Monday, February 11, 2013

The Dutch Baby, At Last

Having grown up in the midwest and experienced my share of blizzards, I certainly thought that I was a seasoned blizzard surviver.  Apparently, the recent blizzard experience here on the east coast has made me realize I had erred in my thinking.  Maybe it was the three days of no heat, no power and no water was my reality wake-up call that my prior exposure to blizzards were just really a prelude to a 'real' blizzard.  I am afraid to say that I am now a seasoned blizzard survivor because I don't want to see how much a blizzard could actually get.
There was enough time to prepare as best as one could for the impending storm.  Like the calm before the storm, Thursday was a relatively mild day.  In preparation for the predicted storm, I had decided to get up early on Friday morning to get my car filled with gas and to go to the market to pick up a few things, but mostly some things I needed for the Dutch Baby I had planned to make on Saturday morning. Returning home from the store, I brought wood into both the house and the garage; filled up the tub with water; and filled up a cooler with ice just in case the power went out for longer than a day.  After all of that was done, I thought 'okay, I'm ready, bring it on Mother Nature'.  In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have been so bold in speaking to Mother Nature in that tone.
The power went out late Friday evening, but I was confident, or at least hopeful, it would return sometime on Saturday, saving the Dutch Baby breakfast meal for either lunch or dinner. Little did I know I would be making the Dutch Baby for a very late breakfast on Monday, two full days later.  Thankfully I had my cooler filled with ice so the milk, whipping cream and eggs were all kept cold over the course of a three day power outage.  If I thought this Dutch Baby was delicious before this blizzard, the lack of hot food for three days only intensified how incredible it tasted.

So what exactly is a Dutch baby?  Well, it is a light, airy sweeter than a popover pancake that melts in your mouth.  Dutch babies are also called German pancakes. They are usually baked in a cast iron skillet at a very high temperature in the oven to allow the sides to puff up.  Simply sprinkled with confectionary sugar and served with whipped cream and freshly squeezed lemon juice or lemon curd, this food makes any breakfast (or lunch or dinner) feel like  a special occasion.
For a long time I was intimidated by the thought of making a Dutch Baby.  For some reason I thought it was difficult.  Maybe because when you order them in a restaurant there is usually this little disclaimer that says 'this could take up to 20 minutes before being served'.  If something took that long to make it had to be difficult, right?  Wrong! Little did I realize how simple a Dutch Baby really is to make.

It is truly amazing how five simple ingredients can be whipped up into something so spectacular, so delicious.  You use a blender to whip up the eggs, milk, vanilla, and flour.  The mixture should look a little frothy and should take you only about 45 seconds to get it to that consistency.

The quarter stick of unsalted butter is melted in a cast iron skillet that has been warming in a preheated oven.  I like using the ten inch Lodge Cast Iron Skillets from Williams-Sonoma for this recipe as it never seems to fail me.  Once the butter is melted and very lightly browned, you pour in the batter and allow to cook for 16-19 minutes.  This is when the magic happens.

While the Dutch Baby is cooking in the oven, the whipping cream and confectionary sugar can be whisked and turned into a thick, stiff peak whipped cream.  It is amazing how easy it is to whip these two ingredients together with just a whisk.  You can do this ahead of time and put in the refrigerator and/or if you don't want to whisk by hand you can always use a hand mixer.  If you have any whipped cream left over, you can always use it in a cup of hot chocolate, on ice cream or on top of a Bailey's on the rocks.  

You will know the Dutch Baby is done when the sides puff up more than inch on the side of the pan and it has a light brown color.  Remove from the oven and cool for barely two minutes before sprinkling with confectionary sugar.  Bring the Dutch baby to the table immediately after sprinkling with the confectionary as the presentation of this dish is ooh and ahh worthy.  

The Dutch Baby comes out of the pan perfectly!  The combination of the crispy edges and softer inside makes this 'pancake' one that is the best of both worlds.

