9 am Sunday: butter and babies
One night last week—after five glasses of wine, a deep-fried breaded soft-boiled egg, and a Freudian slip about a man who once fed me a meal consisting only of sprouts—my former employer Rebecca invited me to a breakfast of Dutch babies with her gay husband Jimmy. Knowing a good thing when I hear it, I accepted immediately. After all, I like nothing so much as a Dutch baby pancake, hot and puffy from the skillet, on a Sunday morning.
And so I arrived at Jimmy’s at nine o’ clock to find an industrial steel table set for two, Jimmy in an apron, and Rebecca with wet hair and her usual morning iced tea, obligatory straw in place (she always uses a straw, no matter what she’s drinking; “I have five thousand straws,” she tells me, “All red!”).
Rebecca and Jimmy have known each other since the late ‘70s, when they lived in the same building in St. Petersburg, Florida. As Rebecca tells it, she knew that she had to meet Jimmy when she noticed his apartment window “displays” from the parking lot: mannequin parts from a department store, or a Perrier towel hung on the wall and lit from beneath. Their first official meeting was rather auspicious—Rebecca was wearing no pants, a story for another time—and today Jimmy, Rebecca, and Rebecca’s straight husband John all live in the same building here in Seattle, just seven floors apart. Jimmy is the baker; John is the cook; and Rebecca is the force of nature.
“Moll, you need two husbands,” Rebecca said solemnly this morning, stirring a small iceberg into her tea; “You can’t expect one person to be everything for you. I mean, really.” Jimmy listened silently, a strategy he’s wisely developed over the years. I nodded—she’s got a point—but frankly, I was distracted by the action in the kitchen. After all, the method for making a Dutch baby is only slightly less awe-inspiring that that for making a regular human one.
On the stove were two small Lodge cast-iron skillets, a hefty cube of butter in each.
Turning on the burners, Jimmy carefully melted the butter, brushing it up to coat the sides of the skillets, and then, working quickly and dexterously, he poured the batter—akin to that for a pancake, but with more eggs and less flour—into the melted butter.
He slid the skillets into the oven, and within moments, the magic began, the pancake rising like a bowl-shaped soufflé out of its foaming, sizzling pool of butter.
While the Dutch babies baked, Jimmy struggled unsuccessfully to keep Rebecca out of the bacon, and I, while copying down the recipe, made an exciting discovery: Jimmy had inadvertently doubled the quantity of butter called for—a very fitting accident, given that he has a well-documented penchant for increasing the fat in everything he touches, recipes and otherwise. This morning’s butter mishap meant that Rebecca and I—Jimmy can’t bear to eat before 11 am and thus would watch us enjoy his creations—would be eating half a stick of butter each.
But never mind the pithy details. When Jimmy pulled the two tall, golden, bedheaded puffs from the oven, sprinkled them with freshly squeezed lemon juice, and dusted them with powdered sugar,
Rebecca and I had no trouble putting away an entire baby each. They were delicious, eggy and light, their sweet richness countered by the tartness of lemon. And the excess butter in the skillets meant that the babies didn’t even need the usual finishing drizzle of clarified butter. Rebecca polished hers off in record time before returning to the bacon: one thing at a time, she advises, for maximum enjoyment. And I, being well-trained, left a very, very clean plate. After all, I’m determined to be invited back. I hear that shortbread waffles are next on the docket, and they apparently feature lots of butter.
Jimmy’s Dutch Baby Pancakes
Jimmy likes to make his babies in two 6-inch cast-iron skillets, but you can also make this recipe in a single 10- or 11-inch one.
For the pancakes:
4 Tbs unsalted butter (or, if you’d prefer to try it as we did with today’s happy butter accident, try using 6-8 tablespoons, and then do not add clarified butter when serving)
4 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup half-and-half
For the topping:
4 oz clarified butter (or, if you’re not into clarifying, simple melted butter will do)
Juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the 4 Tbs butter between two 6-inch cast-iron skillets, and melt it over low heat.
In a blender, whir together the eggs, flour, and half-and-half.
Pour the batter into the skillets over the melted butter. Slide the skillets into the oven, and bake for 25 minutes.
Remove the puffed pancakes from the oven, transfer them to a plate or shallow bowl, and pour on clarified butter, sprinkle on lemon juice, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.