Thursday, May 7, 2009

Puff Pancake with Strawberries

Molly's Dutch Baby

I have now read A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg cover-to-cover, some parts twice.  When she talked about her father and his illness, I choked up and was taken straight back to the last days I spent with my own lovely father right before he died.  Isn't that what a good memoir does?  It gives you an inside view into someone else's story and then transports you back in time to examine your own.  A Homemade Life is a treasure. If you haven’t read it yet, get it, and read it s-l-o-w-l-y because you will be sorry when it’s over.

I hadn’t thought about this particular evening until I got to Page 127 and read Molly's story about Dutch Babies.

This is my story.

The first year I was married, we lived in St. Louis where my husband worked at the country music radio station. A disc jockey he knew from his days in Philadelphia was also living in St. Louis, and he and his girlfriend invited us to their house for dinner. The disc jockey was famous, and his name was Bill Calder, which I remember since he had a Calder mobile in his living room. I’m embarrassed - and sorry - to say I can’t remember the name of his girlfriend.  But I can picture her perfectly.

She was lovely - very small - almost elf-like - with short brown hair, irrepressibly curly, big blue eyes, and a wide, sincere smile. But what I remember most about her is not that she was so very pretty.  It is that, up to that point in my life, she made the best meal I had ever had at someone else’s house.  The actual best.

I’m sure we had a starter. and I’m sure it was good, but I don’t remember. What I do remember is the main course. It was rich and Delicious with a capital D, and it was the first Julia Child recipe I ever ate. Supremes de Volaille a Blanc from The French Chef Cookbook - simple, elegant, and rich, rich, rich. I don't remember what the rest of the main course was, but I remember we drank Champagne, and talked, and laughed, and ate.  We were all relaxed and happy.

But that’s not the point of this story.  This is.

As we were eating dinner, the elf left the table and disappeared into the kitchen for a short time. I didn’t suspect that she was an alchemist as well as a cook, but I soon made that discovery. She came back, and we continued eating until there wasn't a morsel left on a plate. She didn't want any help clearing the table, and after she whisked the plates away, I could hear her rustling around in the kitchen. Doors were opening and closing. Dishes were clicking. Cutlery was clinking.

And then she came back through the doorway carrying a bowl of strawberries in one hand and another of softly whipped cream in the other. She placed both bowls on the table and disappeared into the kitchen for a split second, re-emerging immediately with a frying pan from which a large browned puff was swelling. She put the pan on the table and deftly cut the large puff into four pieces, which she plated and topped with one large spoonful of strawberries and another of lightly vanilla-scented whipped cream.

My husband and I were speechless – first because the sight of this dessert was breathtaking and then because our mouths were full. The closest thing I ever had to it was my Aunt Rita’s Yorkshire pudding – and it was very close – but the Yorkshire pudding was cooked in beef fat, topped with gravy, and was savory. This was dessert - just sweet enough, all cold and hot and eggy and creamy at the same time, with the surprise of toasted, buttery, sliced filberts on the bottom. It was a grand ending to a very good dinner. After some coffee and brandy, we went home sated and comfortable after a night filled with good company, delicious things to eat and drink, and new friends in a new town.

The next day, I went to the bookstore and got my first Julia Child cookbook, a little paperback copy of The French Chef. On Wednesday an envelope addressed to me written in red ink in very neat, small handwriting was waiting for me when I got home from work. Inside was the recipe for Puff Pancake with Strawberries. Written in a small printed hand, it completely filled an entire side of an 8-1/2 x 11-inch piece of ruled paper. I put that piece of paper in a little accordion file that a friend had given me at my bridal shower, filled with her favorite handwritten recipes. I still have that file, and I still have those recipes, and, more years later than I can believe, I still have that piece of paper with the precise red handwriting.

There is no signature, but there is an admonition to SERVE AT ONCE, and the following note is at the bottom.
*Filberts are 100-times more delicious than walnuts. Also, Victoria, there’s really no trick to making this pancake --- it’s extremely EASY. However, it must go straight from the oven to the table piping HOT since it, like a soufflé, loses its puff rather quickly. Also, do try it for a Sunday brunch with sausage or whatever, topping it with sour cream – it really adds a new dimension to the dish. And serve with Champagne.
I pass on the recipe with thanks to the elf along with apologies for not remembering her name.  I may not remember her name; however, I have never forgotten her and that evening.

Puff Pancake with Strawberries

4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose (unbleached) flour
Dash nutmeg
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced filberts (hazelnuts) about 2 oz. or use walnuts, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
A tablespoon of confectioners sugar
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced and sugared (Victoria, I never use a pint -- always a quart box)
Whipped cream/if serving dish as a dessert
Sour cream/if serving dish for a brunch with sausage, etc.

Beat eggs lightly in mixing bowl. Add milk, flour, and nutmeg, and beat by hand until blended. Batter may be a little lumpy.

Melt butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet with heat-proof handle over medium heat until butter begins to foam. Stir in filberts.

Pour batter into hot skillet over filberts. Bake in a 425 degree oven (pre-heated) 15 to 20 minutes, or until pancake is puffed and golden brown. Sprinkle with lemon juice and return to oven for 2 to 3 minutes.

Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and SERVE AT ONCE by cutting into wedges and topping with strawberries and whipped cream for dessert or sour cream for brunch.

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  1. I can't wait to read Molly's book! I read the introduction on Amazon last week and I was *hooked*. The dutch baby recipe that you include looks delicious; I might have to make that for dessert this weekend.

  2. I have always wanted to try one of these dutch pancake things... This is just the inspiration I needed to really do it! Thanks!

  3. Ok. I want an elf. And one of those puffs. And really isn't Molly's book the best?

  4. I just wanted to let you know that I have awarded your blog the 'One Lovely Blog' award!

    Please go to

    to see how it works.

  5. What a beautiful story! And that dtutch baby looks heavenly!! Did you also post pics of the pastry made from the elf's recipe?

    Cheers to summer!


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