Most responsible people, when beginning a new project, would try to begin it at a standard time of the year: say, January. But most people aren’t me and Natalie.
Welcome to the first installment – ever, you didn’t miss anything – of Baked, Occasionally; our new series for 2016.
Remember the Jeni’s Spinalong last year? we made all the ice creams, and we felt those ice creams in our soul. We assigned ourselves a theme, picked an appropriate flavor, and went crazy on it. And we loved working together so much, that we decided to do it again.
We’re tackling one book specifically this year: Baked Occasions, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. I think most if not all of you are familiar with their series of books, and Baked Occasions is the newest in that series. It’s fantastic, celebratory, and contains some amazing recipes. Drawback? We’re introverts who love cake and yet, most days, don’t have reason to be making one.
Now we have a reason: each other, and science. and education. Here’s how it works:
- Baked Occasions is broken down into months: each month has recipes appropriate to holidays which happen in that particular month. We will take turns picking one recipe per month to focus on, alternating months (i.e. I chose February’s recipe, Natalie will choose March’s, and on it goes.)
- We will both make agreed-upon recipe, straight from the book. I know, right? That’s the most difficult part because we can’t mess with it. This will be our “control recipe.” But wait!
- We will then discuss how we felt about it: we’ll cover flavor, appearance, texture, technical success (or failure), and overall appeal. The goal? to identify what totally worked and what could be better…ultimately, how we would change it to be the best thing it could be. If we both love a recipe? Awesome: then we’re done. But we’re picky, and we like to fiddle, so chances are we decide it could use some tinkering, which means:
- We work out what we could improve upon. We live about 1,500 miles away to each other, so this will require talking…lots of discussion. Thankfully, we do that already. So we’ll decide what to change. It’s all very scientific.
- Then we make it – a second time. With any luck, we get an even better version than we did to begin with.
To clarify “better,” don’t worry: this isn’t us thinking we can do it better than professionals. However, we’ve both noticed that no matter how amazing cookbooks are or how incredibly talented a cookbook author is, sometimes there are hiccups. Sometimes bakery or restaurant cooking is difficult to translate to a home oven or stove; often things are finicky when they don’t need to be, and so on. You never know, but that’s what we’re going to find out.
And sometimes, we make recipes and then think of how good they could be if reimagined, so you’ll see that too. Have you ever made something which turns out great, but you taste it and then you’re like “you know what? this would be massively good if I did X, Y, and Z to it.” We may do that too: you never know how our brains will work.
Let’s talk about this giant pancake now, shall we? It’s technically a Dutch baby; something I have zero experience with, amazingly. In the book, it’s to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (date fluctuates, but it’s in February) in what would be the most appropriate way to do so: with a huge pancake.
They call it a “kitchen sink” version, aka lots of things go into it. I love that: if you’re going to use a pancake to mark an occasion, it should be a special one. Theoretically, it had everything I would want for an indulgent breakfast or brunch: bananas, chocolate chips, maple syrup, nuts, the whole shebang. Needless to say, we dove into this head first.
Initial reactions: I think when you call something a kitchen sink pancake, not only should it have a variety of things in it, but it should also have enough of those things; this one fell short a little bit in the banana department; it felt spaced out, like islands of pepperoni on a sea of cheese pizza, and you couldn’t taste them much. Beyond that, we wanted more overall flavor, more depth, maybe. Technically, it fell a little…flat. *bah-dum-bum* It’s a pancake, sure, but it lacked the appropriate floof necessary for a special treat like this.
Natalie is quite familiar with Dutch babies: she grew up with them. She noticed that the recipe diverged from the one she’d always made. In hers, the batter is poured into a searing hot pan and then baked; in the book’s recipe, you sauté bananas, then set them aside for probably 10 total minutes as you add ingredients to a blender, spin them, and then let them sit for 5 minutes. The result? a cool pan with cool bananas, which she felt was affecting the floof negatively. I concurred.
To address the ingredient quantities and overall flavor, we added a banana (or 2, depending on the size of your bananas) for more pan coverage and banana texture and flavor. Cinnamon went in to give it more of that traditional “banana bread for breakfast” taste, and we both got a little more generous with the chocolate chips, because you really have to balance out the fruit, you know?
And then we messed with the nuts, because here’s the thing: special pancakes deserve special nuts. Our final pancake recipe is the same, but our nuts diverge, and the way they diverge should cover all of you. Natalie planned ahead: she tossed her nuts in some stuff and then baked them peacefully in her oven. I…forgot until it was time to bake the Dutch baby that I needed to bake the nuts, which means I melted some butter and sugar in a skillet and threw some nuts in to candy them. Both ways are delicious, so take your pick. To see how Natalie executed her nuts, or to peep her gorgeous photos, allow me to direct you here. This is a joint venture, after all, and we had lots of thoughts on this one.
So here you go: our ultimate Kitchen Sink Dutch Baby, spruced up for your enjoyment. Final note: this will be a bakealong/cookalong of sorts, so we’re going to reveal future recipes in the hopes that some of you will bake right along with us. We’ll be posting our results on the first Monday of each month; you, friends, can do whatever you want. If you make this Dutch baby in February, post it to your Instagram and tag me and Natalie: we’d love to see how you did. Or work ahead: our March recipe will be the Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting (no surprise who picked that one), and let us know how yours turns out.
Adapted from the Kitchen Sink Dutch Baby recipe found in Baked Occasions: Desserts for Leisure Activities, Holidays, and Informal Celebrations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.
Kitchen Sink Dutch Baby
for the pancake:
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 to 3 ripe medium bananas, sliced 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (can use regular, if desired)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 Tablespoons brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 ounces chocolate chips (a generous 1/4 cup)
- 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- maple syrup, for serving
for the toasted nuts (shannon’s last-minute version):
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
- 1 1/4 cup pecans
- pinch kosher salt
Make that sweet baby:
Preheat oven to 425F, place your 10-inch oven-proof skillet (I used cast iron) in the oven while it preheats.
While oven is preheating, add the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract to a blender. Blend on high for about 45 seconds until foamy. Add the sugar, flours, salt, and cinnamon and blend mixture for another 30 seconds until frothy. Set aside.
When oven is preheated, add the butter and allow to melt. Once the butter is completely melted, add the sliced bananas and stir to coat. Return to oven for a minute or two to soften and brown just ever so slightly on the bottom. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and pour the batter into the skillet, on top of the banana slices. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes until the pancake is slightly puffed and browned on top.
Meanwhile, make those nuts:
Place parchment paper over a plate and set aside. In a medium skillet, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Stir in brown sugar and maple syrup and heat to a bubble; add nuts and stir until nuts are coated and caramelized, being careful not to burn them. Transfer to parchment-covered plate to cool; nuts will harden as they cool.
Remove pan from the oven and sprinkle pancake with desired amount of powdered sugar. Serve the pancake in the cast iron pan with warmed syrup alongside. Top with caramelized pecans.