As the server elbows through the kitchen door and wends her way through the pancake-house rush, you can't take your eyes off what she is ferrying. The eggy crater is the size of a dinner plate, with tender, fat-tire curves and a sweet aroma that the Pied Piper only wishes he could deploy.
The menu calls it a Dutch baby, and the reason is far from apparent. No matter; it demands immediate, before-it-deflates eating, topped with a compote or a shower of confectioners' sugar at least.
Who could make such a thing? You can, in short order. The batter ingredients are few and come together in a blender. Pour smooth, into a hot buttered pan, and the batter will shimmer and bubble in the oven until liftoff. Then the pancake curls at the edges that rise above the rim, accompanied by an occasional mogul at the center.
It is an old recipe, and its history skews sweet. Pancakes in the Dutch Manner as presented in the 1998 cookbook "The Sensible Cook: Dutch Foodways in the Old and New World" resembled spiced (flat) crepes, while the topography gets closer to Dutch baby territory in recipes for German puffed apple pancakes made hundreds of years ago. The origin of Dutch could be "Deutsch," and the dish's popularity in America is due in part to Sunset magazine articles dating back more than 50 years.
But the Dutch baby is versatile enough to step toward savory. Have your way with it. Spice the batter. Use the pancake as a vessel for fresh vegetables and greens. Melt thin rafts of cheese on it, and cut it into snack wedges. Old World becomes modern.
Keep a few rules in mind: The batter should be well blended. Any added bits with weight, such as diced pancetta or bell peppers, may impede the rise, The pan and its fat must be hot. The puffed Dutch baby needs to sit in the oven for a few minutes after the timer goes off, to improve the odds it will retain its structure longer.
It's as easy as it is spectacular. It can be breakfast, dinner or dessert. Isn't it time you rediscovered the magic or give it a go?
Blender Dutch Babies
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
For the pancakes: 3 large eggs 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 3/4 cup flour 3/4 cup whole milk 1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the optional filling: 1 cup frozen cherries, preferably tart 1 heaping tablespoon granulated sugar
For the optional topping (your choice, or a mix): Plain Greek yogurt Pumpkin seeds (pepitas) Maple syrup Toasted slivered almonds Granola Confectioners' sugar
For the pancakes: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the eggs in a bowl of warm tap water for 5 minutes, or until they are close to room temperature.
Divide the butter between two 8-inch cast-iron or ovenproof skillets; transfer to the oven. Watch closely so the butter melts but does not brown or burn.
Beat the eggs in a blender on medium-high speed for 5 seconds, until frothy, then add the flour, milk, granulated sugar (to taste), salt and vanilla extract. Blend on low speed to incorporate, then blend on medium-high for 5 seconds.
Remove the hot pans from the oven and swirl the melted butter so it coats the sides. Immediately pour in the batter, dividing it evenly between the pans; bake (middle rack) for 13 to 15 minutes, until puffed and golden brown at the edges, which should curve and rise above the rim. Turn off the oven, and let them sit there for 5 minutes. This will help the pancakes keep their structure.
Meanwhile, make the optional filling: Combine the frozen cherries and granulated sugar in a small saucepan; cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until juices coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat.
Use a thin spatula to dislodge the Dutch babies from their pans; they should slide out. Cut into halves or wedges. Top each portion with some of the stewed cherries and an optional topping or two, if desired. Serve right away.
Nutrition information per serving (based on 6): 170 calories, 6 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar.
Source: Adapted from "The Minimalist Kitchen: The Practical Art of Making More With Less," by Melissa Coleman.