ingredients into wet until combined.

Put oven-safe skillet on stove and melt the butter over medium heat. Add apples and stir to coat with butter.

When apples start to soften and caramelize, pour batter over apples and put the pan in the oven. (You can also skip caramelizing the apples, to be honest. If you want a little firmness left in the fruit, that’s the way to go.)

Bake for about 20 minutes, until puffed up and shiny brown in spots. Show it to witnesses, for their approval, and it will deflate in a minute or two.

If you want to show off some more, wait about 5 minutes for it to cool, and carefully work a spatula or pie server between pan and pancake to release and sticking spots. Then put a plate over the skillet, and flip it over to reveal its gooey side. Or cut it into slices and serve in from the pan.

Either way, it can be dressed with more spiced sugar, dusted with confectioners sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice, or served with a dab of yogurt.

Heck, put a scoop of ice cream in the middle to melt. You’re an adult, it’s your kitchen, and no one can stop you.

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