Cornbread and Cornbread: New England Spider Cake and Crackling Corn Bread

I first found my New England Spider Cake recipe in some magazine that I can’t credit because I cut out the recipe years ago without noting the source (based on typeface and memory I’m guessing it was the magazine that comes with the Sunday New York Times).

It's now in regular rotation on the Family Favorites list. I've read that it's called Spider Cake because that's the name for the cast iron skillet it's baked in, and also that it's because the cream in the center creates cracks that look like spider legs (you be the judge).

I’ve altered the original a bit based on my experience with  another great recipe that I’ll also share from The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking by Sally Schneider, a beautifully illustrated book of scrumptious recipes that represent no sacrifice whatsoever in flavor.

Key to both recipes is a well-seasoned cast-iron pan or skillet around 8-9-10 inches square, or a round 12-inch skillet. I’m not one of those authoritarian cooks who says you can’t use what you have on hand; you’ll just give up an extra crispiness to the outer surface that’s worth the effort to get a skillet and season it.

New England Spider Cake

2 c. buttermilk (or 2 c. milk w/4 t. white vinegar stirred in and allowed to sour a while. I've also successfully substituted a mixture of milk and yogurt.)
1 c. coarse-ground yellow cornmeal (polenta); regular fine-ground cornmeal is acceptable substitute but texture is more cakelike than I like it
¾ c. flour (I use whole wheat pastry flour; you can use that bland white stuff if you like, and regular whole wheat should work too. Note for the gluten-free: I have successfully made this with 100% cornmeal, using a mix of polenta and fine-ground. It tasted great.)
¾ c. sugar
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
2 eggs, or the equivalent in egg whites
2 T. canola oil (or butter if your arteries can take it)
1 c. heavy cream (yes, real, honest-to-goodness full-fat cream—it’s the reason for the whole exercise)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set the cast-iron skillet in the oven while it heats.

Combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt, Whisk eggs into the buttermilk or soured milk. Stir into dry ingredients.

Pour the oil or butter into the now-hot skillet and swirl it around to coat the bottom and sides. Pour in the batter and enjoy the satisfying crackle as it hits the hot pan.

Pour most of the cream into the center. I like to add another dollop centered in each of the four quarters of the pan. The cream creates a puddinglike consistency when it’s baked and will throw off your usual toothpick test for doneness.

Put the skillet into the pan and bake until golden brown on top, around 45 minutes.

KEY ITEM: If your oven browns too fast at 400 degrees, cover the top with foil after it has set up a bit (so the foil won’t stick to the batter). The picture here illustrates just what happens if you get too busy writing a blog post and neglect this step.

This is absolutely fabulous served for breakfast with maple syrup.

Crackling Corn Bread

Recipe by Sally Schneider

1 c. coarse-ground yellow cornmeal
½ t. salt
½ t. baking soda
1 c. buttermilk
1 egg
2 t. canola oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and put 10-inch skillet in to heat with the oven.

Combine cornmeal, salt and baking soda, Whisk together buttermilk and egg, then mix buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal and stir just until combined.

Pour the canola oil into the pan and swirl around to coat bottom and sides. Pour batter into the pan and shake slightly to spread ev enly. Bake until the bread is set and a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean—around 10-15 minutes.

I have also successfully doubled this recipe for a thicker cornbread in the same pan size. It takes closer to 40-45 minutes to cook and you’ll definitely have to cover the top with foil to prevent over-browning.

1 comment :

  1. And a little birdie tells me it also works if you use couscous instead of polenta!

    Ahem ahem ahem.



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