Dutch baby Monte Cristo

Who says a Dutch baby must be a sweet vehicle for jam and syrup? Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, it’s just a little predictable. With a base so eggy, it may as well be an omelet. Once it’s deflated like some kind of sad balloon, it’s just as flat as any regular pancake, but the egg does keep it tender and the edges are still crispy and browned, with all that Maillard-y goodness. I do love sweet and savory together, though, so I thought I’d scratch both itches with this take on a Monte Cristo.

A Monte Cristo is a beautiful thing; a stoner’s wet dream. Why eat a perfectly wonderful ham and cheese sandwich when you can eat an even more wonderful fried ham and cheese sandwich? I’ve had them every way possible: grilled simply in butter like an embellished toasted cheese; I’ve had sliced ham and Swiss served between two pillows of French toast; and I’ve had the whole affair dunked in egg batter and fried whole. They’re each lovely, truly, but this iteration performs the additional duty of being dead simple to make.

Here, I took the basic batter (2 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup flour), left out the sugar, and added a handful of grated sharp cheddar and finely diced ham. In a cast iron skillet, cook the ham in about two tablespoons of butter or bacon fat (or both, like I did) and then dump in the batter. Let it sit on the stove for a minute, then pop it in a 425 degree oven for 13 minutes or so, until it’s all golden and puffed and breathtaking. Watch it deflate like so many of your girlhood hopes and dreams, and then slice that disappointment right up and dust it with powdered sugar.

I suppose if you’re sensitive about these things — or Kosher, heaven forbid — you could leave out the ham and use a few handfuls of wilted spinach, or some sauteed mushrooms. You could use a different cheese, if that’s what you have. Ooh, I bet chorizo and diced potato would be something pretty special, too. They make good vegetarian chorizo, don’t they? Oh, they don’t? Oh, well.

(I suppose someone will helpfully chime in with some mention of “soyrizo” or some other such abomination, to which I’ll reply, “no thank you.” I asked for good vegetarian chorizo, which was really a trick question, because we all know there’s no such thing.)

I do still love the sweet Dutch babies, though. I decided to whip up a double batch today, because my baby boy has pinkeye and nothing says “I care about ocular health” like plying a two year-old with tiny, muffin-sized Dutch babies slathered in homemade blueberry-elderflower jam and Meyer lemon marmalade. Just use the same, simple batter, but add 1/4 cup of sugar. You could stir in a little citrus zest or vanilla, if you fancy. Heat a muffin tin in the oven with about 1/2 teaspoon or so of butter in each hole and once the butter’s melted just pour the batter in, filling each depression as evenly as you can without worrying too much. Then bake for about 10-12 minutes, or whenever they’re requisitely golden and puffy. Even when they fizzle out, they’re still so cute and lovable with that little blob of jam in the middle, aren’t they? They kind of remind me of how a sea anemone looks when you tickle its tentacles. It recoils into itself, embarrassed that it mistook your finger for a little oceanic detritus, leaving its soft, flabby neck and that shallow indentation on top where it’s turned itself inside out.

I bet a dollop of jam would really cheer up an embarrassed sea anemone.