My first Dutch baby was an act of reconciliation.
My friends and I had summited Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire’s White Mountains the day before. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches halfway through, blissfully unaware we’d be calling 911 in five hours.
The trail to Mount Lafayette is as magical as it is ego-crushing. You climb beautiful, grueling waterfalls and relentlessly steep sections of rock that seem to go on forever. Even when you reach the final ascent, Lafayette has several false summits, further testing the limits of your now sweaty, gasping body. As someone who has never properly mountaineered (yet), I still consider Lafayette one of my most challenging hikes to date.
It was summertime, but things get a lot windier and chillier when you’re standing on a bald, 5,000-foot mountain.
By 5:30, we were still trudging across Franconia Ridge. We had four miles left and hadn’t even begun our descent.
Although it’s up to each individual to determine whether they can successfully execute a hike, Lafayette was my idea. And so, as the sun dipped and a few of my friends began struggling with each step, guilt and intense worry sank in.
We had to make it down. And we were going to. But I didn’t know when or even how at this point. We decided to split up so some of us could reach a steady cell signal. A friend and I made it down first at around 7:30 p.m., using our cell phones for light. Classic amateur move. Ten essentials? Never heard of her. And for our friends still on that mountain: Low batteries, injury and darkness ensued. It was time to let the proper authorities know.
A 911 operator told us to keep moving for as long as we could, and they’d send people to help us down if our friends were no longer able. They called to check in a few times as stars flooded the sky. The minutes crept by. I paced, checking my phone, checking it again 30 seconds later, running up the trailhead, listening for any footsteps in the dark.
Just after midnight, and despite Lafayette’s 360-degree views, I saw the most beautiful sight that day: my friends, arm in arm, helping each other down the last 20 feet. Hugs, tears and much needed libations transpired. But the self-inflicted guilt hovered over me.
This is where that Dutch baby comes in.
A Dutch baby is basically a giant pancake, though I’d say it’s slightly less fluffy and more chewy. The batter is poured into a heated cast iron skillet with melted butter. No leavening agent is needed, as the oven’s high temperature steams the eggs and milk, causing it to rise and puff up, according to food writer Nigella Lawson. At its simplest, a Dutch baby is a blended mixture of flour, eggs and milk.
On that particular morning, I knew I needed to do more. So I used a recipe from Half Baked Harvest that calls for nutty browned butter, cinnamon and sliced caramelized peaches.
My friends destroyed that Dutch baby and the guilt began to subside. Sometimes there is no greater apology or act of love than feeding someone. We’ve all gone on hikes together since then, just a little lower in elevation, and no more climbing waterfalls. As for myself, I now have a headlamp and a few backpacking trips under my belt.
The recipe used in this delightfully awkward video comes from The New York Times. It’s a blank canvas that begs for powdered sugar, syrup, fruit — whatever you got. A Dutch baby is one of those dishes that appears far more impressive than the effort it takes to make it. Watching the batter puff up in the oven is the most satisfying part. Serve it for breakfast or brunch, or perhaps after a disastrous hike.
This recipe is heavily adapted from The New York Times and yields 3 to 4 servings. The original recipe calls for four tablespoons of butter, but feel free to cut it down to three. I also added salt and vanilla here. Make sure your milk and eggs are at room temperature. This will help the Dutch baby puff up in the oven. I served this with a simple strawberry compote, fresh blueberries and powdered sugar.
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
Pinch of nutmeg, optional
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine flour, milk, eggs, salt, vanilla and nutmeg (if using) into a blender and blend until smooth. Alternatively, whisk the batter by hand in a medium-sized bowl.
Place butter in a heavy, oven-proof skillet (I used cast iron) and heat in the oven until melted.
Once the butter has melted, pour the batter into the pan and return it to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until puffed and golden brown, then lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for five more minutes.
Remove from oven, cut into wedges and serve immediately with the topping(s) of your choice: powdered sugar, maple syrup, honey, preserves, cinnamon sugar, fruit, Nutella or cookie butter.