Spider Cake, Cast Iron Skillet

Spider Cake . $2.93

I have a confession to make:  I don’t like cornbread.  I’ve wanted to like it, and attempted it many times, with many different recipes.  Somehow, nearly all of them have fallen short of my expectations…some have been tossed – a difficult thing for a frugal cook, and some have been drenched in maple syrup and choked down, perhaps an even more difficult thing.

Spider Cake - look at the lovely band of custard running through the center.
Spider Cake – look at the lovely band of custard running through the center.

Later in life, I learned I could have used that leftover cornbread in a “Cornbread Salad,” a horribly fattening, pricey, amazingly simple and oddly scrumptuous concoction, that is not really a salad at all and doesn’t fit in the scope of frugality other than a way to use leftover cornbread.  Once you start eating it, though, it’s hard to stop! I try not to think about it and will probably never post the recipe, but if you have left over cornbread it’s worth considering. But back to Spider Cake…

I cannot rave enough about Spider Cake – it’s a kind of moist, almost spoon bread cornbread, baked in a cast iron skillet.  When you cut into it, there are layers of soft custard like cake in between the slightly crispy corn cake. I’ll serve it for breakfast with berries, powdered sugar or syrup, or even for dessert – maybe later in the evening after a light dinner. Even though it is a little sweet, I’ll sometimes serve it with chilis and soups and pulled pork and ribs and anywhere one would normally serve corn bread.  We don’t have it often, but when we do, it’s worth the splurge.

Why is this called Spider Cake?  No, it’s not a Paleo thing!  Back in the day before ovens were available, this cake was cooked in a hearth over coals in a cast iron pan nicknamed a spider – it had eight legs on the bottom to keep it off the coals, something like outdoor Dutch Ovens have today.

I originally found the recipe in one of the “Best American Recipe” Cookbooks by Molly Stevens & Fran McCullough that came out annually for years; I gave away my copies of those books in some mad spring cleaning purge, thinking I had the recipes I wanted…a mad search led me to a recipe by Frank Reynolds of New York Times fame. Oddly enough, he credited the Best American Recipe as his source. When it’s good, it’s good!

 Recipe:  Spider Cake,  (8 servings)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream, but milk works, too; I’ve even seen old recipes made with water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine milk and vinegar in a bowl and set aside to sour.

In another bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. Whisk eggs into the soured milk. Stir into dry ingredients and set batter aside.  If you skip the set aside, you won’t get dramatic of rivulets of cream in the finished product.

Put butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and put in the oven to melt.  Remove skillet from oven, tilting so the butter coats the sides. Pour in the batter. Very carefully and slowly, pour cream into the center of the batter. Slide skillet into the oven and bake until golden brown on top, about 40 – 45 minutes.  Do not overbake!

There will be strange cracks emanating from the center of the cake, and it is done when the edges of the cake pull away from the pan.

When pouring the cream, the Spider Cake will work out much better if you use a spouted measuring cup so you have a little more control.  Slice into wedges and serve warm.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my Strategies – You’ll see them all explained on the upper left tab of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Whole Milk – You can really use any milk in this. The store brand of milk runs $2.79 in my area, often goes on sale for $2.48 cents a gallon – 50 cents more than last year.  I’ll look for deals on cereal where if you buy so many boxes, you’ll get a free gallon, and I’ll use coupons on those boxes of cereal to lower the price.  We’ve cut drastically back on the amount of milk we use in recent years as more information has come out about health.  When it is on sale, though, I’ll buy a gallon at the beginning of the week, and then at the end so that we’ll have sale priced milk for both weeks.  $2.50 a gallon on sale, a cup is 31 cents.
  • Corn Meal:  Since learning more about GMO corn, I seek this out at the co-op.  I’m not sure about the pricing, so I’ll guesstimate around $1.89 a pound – I could be off on this.  About 35 cents.
  • Flour:  Try to pick up on the cheap around any Holiday that promotes baking.  If not, check Aldi’s if you have one in your area.  I buy special flours for specific recipes, but usually use All Purpose – $1.29 to $1.49 for five pounds is a good general sales price.  About 8 cents a cup.
  • Sugars: Often on sale before any Holiday, especially at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  I’m not a heavy year round baker, so I try to stock up at these times.  You’ll especially see the smaller bags on sale.  Look for pricing of $1.49 to $1.69 a pound.  My cost:  32 cents.
  • Eggs:  Eggs are often on sale during almost any Holiday that normally includes baking.  I sometimes find coupons or specials giving discounts or free eggs when you buy other items.  (Sausage is a good example.)  Stock up when they’re inexpensive because they last for weeks in the fridge.  The date on the container is a ‘buy’ date, and you can expect them to last a good six weeks to two months at home past that date.  Never store your eggs in the door; they keep best in a colder part of the refrigerator, in their own box.  I like to buy them on sale for 89 to 99 cents a dozen, but last bought for $1.49.  Cost 25 cents.
  • Cream:  I ALWAYS look for specials; it will last several weeks in the fridge if not opened.  It is generally a sale on whipping cream that prompts me to pull out the few favorite recipes I like to use it in, not the other way around.  There are HUGE price variances between on sale and regular pricing.  a good sales price is 99 cents for 8 ounces up to $1.49.  My cup was $1.49.
  • Vinegar:  Every so often they’ll have coupons for vinegar, making name brand lower than store price.  Best time to buy is generally around Easter for the basic White or Apple Cider.  Summer is usually when you’ll find the good cooking vinegar on sale.  I’ll find sale prices, too, around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Stock up on the best prices because they keep forever.  Often sales are not advertised, and you can find coupons, now and then, for both the basic and the fancier vinegar.
  • Butter:  Stock up during Holidays.  I freeze it, and have never noticed any difference in taste or texture.  I’ve seen people say they freeze for up to a month, but I’ve had butter frozen for eight or nine months with no deterioration in quality.  Again, like many dairy products, you’ll see specials now and then on butter when you buy so many items, you’ll get butter for free (or at a reduced rate.)  A good sales price in our area is $1.99 a pound, I last bought Easter 2012 for $1.49 a pound.  Cost for 2 tablespoons:  9 cents.
  • Other Items:  Cost about 4 cents.

Nutritional Information:

Per Serving: 361 Calories; 18g Fat (43.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 110mg Cholesterol; 301mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1/2 Non-Fat Milk; 3 Fat; 1 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

Put your Own Spin on It:

  • Vary the dairy to suit your taste.
  • Serve it savory, or sweet.

Spider Cake last made April 2012

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