I have now read A Homemade Life cover-to-cover twice and have opened it many more times - to read or to cook from. (I was beginning to get really dejected about not having another good memoir at hand to delve into, but then The Sweet Life in Paris arrived in the post, and I am okay for the time being.)
A Homemade Life is a treasure. If you haven’t read it yet, get it, and read it s-l-o-w-l-y because you will be sorry when it’s over. You will immediately want to go and hang out with Molly and Brandon and Olaiya and Keaton – AND it will make you think of all your own stories, which are lurking around in your memory.
I hadn’t thought about this particular evening until I got to Page 127 and read Molly's story about Dutch Babies. This is my story.
The first year I was married, we lived in St. Louis where Dick was managing the country music radio station. A disc jockey he knew from his days in Philadelphia was living in St. Louis too, and he and his girlfriend invited us to their house for dinner. The disc jockey was famous, and his name was Bill Calder, which I remember since he had a Calder mobile in his living room. I’m embarrassed - and sorry - to say I can’t remember the name of his girlfriend.
But I can picture her perfectly.
She was very distinct - elf-like - very (very) tiny, with short brown hair - irrepressibly curly - big blue eyes, and a wide, sincere smile. But what I remember most about her is, up to that point in my life (except for my grandmother’s sister-in-law, Aunt Nettie Mangini), she made the best meal I had ever had at someone else’s house. No kidding. The best.
I’m sure we had a starter. and I’m sure it was good, but I don’t remember. What I do remember is the main course. It was rich and Delicious with a capital D, and it was the very first Julia Child recipe I ever ate. Supremes de Volaille a Blanc (Chicken Breasts with Cream Sauce), from The French Chef Cookbook - simple, elegant, and rich, rich, rich. We also ate buttered asparagus and rice braised with onions in chicken broth, followed by a simple tart green salad. We drank Champagne, and talked, and laughed, and we were all relaxed and happy.
But that’s not the point of this story.
This is the point of the story.
As we were eating dinner, the little elf left the table and disappeared into the kitchen for a short time. I didn’t suspect that she was an alchemist as well as a cook, but I soon made that discovery. She came back, and we continued eating until there wasn't a morsel left on a plate. The table was cleared, and I could hear her rustling around in the kitchen. Doors were opening and closing. Dishes were clicking. Cutlery was clinking.
And then the magical creature came through the doorway carrying a bowl of strawberries in one hand and another of softly whipped cream in the other. She placed both bowls on the table and disappeared into the kitchen for a split second, re-emerging immediately with a frying pan from which a large browned puff was swelling. She put the pan on the table and deftly cut the large puff into four pieces, which she plated and topped with one large spoonful of strawberries and another of lightly vanilla-scented whipped cream.
Dick and I were speechless – first because the sight of this dessert was breathtaking and then because our mouths were full. The closest thing I ever had to it was my Aunt Rita’s Yorkshire pudding – and it was very close – but the Yorkshire pudding was cooked in beef fat, topped with gravy, and was savory. This was dessert - just sweet enough, all cold and hot and eggy and creamy at the same time, with the surprise of toasted, buttery, sliced filberts on the bottom. It was a grand ending to a delicious dinner. We had some coffee and brandy, and Dick and I went home sated and comfortable. A night filled with good company, delicious things to eat and drink, and new friends in a new town.
The next day I went to the bookstore and got a little paperback copy of The French Chef. On Wednesday an envelope addressed with a red pen in very neat, small handwriting was waiting for me when I got home from work. Inside was the recipe for Puff Pancake with Strawberries. Written in a precise, printed hand, it completely filled an entire side of an 8-1/2 x 11-inch piece of ruled paper. I put that piece of paper in a little accordion file that Dell McAbee had given me at my bridal shower, filled with her favorite handwritten recipes. I still have that file, and I still have Dell’s recipes, and, more years later than I can believe, I still have that piece of paper with the elegant red handwriting.
There is no signature, but there is an admonition at one point SERVE AT ONCE, and the following note is at the bottom.
I pass on the note, and I pass on the recipe. I think the elf would be pleased.*Filberts are 100-times more delicious than walnuts. Also, Victoria, there’s really no trick to making this pancake --- it’s extremely EASY. However, it must go straight from the oven to the table piping HOT since it, like a soufflé, loses its puff rather quickly. Also, do try it for a Sunday brunch with sausage or whatever, topping it with sour cream – it really adds a new dimension to the dish. And serve with Champagne.
Puff Pancake with Strawberries
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup all-purpose (unbleached) flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup thinly sliced filberts (hazelnuts) about 2 oz. or use walnuts, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
A tablespoon of confectioners sugar
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced and sugared (Victoria, I never use a pint -- always a quart box)
Whipped cream/if serving dish as a dessert
Sour cream/if serving dish for a brunch with sausage, etc.
Beat eggs lightly in mixing bowl. Add milk, flour, and nutmeg, and beat by hand until blended. Batter may be a little lumpy.
Melt butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet with heat-proof handle over medium heat until butter begins to foam. Stir in filberts.
Pour batter into hot skillet over filberts. Bake in a 425 degree oven (pre-heated) 15 to 20 minutes, or until pancake is puffed and golden brown. Sprinkle with lemon juice and return to oven for 2 to 3 minutes.
Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and SERVE AT ONCE by cutting into wedges and topping with strawberries and whipped cream for dessert or sour cream for brunch.
To see just the recipe, click here.