When I read this recipe for “German Puffs” in (perennially interesting) UPenn 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.
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]
E oven hot enough to brown them.
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.
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.
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.