I like serving the Dutch Baby with a side of whipped cream and some lemon curd.  Homemade lemon curd would taste incredible, but a great substitution is the lemon curd made by Stonewall Kitchen.  If you have never had anything made by Stonewall Kitchen, you should try to rectify that sooner rather than later.  Their jams, jellies, chutneys, mustards, sauces, toppings, and dressings, to name a few, are all phenomenal. But if you don't have any lemon curd, freshly squeeze a lemon over the Dutch Baby before sprinkling with powdered sugar.  Both lemon options are equally delicious.

Whether you are eating a Dutch baby for breakfast, brunch or lunch, or even dinner, thick applewood bacon fried in a skillet is the perfect side.  I prefer baking bacon in the oven but when making the Dutch Baby and having only one oven, my only option is to cook bacon on top of the stove, in cast iron skillet just in case you have an extra one.
Dutch Baby (Adapted Williams-Sonoma version of the recipe)

1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup confectionary sugar plus more for dusting
3 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole milk (no substitutions)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 Tablespoons or 1/2 stick unsalted butter
Optional:  Lemons or Lemon curd

1. Place a 10 inch cast iron skillet in oven and heat oven to 475 degrees.
2. Put eggs, flour, milk and vanilla in a blender blending on high for 30-45 seconds or until frothy.  Set aside.
3. When oven reaches 475 degrees, put butter in skillet and allow butter to melt in oven.  Should take two to three minutes (check after 2).  The butter will be melted and lightly browned.
4.  Pour batter into hot pan and return to oven.  Bake until the Dutch baby is lightly browned and the sides have risen.  It will cook for 16 to 19 minutes of cooking time depending on oven.
5.  While Dutch baby is baking, whisk whipping cream and 1/4 cup confectionary sugar until thickened with stiff peaks form.  Set aside.  You can do this with a mixer, but it doesn't take long to whisk the whipping cream up with a whisk.
6.  When Dutch baby is puffed and lightly browned, remove from the oven.  Let rest for 2 minutes before sprinkling with confectionary sugar.
7.  Serve with the whipped cream and lemon curd.  If you don't have lemon curd, you can squeeze a fresh lemon over the center of the Dutch baby.  Or you can just enjoy the Dutch baby with the confectionary sugar and whipping cream.

So whether you are celebrating the return of heat and power or entertaining guests for breakfasts or just wanting to create a fun family weekend tradition, the Dutch Baby is a celebration worthy dish.  Not only is it simple, its easy and its so inexpensive to make.
I thought that when the Groundhog did not see its shadow and when the Medici's Almonds were on the shelves at Williams-Sonoma, that spring was within reach. It may be, but winter seems to getting in the way.

In spite of some of the whining you may have picked up in my writing, there was much beauty to behold over the last few days.  When the sun came out on Sunday, the sky was a most incredible blue making the ice on the branches look like chards of crystal.  The wind was relatively mild on Sunday so I went out to take photos of the snow, the sky, and winter landscape here on the east coast.  Capturing the beauty of nature was therapeutic for all of the angst I had been feeling.
Like everything, life is about finding or getting to a place of balance.  And even though it felt like I was living a chapter out of a Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House on the Prairie" book over the last few days and completely out of my comfort zone, I survived.  And if this is the only hardship I have to experience this year, then I will be very lucky. These past few days have also served as a powerful reminder to me of the importance of appreciating and acknowledging the things and people we can often take for granted.
At last after several days I was able to make and enjoy the Dutch Baby.  From now on when I make this recipe it will take a whole new meaning for me.  Its back story of eating Dutch Babies in the days when I was really was a runner training for a marathon, is now replaced with the story of my first east coast blizzard.  When friends and family now come out to visit, the Dutch Baby will be the breakfast meal on at least one the days.  For me, it will be my way of letting them know how much I appreciate them, if not only in words, but in my actions.

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