Big Puffy Baby Cake
It begins with the scent of butter, slightly burning.
Early one Thursday evening in July, 1986, my husband Jim and I, along with Erin our 20-month-old daughter asleep in a stroller, arrived at a café au lait brown home in a suburb of Vancouver. We’d found this place, a home-stay arrangement during Expo 86, the last World’s Fair to be held in North America, through an acquaintance which came by way of something like a business associate’s friend’s nephew’s mother-in-law. We were here as part of a parenting plan that I can only look back at with fond compassion for my earnest intentions; I wanted to launch my daughter into a life of international travel. Yes, I’ll pause while you laugh and no, she remembers nothing of the experience.
Backyard Sister and daughter, circa 1986
Anyway, a small man with thick spectacles responded to our knock on the door. He pointed down a dark staircase which lead to a basement and advised us that breakfast would be served at 7 a.m. the next morning. We didn’t want to wake Erin; ours was one of several rooms, separated by temporarily curtained walls, so we settled her in the middle of the queen-size bed between us, dined on apples and Cheez-Its, and looked forward to a meal I imagined to be delicious based on the rich buttery scent which had greeted us at the front door.
I’ll never know what was cooking upstairs because our downstairs breakfast consisted of Fruit Loops, canned peaches, and white bread that was impossible to toast without setting off the fire alarm. We probably would have given this place more of a chance if it hadn’t been for the giant Rottweiler which freely roamed the house and scared me to death as his gleaming teeth were eye level with my child.
“I don’t expect silver and a tablecloth and fresh scones,” I told Jim when he listened to my plea to relocate. “But I wouldn’t mind a fresh-cooked breakfast, a room with a window, and preferably no pets.” I really don’t remember what made us decide to hop on the ferry to Victoria and walk into a Visitor’s Bureau asking for an accommodation recommendation, but by some stroke of luck we were directed to a beautiful cornflower blue Victorian home, painted with bright red and yellow fretwork, surrounded by a garden in full rose bloom.
“Breakfast will be served any time between 8 and 10. What will work best for you and your baby?”
In the morning, we awoke to the scent of butter, slightly burning. Following our noses, we tiptoed down a wood floor hallway and discovered a large lace-covered dining table set with silver and fresh roses. Karen, the soft-spoken woman of the house, served up a pie-pan of the most decadently satisfying combination of butter, eggs, flour, and powdered sugar. When I had my first bite of what Karen called a Dutch Baby I had no idea that this recipe, which Karen later hand scrawled on a real estate agent’s note pad for me, would become ingrained in my memory from frequent use.
And while Erin remembers nothing of her World’s Fair visit, she loves the story of how her favorite breakfast joined family lore. This is our go-to breakfast for occasions like birthdays, homecomings, and a welcome to our own out-of-town guests.
I first met this as a Dutch Baby, but some people call this Big Puffy Pancake. Here’s Karen’s original recipe, tweaked throughout the years and renamed to encompass all its history in our family.
Big Puffy Baby Cake
4 T butter (and no, a butter substitute really doesn’t work)
1 C milk
2 T vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 C flour
Set oven to 425.
Slice butter into a 10 inch pie pan and place in oven as it is heating. Let butter melt, until almost brown and bubbly.
Meanwhile beat together eggs, milk, and vanilla. Sift flour with salt, and then add to egg mixture. Stir well. Pour batter into pan over melted butter.
Bake 20-25 minutes until pancake has puffed up over the sides of the pan. Serve immediately. It will deflate slightly. We like it sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Serves 8 moderate eaters, or 4 ravenous ones.