Monday, July 11, 2011

Eat The Baby!


It's been an ongoing fantasy of mine to build an outdoor wood-burning pizza oven here at the farm. It's high on my list of projects, and this coming weekend I'm going to meet John Schwarz and John Hickey at the Smallholding Festival in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. They will be fielding questions and demonstrating how to build an earthen oven. I expect to come home with all the information I need to cross the pizza oven off the to-do list.

(By the way, if you're within driving distance of Ottsville, you should come to the festival this Saturday, July 9; for more information, go to I'll be there spit-roasting Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced porchetta.)

The impetus behind building a wood-burning oven is not just to take advantage of wood smoke as a flavoring agent. It's to get me out of the kitchen on sweltering summer days. The farm has no air-conditioning. On prickly, humid days, even the thought of turning on the oven leaves me a little nauseous--but not enough to make me want to eat salad for every meal.

Back in the day, my family had a solution for this problem. Just off the back of the farmhouse was a little shack. It had a rough wooden floor and a slanted tin roof. Inside was a washbasin and a cast-iron wood-burning stove they used to cook on. The structure was torn down in the early 1970s, but my aunts and uncles who remember it still call it the summer kitchen.

What a good idea! An outdoor kitchen to use in the summer when it's hot. Huhh.


My pizza oven, when it exists, will be the stove I use for baking during the summer. At least that's the plan. The problem is that I want to bake now. I explained this to one of my aunts, Denise, as I was asking about the old summer kitchen. She had a temporary (and not a little dangerous) solution. At her house, she plugs a portable convection oven into an extension cord, places the oven outside, and cranks it up to high heat. She makes pizza and bread and brownies and, my favorite, Dutch Baby, which she serves with berries. (Note: We do not recommend hauling your oven outside, ok? So please do not try this.)

Dutch Baby is a large pancake/popover that's cooked in a cast-iron skillet at about 450 degrees. That's hot, but if you're lucky enough to have a summer kitchen, who cares? But even if you don't have the space to build your own outdoor wood-burning oven, or you're like me and keep putting the project off, this recipe is worth sweating for--or at least cranking up the A/C.


Dutch Baby
Serves 6

1 cup assorted berries
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 large eggs (remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before using)
2/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Special Equipment: You'll need a 10" cast-iron skillet.

For the berries: Stir together berries, sugar, and liqueur in a bowl and let stand at room temperature until ready to serve.

For the batter: Put skillet on middle rack in oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Stir together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

Beat eggs with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and frothy, then beat in milk, flour, vanilla, and salt and continue to beat until smooth, about 1 minute more (batter will be thin).

Put butter into hot skillet and let melt, swirling to coat. Add batter and immediately return skillet to oven. Bake until puffed and golden-brown, 18-25 minutes.

Serve immediately, topped with berries and cinnamon-sugar mixture.

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