November 4, 2013
petite crêpe de hollandais
My mother was out of her mind. She never acted this way before. It was so unlike her. I was just turning twelve when it happened, and I didn’t understand the significance of the event. Today, everything is much clearer. I think I now know why she did what she did.
My mother wasn’t an adventuresome cook, and for the most part, new recipes always came from trusted friends. Her old recipe box is stuffed with yellowed recipes cut from newspapers and magazines in the 1950s. I don’t remember her trying any of these, and there’s none of her customary pencil markings on the edges like there is for recipes from her trusted sources. Although she took the time to cut the recipes from their source documents and tape them to index cards, something always stopped her from going any farther and actually preparing the recipes. Then one Sunday morning early in 1960, she prepared a recipe that was taken from the February issue of Sunset
At the time, I don’t think she trusted Sunset magazine more than any other publication, but Sunset was published a short distance from our home. My mother had toured the facilities with one of the women’s groups she belonged to. As was the case in those days, she would have seen the test kitchen and heard the spiel about how thoroughly all the recipes in the magazine were tested. (The magazine also published a garden guide that was my father’s bible in the backyard.)
Maybe my mother was courageous enough to try the recipe because it resembled the huge German pancakes that she enjoyed at a local pancake house, even though I don’t think she ever saw anything similar in her native Germany. What I watched grow in size through the window of the oven door that Sunday morning she called a Dutch Baby
. (The recipe on page 81 of the magazine, as my mother prepared it, was for a German Pancake. On the following page was the recipe for Dutch Babies. The batter was the same in that recipe, but it was divided between three smaller frying pans, and the oven temperature was slightly reduced. My mother cooked the big pancake but called it by the name of the smaller ones.)
I would like to report that we ate these pancakes many times following that first eventful Sunday morning, but that was not to be the reality of Sunday mornings during my high‑school years.
In January, 1977, Sunset ran the recipe again, but this time the big pancake was called a Dutch Baby. By now, Sunday morning breakfast had long been my own responsibility. So with only slightly more frequency, I made Dutch Babies for breakfast. My wife loves them, but I find them somewhat unfulfilling. I’m still hungry after eating a whole one. Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying to miniaturize them to serve as mignardise.
The typical Dutch Baby has a much lower flour‑to‑egg ratio than a typical French crêpe and much less than a typical American pancake. It’s also different from crêpes and pancakes because it’s baked in a frying pan in the oven rather than being cooked on a griddle or other flat surface on the stove top. A heavy metal pan is preheated in a very hot oven so the bottom surface of the Dutch Baby cooks before the top. As the pancake bottom expands up the sides of the cooking vessel, a bowl shape is created. Any airiness in the final pancake—there isn’t much—comes from the eggs in the batter. The 1977 recipe was cooked in this manner using a hot pan, but the 1960 recipe used 50% more eggs and started with a cold pan.
My biggest problem in miniaturizing such a large dish was to still get some growth in size during the short baking time but at the same time have the final mignardise remain a single bite. Although I’ve seen pictures of individual Dutch Babies prepared in silicone‑rubber molds, when I translated the recipe to my much smaller mold cavities, I wasn’t able to get successful and reliable growth at the edges. I was, however, able to successfully portion and freeze the batter, making it possible to just prepare four small pancakes for a meal without wasting any excess batter.
These pancakes are prepared in multiple stages. First the batter is prepared, portioned, and frozen. On the day of service, the required batter portions are thawed and the filling is prepped. Finally, minutes before serving, the oven is heated and the pancakes are baked.
The batter recipe below is based on the one on page 45 of the January, 1977, issue of Sunset. I couldn’t find my mother’s original copy from 1960 in her old recipe box, but I did find it at the library. (Maybe she never cut it out, and that’s why we never had them again?) Compared to the 1977 version, I’ve reduced the quantities by a third, and I mix by hand rather than with a blender. Even reduced, the recipe still produces 24 portions.
35 g (1⁄4 c)
1. Whisk together the egg and milk until the combination is very smooth. Combine the dry ingredients together, and whisk them into the liquid ingredients. Whisk until all lumps are gone and the batter is very smooth.
2. Divide the batter into 5‑ml (1‑t) portions and freeze. (I use a silicone‑rubber mold with very small hemispherical cavities for this.)
3. Once frozen, store the frozen batter pieces in a container in the freezer until needed.
Typical Dutch Baby recipes call for sprinkling the pancake with powdered sugar and lemon juice. I prefer a bit of apricot jam. For this smaller version, the jam can either be drizzled on top or injected into the middle. In either case, I use a syringe fitted with a blunt, 12‑gage needle. To make the jam smooth enough to easily pass through the needle, I force it through a sieve to remove any possible obstructions. You can use jelly or syrup if you want to avoid this step.
A few hours before I plan to prepare the Dutch Babies, I defrost the batter pieces in individual bowls. I tried starting with the batter still frozen, but the pancakes didn’t cook evenly.
Preheat your oven to 220 °C (428 °F) sufficiently soon before you need it. I use 4‑cm (11⁄2‑in) round, nonstick, metal tart pans for the pancakes. These are placed on a metal baking sheet and preheated for 5 to 10 minutes.
Ten minutes before service, the baking sheet with the preheated tart pans is removed from the oven. An eighth teaspoon of melted butter is dropped into each tart pan. After the butter is distributed around the bottom of the pans, a portion of batter is quickly added to each one. Finally, the baking sheet is returned to the oven. The pancakes are cooked until they puff up and the edges are brown. This takes about 8 minutes in my oven.
Working quickly after the pancakes are removed from the oven, each is injected with jam and placed on the serving dish. The pancakes need to be served when they still are quite warm. There’s a bit of a rush at the end, but the taste is well worth it.