Dutch Baby: The Origin Story Behind The Breakfast Treat

Ask someone from the Netherlands about making a Dutch baby, and you'll likely get a quizzical expression landing somewhere between surprise and amusement. That's because a Dutch baby pancake appears to be an American creation — at least when it comes to the name. The story behind the indulgent sweet breakfast treat is a bit more nuanced than it appears from the outset, requiring a deeper dive into the origins of such a quirkily named and deeply loved dish.

The first thing to clear up is that an American Dutch baby is an enormous and deliciously fluffy pancake that's baked in a sizzling hot skillet, preferably one made of cast iron. It comes to life inside an oven rather than on a stovetop burner. It's sweet — really sweet — due to creamy custard-style filling, which sometimes includes apples or caramelized pears, and a generous dusting of powdered sugar on top, often tempered somewhat by a twist of lemon juice.

This is nothing like a traditional Dutch pancake made in the Netherlands. Known as a pannenkoeken, it's also quite large but typically features crispy bacon, melted cheese, and toppings such as berries, apples, or raisins. As the contemporary story goes, Dutch baby pancakes originated in the kitchen of a Seattle diner. As such, the name was likely a misunderstanding tied to a much older pancake tradition from a faraway continent.

The Dutch baby's diner roots

The most well-acknowledged origin story of Dutch baby pancakes was birthed in a Seattle diner called Manca's Cafe. According to the Everett Herald, It happened when Italian-American Victor Manca created them using custom-made Dutch baby pans as a quick turnover breakfast item. His loyal clientele were known to devour them two at a time for the price of $1.40 apiece.

Manca operated the cafe and continued serving his Dutch babies for about 60 years before closing down. But, that wasn't the end of Manca's Cafe and Dutch babies in Seattle. The original owner's grandson reopened a version of the cafe in a new location 40 years later, reincarnating the fan-fave Dutch babies for new generations of pancake devotees. The new family members kept the sweet tradition going until Starbucks finally bought the location in 1998.

An official trademark for the name "Dutch Babies" noted its first use at the cafe in 1942, with the trademark eventually issued in 1956. It was registered to "V.E. Manca, Manca's Cafe." That pretty much verifies that Manca invented the Dutch babies, at least in America. Whether an earlier version actually existed is hard to prove, but the basic idea may have come from old-world Germany. Rumor has it that Victor Manca's daughter was the one who called it Dutch baby, apparently confusing it with the word Deutsch, which refers to Germany.