Several years ago, my good friend Sasha made me this enchantingly puffed pancake in a cast iron pan and plopped it in front of me for breakfast with a bowl of citrus wedges. She muttered the words “Dutch Baby,” and I can’t explain the way my heart swelled. I felt nurtured in this half-asleep hour, as if someone really understood how we can wake to our unrefinement and still keep some of that dreamy magic alive. Now, whenever my daughter is having a hard week and I lack the words to help her, I pull out the cast iron pan and make her a Dutch Baby for breakfast.
Preheat the oven to 450°F and put a 10-inch cast iron pan on the middle rack to heat up while the oven is coming to temperature.
Make the topping by mixing the sugar, salt, and orange zest. Chop the toasted almonds into small pieces, and mix them into the sugar. Cover and set this aside to let the flavors develop.
To make the pancake, sift together the whole-wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until pale and airy. You can do this with a whisk, but you’ll have to put some power into it. To make quick work of beating, you could also get out the stand mixer or electric beaters, but then you have to get out equipment, which I never want to fuss with in the morning. You decide. At any rate, beat the eggs well, then add the vanilla and milk, and beat until you see bubbles that look kind of frothy. Stir in the flour mixture just until combined.
Now you’ll need to act quickly: Pull the cast iron pan out of the oven. Plop the butter into the pan and watch it melt quickly and start to brown. As soon as the butter is melted, pour the pancake batter in and return the pan to the hot oven. Bake for about 18 minutes until the dough magically puffs up in rumpled, irregular waves. There should be little streams of butter still pulsing through the peaks and valleys of the pancake. Get this baby to the table while it’s still hot. Cut it into wedges and serve right out of the cast iron pan with the orange sugar close at hand so people can help themselves.
Savor with delight and gratitude for slow, nurturing mornings that are equally as disarranged and delicious as our own lives.