Who doesn't love pancakes on a cold winter morning? They're the ultimate winter breakfast comfort food, yet if you're the one who makes them in your house, you can end up feeling like a short order cook. I recently came across an old recipe I'm surprised I'd forgotten about: German pancakes, sometimes called oven pancakes. This is not the type of breakfast that keeps you chained to the stove with a spatula while the rest of your household enjoys the fruits of your labor.
Rather, this is one of the simplest and most versatile breakfast dishes you can make, impressing your guests, overnight or otherwise, and leaving you free to enjoy your paper, your coffee or your company.
Set the oven to 450 degrees. Place 2 tablespoons butter in a 10" or 12" ovenproof skillet and place in oven. The butter will melt and brown slightly while the oven heats up.
Whisk together the following ingredients:
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk (1% or 2% is fine)
Pour batter in the skillet, return to oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Towards the end, the sides will puff up, rise up the edge of the skillet and turn golden brown.
Cool in skillet on rack or stove top for 5 minutes. It will sink just a little. Carefully loosen the edges and the underside with a silicone spatula and slide onto a plate.
Now the fun part: dot with butter while it's cooling and enjoy the buttery, eggy result in all its simplicity. Or sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Drench in maple syrup. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top a minute before removing from the oven. Fill with sliced seasonal fruit. Make a fruit sauce with frozen berries. Add cubed cream cheese...and mandarin oranges, or cranberries, or walnuts -- heck, go for broke and add all of them. This is the blank canvas of breakfasts.
Try a savory version by omitting the vanilla and sugar, and top with bacon and cheddar, or ham and swiss, or caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms.
Another bonus: if you have a spare skillet or griddle, the baking time frees you up to make a side dish -- potatoes, bacon, sausage -- on the stove.
Got more than 2 people to feed? If you also have an 8" skillet, multiply this recipe by 1.5, divide the batter accordingly, and bake the 8" skillet for 20 minutes. Or use a metal pie pan, place it on an upper rack and keep an eye on it. (The thinner metal of a pie pan will cause the bottom to bake quicker.) I've even made German pancakes with 8" and 9", straight-sided cake pans; they have a tendency to rise and then fold in on themselves, but as my mom used to say, "It all ends up in the same place."
What results is an incredibly filling and difficult-to-screw-up pancake -- that doesn't ensure your place as the last one to eat after everyone else has finished.