Math causes a brunch accident.
On Sundays, Nathan and I used to frequent a little restaurant in Harvard Square called Veggie Planet for brunch. They had a special pizza oven that they used to make great pizzas like the “Unsafe and Sound” (spicy tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil, and sliced tomatoes). On Sundays, they offered two brunch specials: they could turn any pizza into an omelet, and they always had a new waffle to try. Sadly, Veggie Planet closed in 2014.
Ever since the unfortunate demise of our casual Sunday morning restaurant, we’ve been making brunch at home more often. When we want something sweet, a Dutch baby rises high on the list of our favorites. Part pancake, part egg custard, this delicious pastry is slightly crispy on the outside, dense on the inside, and pairs well with a variety of fruits, nuts, and coffee. The original recipe that we tried came from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too.
Over the last year, we’ve introduced a few of our own modifications to reduce the sweetness and highlight everything else that we’ve added. My mental model of a Dutch baby consists of the batter and “everything else.” The batter requires flour, egg, milk, vanilla extract, sugar, and salt, combined together quickly in a food processor (lumps are fine!). Then, pour over “everything else” in the skillet once those ingredients have come to temperature with (a lot of) butter and finish off in the oven for about twenty minutes at 425°F.
For “everything else,” there are choices. Traditionally, this recipe calls for apple slices tossed in cinnamon and white/brown sugar. We typically omit the white sugar and add nutmeg to the spice mix. We’ve tried using bananas (which turned out well); using grapefruit slices (which didn’t turn out nearly as well); mixing apples and bananas, which also worked well but required giving the apples a slight head start in the skillet; and adding walnuts and pecans to the mix, which we enjoy for their extra texture and substance.
In the process of making all of these Dutch baby variations, we’ve also learned a few lessons. First, the “everything else” portion of this recipe does not require a tremendous amount of cooking time in the skillet on the stovetop—only enough to melt the sugar, which probably is about two minutes. Second, the Dutch baby is somewhat temperature sensitive. Putting it in before the oven preheats will reduce how much it rises. Once the sides rise above the edge of the skillet and turn golden brown/dark, enough baking time has elapsed, and the transition from dark to burnt occurs rather quickly. Third, the Dutch baby flattens and sticks to the skillet almost immediately after coming out of the oven, so serve it right when it’s ready!
Timing has probably offered us the greatest challenge. One Sunday, while we were waiting for the oven and distracted by discussions about how to programmatically implement Bayesian updating and analyze A/B test results, we lost track of time. All of a sudden, the kitchen started to smell like burnt sugar, and when we pulled the skillet out, our entire meal had a hard, blackened crust! The first Dutch baby gone wrong, captured forever in photo.
For all of the other Dutch babies that we haven’t ruined, after taking it off the skillet, we usually garnish with some variety of citrus juice and powdered sugar. I believe that lemon juice is traditional, but we’ve also tried oranges and Meyer lemons, as well as orange zest, and all of those variations were also excellent. For the most part, except for the risk of burning, the recipe for a Dutch baby is fairly forgiving, tremendously amenable to modification and experimentation, and fun to make and eat for Sunday brunch.