There are some dishes that seem more to be the work of an alchemist or a sorceress than something a mere cook has whipped together in the kitchen. Baked German pancakes are one such dish: from a simple, runny batter of eggs, milk, flour, salt and butter, poured into a shallow baking dish and popped into a hot oven, emerges a towering, puffy, glorious cumulous cloud of a pancake, golden brown and lighter than air.
When you add a pinch or two of aromatic spices and a tipple of vanilla extract, and perhaps scatter a constellation of freshly plucked blueberries over the batter, the sorcery becomes deeper and more eloquent; the pancake that is drawn from the oven is as fragrant as a field of wildflowers, and as showy as a tiger swallowtail butterfly newly unfurled from her crysalis.
The first time I ever saw and tasted a German pancake was at the home of a friend; her mother made one in her cast-iron skillet from a mixture involving Bisquick, eggs and milk. The resulting runny batter was transmuted in her oven into a cup-shaped blossom of a confection–she served it sprinkled with powdered sugar and filled with freshly sliced strawberries.
She told me it was simple to make, and gave me the recipe, but for whatever reason, at the age of fourteen, I was certain that such a divine creation that was crisp and light as seafoam on the edges, and rich and spongy in the middle, could not be easy. It had to require some trick, some sleight of hand, that I was incapable of performing, so I tucked the recipe away, and eventually, forgot about it.
I did not taste such a thing again for years.
It was not until we moved to Providence, Rhode Island, so that I could attend Johnson & Wales Culinary that I once again beheld the miracle that is called a German pancake, only I found that others called them, Dutch pancakes or “Dutch Babies.”
And I didn’t taste them at school, but instead, at a chain of diners that are ubiquitous in New England: “Bickfords.”
Bickfords is where one goes to eat breakfast all day or all night. It is where one goes for coffee and omelettes at three in the morning after alll the bars are closed, and where one goes for a quick lunch with business collegues the next day. A cross-section of the populace of Providence was in evidence at all hours of the day and night at the local Bickfords, with the human scenery changing from hour to hour. My favorite time to visit was late at night, after Zak was off work at Borders, and I had finished a night class, and was too tired to cook anything to eat at home. At midnight on a weeknight, one saw troops of Goth kids too young for the bar scene, coming for a bite to eat after a long session of role-playing Mage: The Ascention or Vampire: The Masquerade. Dressed in the requisite black fishnet, spikes, lace, leather and chains, with hair in every hue of the rainbow (but with red, black and purple the most popular shades), these folks were great fun to spy upon, as their conversation was dominated by a concatenation of a retelling of the events of their recent gaming sessions, thoughts on the recent anime trends, what was doing on the X-Files, and on ongoing description of who was with who, what and where in their little corner of the high school, early college universe.
These night owls would combine fascinatingly with young couples like ourselves, college students, truck drivers on a long haul, groups of science-fiction geeks, computer programmers and barflies stopping their binge drinking for a little coffee and sustainence before returning to an alcoholic haze.
One of the most popular items on the menu for this disparate group of people to order was the Dutch Pancake, or a smaller version, the “Dutch Baby,” or, if one really needed a jolt of sugar and starch, a “Big Apple Pancake”, which consisted of apples sauteed in butter and sugar that had a quantity of the pancake batter poured over them, and then baked in the oven until a sticky, sugary apple-scented brown cloud of pancake appeared at the table like magic, a feat which never failed to elicit oohs and ahs from the famished late night customers. However, I glancing at their current menu offerings, I see that Bickfords has become “Bickfords Grille” and has removed all versions of the Dutch pancake except the “Big Apple” from their menu, so the puffy, powdered-sugar kissed pancakes served with lemon wedges seem to only live at the Bickfords of my memory, and no longer is a part of current reality.
So, now we come to the recipe. It really is simple, though I do not bother with anything like Bisquick, preferring to not have to use a convenience product that is no more convenient than taking the time to measure flour, salt and baking powder. There is no real alchemy involved, except that which is contained within the eggs, milk, flour and oven themselves: a child could make these cloud-like pancakes with ease, and in fact, it would make a good celebratory breakfast for a future Mother’s or Father’s Day that a youngster of about ten years old could manage.
My variation on the recipe contains some cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla in the batter; just before baking, I scattered a generous handful of fresh blueberries into the batter after it was poured into the pan. I had raspberries, too, but those, I simply served on top of the baked pancake along with more blueberries, powdered sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice, from wedges I had ready in a bowl beside the serving plates.
I have a special Oven Pancake Pan from Chicago Metallic that I use for this recipe, but in truth, you can use a twelve-inch cast iron skillet or a set of four six-inch skillets or miniature pie pans or cake pans to bake this pancake.
I bet it would be good with sweet cherries, strawberries or blackberries baked inside it as well.
Blueberry Baked German Pancake
3 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup fresh blueberries, stemmed, washed and thoroughly drained
lemon wedges for serving
powdered sugar for serving
mixed fresh berries for serving
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Butter one 12-inch skillet or pan or four 6-inch skillets or pans.
Break eggs into a medium sized mixing bowl, and beat well until thoroughly combined. Beat in milk and vanilla extract.
Put all dry ingredients into a sifter. Sift over the milk and egg mixture, whisking to combine dry ingredients thorougly with the liquid. The batter should be thin and pale colored.
Whisk in melted butter until the batter is smooth and slightly thicker.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan or pans and scatter the blueberries evenly over the batter. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees F. (If you have a convection oven, as I do, bake only for ten minutes.) If you are making baby pancakes, they will be done after this amount of time–remove from oven, and proceed with serving instructions.
If you are making a large pancake, lower oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes (if you have a convection oven, as I do, bake for only 2 more minutes.)
To serve, dust with powdered sugar, and cut into wedges. Sprinkle each serving with additional berries and give each person a lemon wedge or two to squeeze over thier pancake pieces.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.