I wanted to try almost everything in Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century (Norton, Oct.), but eventually settled on the New England Spider Cake. Hesser describes it as her “favorite kind of recipe—there are no thorny passages, and there’s a surprising trick.” The cake is essentially a sweet cornbread, but much denser and moister, and the “trick” is to pour cold cream in the center of the batter just before putting it into the oven so that the cream shoots through the middle of the cake, creating a layer of custard as it bakes. Eating a slice is an adventure of different textures and flavors; the center is sweet and creamy, but as you reach the outer edges, the cake is distinctly buttery and crisp. It was like nothing I’ve had before, a sort of arepa-cornbread-pudding hybrid, and would be an intriguing addition to a breakfast spread including sausage and bacon and fried chicken, but could be made elegant, too, with a fruit compote or sauce. A unique and easy recipe to have in your repertoire, and a great use of the cast-iron skillet.
New England Spider Cake
2 cups whole milk
4 teaspoons white vinegar
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the milk and vinegar in a bowl and set aside to sour.
2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the eggs into the soured milk. Stir into the dry ingredients.
3. Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Pour in the batter. Pour the cream into the center, slide skillet into the oven, and bake until golden brown on top, about 45 minutes. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then slice into wedges and serve warm.
It’s important not to bake this too long. The cake should still feel soft but bouncy in the center when you remove it from the oven.
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