fig. a: David Eyre's pancake
I didn't grow up in the presence of madeleines. And like most of you out there, I suspect, there wasn't much about my childhood that one might label "Proustian." But that's not to say that my childhood had an absence of those food moments powerful enough to unleash streams of memories years later. None of them have triggered a multi-volume rumination in dense prose (yet), but it's not uncommon for me to wax poetic for minutes on end about the doughnuts my Baba used to make for us on Day 1 of each of her visits, or some other analogous food-related memory.
A number of months ago, though, I started searching for a lost taste. For some reason I started thinking about a "Danish pancake" recipe that became a household Sunday brunch staple for my family sometime in the early '80s. What made it unique was the fact that it was oversized and that it was baked in the oven. It had entered our repertoire through one of those compilation cookbooks that are created to raise funds--this one was intended to support my sister's under-10 soccer team. The recipes were hit or miss, as I'm sure you can imagine, but a number of them went into high-rotation in our family kitchen, and our absolute favorite was that "Danish pancake." We loved the fact that it was big enough to feed four (although we usually made two, by popular demand) and that the batter would generally form massive bubbles as it cooked, giving it some of the characteristics of a soufflé (a simple, unsophisticated, but nonetheless tasty one). We loved its egginess and butteriness, too, and after a while my Mom devised a variation that included freshly cooked pieces of bacon and that was reserved for special occasions. Anyway, after being a fairly important part of our family's weekend ritual for the better part of a decade, the "Danish pancake" got lost in the shuffle. Moves, kids off to college, changing tastes--you know how it goes.
I'd more or less completely forgotten about that "Danish pancake" recipe until sometime late last year when it quite suddenly popped into mind as I was reminiscing about our family life in the '80s. I knew that soccer cookbook was inaccessible--lost in storage somewhere--so going straight to the source was out of the question. I made a few lame attempts to search for the recipe using that miracle we call the Internet, but what I suspected but didn't know for sure was that that adjective "Danish" was throwing me off.
Then in late March, a friend of ours sent me an email to tell me about a New York Times Magazine column by Amanda Hesser that I'd missed. The featured recipe was an oven-baked pancake and our friend claimed that it worked like a charm. I hurriedly made my way to Hesser's column and there it was, the "Danish pancake." As it turns out, the "Danish pancake" was about as Danish as I am (i.e. about as Danish as a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen with Slovak and Québecois roots who has mild Danish pretensions in the form of an appreciation for Danish Modern furniture and artifacts and a prized Oskar Davidsen menu).
fig. b: detail, 7" x 55" Oskar Davidsen menu
It had made its way into the American collective consciousness via a New York Times article by Craig Claiborne back in 1966, and he had discovered the recipe in Hawaii of all places, "at an informal brunch in the handsome, Japanese-style home" of David Eyre, the editor of Honolulu Magazine. It's no wonder the recipe caught on, Claiborne's description of the setting was positively rapturous: "With Diamond Head in the distance, a brilliant, palm-ringed sea below and this delicately flavored pancake before us, we seemed to have achieved paradise.”
What fascinated me about Hesser's article was that it gave me some idea of how the recipe had traveled. Like a game of Telephone, where a simple message whispered from one person into the ear of the next around a circle gradually becomes noise as it makes its journey, David Eyre's simple classic, one of the most popular recipes ever featured by Claiborne, had not only made its way into soccer cookbooks, it had also become "Dutch." Yes, "Dutch." The "Danish" part was apparently my memory playing tricks on me.* Telephone Solitaire.**
Whatever. I was just happy that it had made its way back to me.
David Eyre's Pancake
½ cup flour
½ cup milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (optional)
juice of half a lemon (optional)
fig or blackberry jam, pear butter, any kind of marmalade, or brandied cherries (optional)
maple syrup (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 425º F. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the flour, milk and nutmeg and lightly beat until blended but still slightly lumpy.
2. Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet with a heatproof handle over medium-high heat. When very hot but not brown, pour in the batter. Bake in the oven until the pancake is billowing on the edges and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
3. Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven and, using a fine-meshed sieve, sprinkle with the sugar. Return to the oven for 1 to 2 minutes more. Sprinkle with lemon juice, if you like, and serve with jam, pear butter, marmalade, maple syrup and/or brandied cherries. Serves 2 to 4.
[recipe from "1966: David Eyre’s Pancake" by Amanda Hesser]
We've already made David Eyre's Pancake several times since late March, including once as a Sunday brunch surprise for my parents. We've got an oversized cast-iron skillet that's our preferred pancake pan so we've taken to bumping up the ingredients by 150% so that the batter will properly fill this larger surface. We tend to have our oven-baked pancake with Quebec maple syrup, just as we have 95% of our other pancakes, but on the occasion documented above we used a lethal combination of powdered sugar, brandied cherries, and just a touch of maple syrup. We've yet to make the variation with bacon, but it's only a matter of time.
*As far as I know, I don't have any Dutch pretensions, mild or otherwise.
**There's just something about that recipe: in Josh "The Food Section" Friedland's family the dish was known as "John Eyre's pancake."