We spent all of September—and October—camping in our house.
Yes, what used to be camping in front of our home, in the Airstream, cozy as a sleeping bag in its stuff-sack, took an abrupt left turn after Labor Day. The beautiful new floors we’d chosen turned out to be a disaster: unevenly arranged, poorly installed and sloppily stained. “Your floors pain me,” said our contractor after examining the results. We agreed, miserably.
While we cut loose the old work crew and figured out a new plan, Jon, Roxy and I spent two months perched in the house with the barest of necessities: mattresses on the floor (although Jon kindly re-assembled Roxy’s bed), folding chairs in the kitchen, shoes in a pile by the front door. No tables, no couch, no bookcases. No salad servers, recycling bins or art supply cabinet. Neither completely in nor utterly out.
Honestly, there was something liberating about not living with one’s stuff. There were fewer distractions, for instance. When a magazine or newspaper arrived, I read and recycled it pronto, rather than placing it on the ever-growing pile on the coffee table. There was less to clean and fuss over. Views across rooms were long and uninterrupted.
But then there was the somewhat plodding, uncomfortable reality of not living with one’s stuff. Assembling outfits for work and school required multiple trips to the back deck, where dressers and hanging racks sat shrouded in tarps. Tackling a project involved tools invariably buried in our Atwater Village storage unit. Even cooking a meal was no easy feat with counter space the size of a placemat.
But still I tried.
One Saturday morning, inspired by the early season fruit in our CSA box, I grabbed the latest issue of Bon Appétit and thumbed to the Apple Dutch Baby recipe. We regularly make Dutch Babies for weekend breakfast, and I was curious to see how BA’s approach might differ.
Unfortunately, in the simple BA recipe, nary a word appears as to the origins of so odd a dish name. To the Internet I went. “A Dutch baby pancake,” states Wikipedia, “sometimes called a German pancake, a Bismarck or a Dutch puff, is a sweet popover that is normally served for breakfast.” Even more interesting: according to Sunset magazine, the Dutch Baby hails from a Seattle café called Manca’s, where the owner’s daughter coined the dish’s quirky name. Sadly, the place closed in the 1950s.
All this was news to my husband, a Seattle native. “Then why wasn’t it called a Seattle baby?” he asked after I shared this new Pacific Northwest accolade. Good question. Honestly, though, with a name as awesome as “Dutch puff” why bother with Baby?
I skimmed the list of ingredients. The key difference with BA’s Baby/Puff and ours (a recipe from the November 2002 issue of Real Simple magazine) is the homemade apple syrup. Unfortunately, to make said syrup one must have apple cider, which I haven’t seen in our fridge for about a year. In the interests of eating that morning, without a trip to the store, I opted to use plain old, store-bought maple syrup and focus on the Puff/Baby itself. (For the record, BA’s syrup calls for boiling and then reducing 4 cups of apple cider and 2 tablespoons of butter, plus some cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla…sounds delish to me.)
While Jon prepared Roxy’s breakfast of eggs and toast (she’s never been a fan of sweet breakfast foods), I preheated the oven to a roaring 425 degrees and then whisked together the bulk of the recipe’s ingredients: 3 eggs (ideally at room temperature; mine never are), ¾ cup milk (whole, says the recipe, and at room temperature, it demands; both I ignored), ¾ cup all-purpose flour (finally something we could agree on), a teaspoon of vanilla, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. The results were familiar and frothy…don’t most breakfast dishes start this way?
I dragged the cast iron skillet out of the lower broiler section of our ancient oven and melted two tablespoons of butter in it over medium heat. Into that bubbly goodness went an apple that Jon had sliced thinly (he skipped peeling it, as called for in the recipe), plus 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and another ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. I sautéed all this for about 5 minutes until the apple—BA calls for a Pink Lady; ours was more Gala-ish—was soft and evenly coated. Then I scraped the contents of the pan into a small bowl.
Next, the recipe says to wipe this (burning hot) skillet clean before sticking it in the preheated oven. This step could easily become an object lesson in how to treat burned fingertips; fortunately, I was paying attention and put on an oven mitt before grabbing a paper towel and wiping the charred black sides of the pan fairly dry.
I waited about five minutes before pulling out the now ragingly hot pan and plunking in another two tablespoons of butter. After making sure to coat the bottom and sides with the sizzling liquid, I arranged the apple slices in the center of the pan, poured the batter over them and carefully stuck the breakfast bonanza back into the oven for about 15 minutes of final cooking time.
The results: Jon pulled the Dutch Baby Puff out of the oven, so I didn’t get to see how fluffy (or not) it looked. That said, when I walked into the kitchen 10 minutes later, I was surprised by its appearance.
“It’s so gray-beige,” I said, looking at its collapsed self in the cast iron skillet.
“I’m sure it will still taste good,” Jon said, shrugging.
We perched on our folding chairs, bowls balanced on our laps, and tucked in to our slices. This Baby Puff was denser, even a bit custardy, compared with the lighter, fluffier Real Simple recipe. When I compared the recipes, however, I realized they’re almost identical. The only differences: Bon Appétit spreads the cinnamon between the apple sauté and the batter, uses a tablespoon of brown sugar instead of two tablespoons of white, doubles the butter, and cooks for only 15 minutes instead of 25. That last point—plus all that melted butter—might be the clincher.
Regardless, the apples offered a sweet-cinnamon zing that contrasted nicely with the caramelized notes of the dark maple syrup we poured on top.
In retrospect, I wonder how the apple cider syrup would change things—more fruity goodness or too much of a good thing? I’ll have to experiment once apple cider hits the stores—and we have a bit more counter space to work on.