German Puffs

When I read this recipe for “German Puffs” in (perennially interestingUPenn MS Codex 644, I immediately thought of Dutch Baby pancakes. Custardy sharing pancake-popover hybrids are all over food media these days and the proportions of eggs to cream to flour in this recipe looked really familiar. I had to try it.

The German Puffs were fluffy, rich, custardy, and delicious. Their texture and taste was both familiar and unfamiliar.  I’ve become accustomed to that mixed feeling when testing recipes for this site.

Unsurprisingly, this recipe sent me down an internet rabbit hole investigating various Dutch and German puffs, babies, and pancakes. In Pancake: A Global History, Ken Albala excludes this whole group of eggy-battered preparations from the category of pancakes altogether.

Another distinction must be made with the variety of souffle known as Yorkshire pudding, or in the US, popovers, which is made with a batter very similar to that of the pancake, but usually with a greater proportion of eggs, This is always baked in a mould to achieve supreme puffiness rather than the flatness of a pancake. Yorkshire pudding anointed by drippings, and the perversely named ‘Dutch Baby’ or German pancakes (Dutch here meaning Deutsch) must be set aside. (Albala 10)

The fact that the Dutch Baby, the German pancake, and the Yorkshire pudding all need moulds to rise disqualifies them from Albala’s pancake taxonomy.

All this leads me to ask where did Grandmama Franklin find this recipe? (She is likely the compiler for MS Codex 644 and I wrote about her backstory  here) Did she write it down in England? In South Carolina? Learn of it through her global networks in the East and West Indies? Did she read about German Puffs in a printed source? The Oxford English Dictionary and the database of early print Early English Books Online didn’t offer any conclusive results.  The origin of the German Puffs remains elusive, but the dish is delicious.

The Recipe

German Puffs

4 Eggs, 4 spoonfuls of flour, a pint
of Cream, or good milk. 2 oz of butter
Melted in it: beat them well together
& a little salt & Gratd Nutmeg:
Put them in large Cups well
butterd – bake them a quarter of an hou[r]
in an E oven hot enough to brown them.

Our Recipe

I prepared half of this recipe in a greased six-inch cast-iron skillet and the other half in six greased “cups” of a muffin tin. I greatly preferred the result that I got in a skillet and refer to that in the instructions below, but you could also use this to make somewhere between 12 and 24 small puffs. The full amount would work nicely in a larger skillet. The recipe is also easy to halve.

4 eggs
1/4 c flour
1 pint cream
2 oz butter, melted (plus additional butter for greasing the skillet)
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg (A subtle flavor. Increase to taste.)
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 425F. [edit: optional step. Preheat your skillet in the oven.]

When the oven is hot, grease your skillet with butter. Whisk together ingredients in a mixing bowl or large pitcher. When batter is combined, pour it into the skillet.

Bake 30-35 min, until the puff is puffy and golden brown around the edges.

Serve hot. Sprinkle with sugar or other toppings.

The Results

Somewhere between a Yorkshire pudding and a souffle, German puffs are a rich and satisfying dish. This is a quick and easy historical recipe that makes a tasty breakfast or brunch dish. I’m excited to try them again with fresh berries or a fruit compote on the side. They are even delicious a day later reheated in a toaster oven or oven.

8 thoughts on “German Puffs

  1. This sounds like a lovely treat. The origin of Yorkshire Pudding came to me one day when I was roasting beef in an open hearth. The roast was dripping fat into the drip pan underneath and it occurred to me that this was probably the original way of making Yorkshire Pudding–not in an oven. And sure enough I did my homework and there in Hannah Glasse was a recipe directing you to do exactly that–put your pudding under the dripping roast to bake. My 20th century recipes say to preheat your greased pudding mold so I would recommend that step be added to your directions.

    • Wonderful, Mercy! This makes total sense to me.

      In the greased skillet, the German puff cooked beautifully without the preheating and cut cleanly as well. This was not the case in the muffin tin where I think preheated fat and tin would have helped. I can add this as an optional step.

  2. Thoughts from my first attempt (full recipe, in 10” cast iron skillet, 3” deep, so I had plenty of room):
    Came out more “scrambled eggs with some structural integrity” than popover/Yorkshire pudding.
    Need to find a better way of incorporating the flour-might try it in the blender next time, the way I do popover batter. Might also try increasing the amount of flour to 1/3 cup.
    From your recipe, at first I wasn’t sure if the 2 oz butter was what was intended to grease the pan, or if it was intended to get mixed with the other ingredients. Based on the original recipe, I decided the latter. If that is how you intended it, you might want amend your recipe to read “2 oz butter melted + additional for greasing”.
    Baking time and temp seemed spot on (my oven seems to run a little cool so I think I’ll do an additional 5 min next time).
    Thanks, this is a fun one!

    • Abbie, I’m so glad you tried the recipe! It doesn’t have much structural integrity as a pancake, but it is very delicious.
      I’m going to amend the recipe to specify that the 2T butter is for the batter, not for greasing. Thank you for this suggestion.

  3. Reader Annika sent in this comment by email: There is a traditional swabian dish (from the southwest of Germany) that is called ‘Pfitzauf’ which seems to be an equal of your german puffs. You typically wouldn’t find it in restaurants but rather eat it at your grandmother’s home. There is a special mold used for it, which is like a ceramic muffin mold but with larger ‘cups’. When trying this recipe I noticed that you really need that mold to get nice fluffy Pfitzauf.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.