Boston is a brunch city. This is one of the first things I really noted about the place after moving here a few years ago. Other characteristics I was more prepared for, the Red Sox fervor, the horrendous driving (you could use Bostonian driving to define the word abysmal), the unfortunate weather, the massive quantities of students stuffed into every historic nook and cranny. But, the brunch fanaticism, I was not prepared for.
Somehow, and who knows how, it has become a deeply rooted issue of culture and identity out here. Discussions about the best places for brunch are loving gush fests centered on hollandaise and stuffed French toasts, though disagreements can come close to blows. Oh, and any meal on the weekend that comes before dinner is called brunch. That was the most confusing part for me. People would invite me to brunch and when I’d ask what time they’d say 2pm. Isn’t that a late lunch??
I enjoy brunch foods, but I am not a brunch person. I am a breakfast person. One of those people who wakes up already reaching from their bed for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. And if I don’t eat within approximately 30-45 minutes of waking up, I melt into an incapacitated, shaky, whiny, grouchy lump of low blood sugar. So, if I’m going to have brunch, I usually have breakfast first.
This works especially well on the day after a holiday like Thanksgiving. I languidly wake up – a couple of hours before everyone else – and while they slowly creak their eyes open and take a few hours to contemplate the idea of having something to eat (a hair of the dog that bit you after an extravagant feast like Thanksgiving, you could say) I get to dive into the leftovers of the pie, with some whipped cream of course, for breakfast. And by the time everyone else is ready for brunch, well, I am too!
I first made this savory pear Dutch baby for supper, but I’ve since realized it would make an equally lovely addition to a holiday brunch. Yes, it’s always a little creepy to talk about eating something called a Dutch baby (I’m assuming it actually has that name because you can cook it in something along the lines of a Dutch oven, but oh it is so delicious and satisfying. It poofs up – almost like a souffle – as it bakes in the oven, then collapses in the middle to give an eggy, almost custardy middle surrounded by a airy, bubbly edge.
And they’re highly adaptable! To the base of the egg, milk, and flour, you can add in all sorts of sauteed vegetables or fruits or cheeses. (Though know that as you add more fillings it will puff up less and less). Or you can make a plain Dutch baby, and then sautee some vegetables or mushrooms, or fruits or berries, and pile them into the sunken middle before serving.
After a friend once made a pear, lemon, cardamom dessert Dutch baby at one of our potlucks, I became determined to try some other fabulous flavor combinations with pear, and this savory version is my favorite. You could substitute a variety of cheeses for the smoked gouda – blue cheese for example – and I’ve made it without the leeks before for a slightly simpler dish that is just as tatsty.
And if you want to make a sweet version instead, just sautee the pears by themselves in butter, skip the leeks and cheese, add a Tbs. of sugar and a large pinch of cardamom to the batter, and sprinkle some powdered sugar over the finished product. But really, try the savory one first! Or have one of each!
Savory Pear Dutch Baby with smoked gouda and leeks (serves 4-5 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side)
- 8 tablespoons butter (preferably unsalted, but salted also works), divided
- 1 medium leek, washed and sliced thinly (just the white and very beginning of the light green portion)
- 2 medium pears, ripe but still firm, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
- 5 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cup milk (whole milk – it’s the holidays, don’t skimp!)
- 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 3/4 cups grated smoked gouda cheese (smoked mozarella will also work if that’s all you can find)
- 1-2 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, to garnish (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 425F. In a large sautee pan, melt 2 Tbs. of the butter over medium and cook for about 3 minutes, until it starts taking on a little nutty smell. Add in the leeks, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften. Then, stir in the pears and cook for another 3 or so minutes until they are browned and softened as well. Remove from the heat..
- Put the eggs, milk, flour, salt and pepper into a blender and whirr them at high speed for about a minute, until they are well combined.
- Plop the remaining 6 Tbs. butter into a 12-inch cast iron skillet (or, if you don’t have one, you can use a baking pan of a similar volume) and put the pan into the oven. Wait until the butter is completely melted and sizzling, then (carefully!) take the pan out and swirl the butter around to make sure the pan is coated.
- Spread the leek and pears on the bottom of the cast iron. Pour the egg mixture on top. Finally, sprinkle the cheese all over it and put it back into the oven for 20 minutes, until browned on top. The pancake will puff up as it bakes (though not as much as a dessert one that doesn’t have the chunks of deliciousness).
- When finished, take the Dutch baby out of the oven and scatter the chives (or another fresh herb of your choice – like thyme or sage) across the top. Serve warm. If you want to, though, you can also make the Dutch baby ahead of time, set it aside, and then reheat it in a warm oven for 10-15 minutes right before serving.