When I was growing up, breakfast was always a last thought. More often than not, my little sister and I would be stuffed into the back of a Ford Explorer with a cold un-toasted Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Pop Tart and an apple to inhale while my mom sped down I-30 to get us to school three minutes before classes started. My family and I…we’re just not punctual. We play with fire when it comes to scheduling, much to my dad’s chagrin. We all try really hard to be on time, but we really should invest in hats or t-shirts that say “Sorry I’m late.”
But back to breakfast. When Saturday mornings came around, things were different. E3 and I would wake late and park ourselves (and our trusty miniature schnauzer) in front of the TV, while Mom actually got to read the paper. At some point, she’d ask us what we wanted for breakfast, and the answer was almost always a Dutch Baby pancake, but we always called it a Puff. It’s a much better name, if you ask me.
Puffs are oven pancakes made with a thin batter and no chemical leavening, very similar to a Yorkshire pudding. The batter is poured into a hot skillet or cast iron pan and then baked until the whole thing rises and puffs from the heat of the oven, hence the name. When it’s removed, it starts to deflate quickly, leaving a light, custard-like pancake in the shape of whatever dish it was baked in. Traditionally, they are served with confectioner’s sugar and a squeeze of lemon, but I prefer maple syrup 😊
The batter takes almost no effort at all. Add some eggs, milk, vanilla, flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor or high-powered blender, and blitz until no lumps remain. Then, let it sit at least five minutes so the flour starts to thicken things and the air bubbles dissipate. While it’s resting, melt butter in a heavy pan that’s been heating in a 400F oven. Once the butter is melted and the pan is coated, pour in the batter and put it in the oven.
This is important: do NOT open the oven door while the Puff is in the oven. Just don’t do it. That little blast of room temperature air will deflate your pancake and destroy the amazing texture. Instead, set a timer for 19 or 20 minutes and go play with your kids or read the paper or watch an episode of Arrested Development. Just before your timer is going to go off, put on your oven mits. Puffs brown quickly and dramatically (especially around the edges), so they need to be taken out of the oven exactly when the timer dings.
If you have children or breakfast guests, you might think about having them around (but standing at a safe distance from the oven) to see the big, puffy masterpiece come out of the oven. And it will be huge! Like a giant golden brown bubble! But it will also be fleeting. The puff will deflate completely in 90 seconds or less, leaving behind a pancake in the shape of the pan, with crisp-chewy brown edges and a soft, custardy center. Trust me, it’s amazing.
The puff will only need to rest for a couple of minutes before slicing. Make sure to have your oven mits handy as the pan will still be raging hot. I get four large or six medium servings out of a pancake this size. Top with whatever suits your fancy. If you want to be traditional, go with confectioner’s sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. If you’re like me, maple syrup and confectioner’s sugar with a dash of sea salt is the ticket. My mom says puffs are fantastic with yogurt and fruit, but I’ve never actually tried that. I think a drizzle of barely-warmed Nutella and some sliced strawberries would be amazing. However you go about it, this is guaranteed to be a good breakfast.
Puffs are, to this day, my weekend breakfast of choice. The recipe halves and quarters easily, so if you’re the only one home, you can make a personal-sized fancy breakfast, permitting of course that you have a 6-inch pan to make it in. (I’ve written instructions for adjusting the quantity in the note below.) A puff is a great option if you are having a small brunch at home or want to make an impressive breakfast for your valentine. If you observe Shrove Tuesday, a puff would be an out-of-the-ordinary way to celebrate at home, instead of traditional pancakes. But of course, it’s a fantastic breakfast any old Saturday.
Do something nice for yourself this weekend.
4 large eggs
1 cup milk (not skim or fat free)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
3-4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons butter (unsalted or salted)
pure maple syrup
Place a large ovenproof cast iron or stainless steel pan in a cold oven. Preheat oven to 400F.
In the bowl of a food processor or high-powered blender*, combine eggs, milk, vanilla, flour, sugar, and salt. Process 30 seconds, or until no lumps remain. Let batter rest five minutes.
Once the oven has reached 400F, remove the hot pan. Add the butter and swirl to coat the pan; there will still be a bit of solid butter. Place pan back in the oven for one minute, until remaining butter has melted and started to bubble. Remove pan from the oven, and pour in batter. Bake 19-20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Do NOT open the oven door during baking.
Let pancake cool 2-5 minutes before slicing. Serve immediately with toppings of choice.
1. If you’d like to make a personal-sized puff, use 1 large egg, 1/4 cup milk, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, a small pinch of salt, and 1/2 tablespoon butter. I recommend using a 6-inch cast iron pan for this much batter. Follow all instructions as written, changing the baking time to 16 minutes.
2. If you’d like to make a 3-4 serving puff, use 3 large eggs, 3/4 cup milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons butter. Follow all instructions as written, changing the baking time to 18-19 minutes.
3. If you do not have a food processor or blender, you may whisk all of the ingredients together and then push them through a wire mesh sieve to remove any lumps of flour. Let batter rest five minutes before proceeding as written.