Saturday, August 17, 2013


It’s Saturday night, "date night", and here I am at the computer. It’s not as bleak as it might sound: I’ve had a great day of market, lovely bicycle ride, and then supper with friends here in my kitchen and garden. Time to sip a little rose d'Anjou and feel grateful.

But before I do, I need to talk abut the skillet cake. I have had a number of requests for the skillet cake recipe, and it’s time to put it out again.

This cake started when I was doing recipe development for HomeBaking, a book that came out in 2003 co-authored by my ex-partner Jeffrey Alford. I am very proud of the book: the artisan breads, etc especially, but also the effort in the book to demystify pastry and baking generally.

When I began work on it I tended to be intimidated by the idea of pastry and cakes. And so I felt I needed to analyse where those feelings of inadequacy came from and address them. One way I did that was to make up a cake recipe, just out of my head, using proportions that were easy to remember, so I could make it without reading a recipe, and without special equipment. 

That is the origin of the skillet cake. The recipe in HomeBaking calls for only 2 eggs and either all-purpose flour or a blend of all-purpose and pastry flour (for a more tender crumb). Since that time the recipe, or I should say, the cake I make, has evolved. Rather than using one large skillet, I make two cakes, each slightly smaller than the original. I have increased the eggs to four, from two.

And most importantly, I now prefer to use Red Fife flour for the cake, a whole wheat single varietal flour. It has wonderful taste and baking properties.

So here is the recepe set out anecdotally, my "Everyday Skillet Cake", to be interpreted as you wish:

You need one larger heavy ovenproof skillet (11 or 12 inch diameter) or two medium to small ones (I now use a 9-inch and a smaller 7 or 8 inch one too), cast-iron really is best; you could also make it in a rectangular cake tin I guess. I have done that in other people's kitchens.

Preheat the oven to 400 F; rack in the middle.
Find your skillet(s) or baking pan. Grease lightly with olive oil (or butter but I find oil works better).

Best if butter and eggs are at room temp. (See *** below for preparing the fruit topping now if you need to wait for the butter to soften a little.)

In one bowl cream together a generous 1/4 pound butter with 1 cup sugar (I tend to use a demerara, but whatever), then set aside.
In another bowl go 2 cups flour: use 1 cup each whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose if you want, or – my preference - use all Red Fife (available at many farmers' markets). Don't worry.

And onto the flour go 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt (or so) a generous amount of cinnamon if you like, some powdered cloves and powdered ginger if you like and just stir to mix. Set aside.

Back to the butter and sugar: Add a generous 1 cup (so in fact about 1 1/4 cups) plain full fat or 2 % yogurt and stir well. Add 4 large eggs and beat to make a kind of heavy foaming mixture. You can add a small splash of real vanilla extract if you want.

Pour the egg mixture into the flour etc and stir just enough to wet everything. It will be thick and wet. If you are including wild blueberries, as I like to do in summer (or you might have frozen ones, just fine), add them now and fold over a couple of times.

Pour it into the oiled skillets and put into the oven. 
Lower heat to 380 F after ten minutes.

Meantime (****or you could do this while you're waiting for the butter to soften, if you forgot to take it out of the frig early enough), heat a little butter in a skillet and add chopped apples or peaches or mango or pear (yum) , a little sugar or maple syrup (not with the pears; I'd add some lemon juice instead), some cinnamon and/or cloves, and cook briefly just to barely soften and bring out flavour. (You can skip the butter if you are using peaches or pears or apricots and just add sugar and a splash of white or red wine for extra flavour and liquid as they cook.)  You can use chopped rhubarb, but then you'll need to cook it with a tiny amount of water and add generous sugar and maple syrup. Taste to check that you like it. 

You can also make a mixture, say of peaches and blueberries or whatever, as it pleases you. You want about 2 cups cooked fruit plus some liquid, but really amounts don’t matter.

When the cake or cakes have been in the oven about 25 minutes the top will have set a little. Lift out the skillet(s). Distribute the fruit and juices on top and put back in. 

The whole thing takes about 45 minutes usually to cook through. Use a skewer into the centre or near it, to test for done. You can sprinkle on a little extra sugar about ten minutes before you take them out: a crystallised light brown sugar is attractive.

Once they come out of the oven, let stand for ten minutes, then turn out onto a plate and then onto another plate so it is fruit side up. Or serve from the skillet.

There you have it...

Leftovers are great for breakfast, because they’re real food, not just intense sweetness.

We had anther skillet cake this evening, sitting outside in the warm summer air, a group of friends and I. We’d begun with some fresh Berkshire pork, raised in Grey County out in a field, and slaughtered this week. I’d been up at the pig’s home farm last Sunday with Dawn the Baker (Marvellous Edibles), and so I hurried to Wychwood Market this morning because I knew there’d be fresh (not frozen) pork. It was so delicious, remarkable…a roast cut into steaks, grilled, then sliced. We had lemon wedges so people could squeeze on a little juice, but really nothing was needed.

I was so happy to have the skillet cake, made of wheat grown in Ontario, an old variety developed here, called Red Fife (with a lovely natural sweetness to it), and topped with Ontario peaches and blueberries, as a part of the meal, a wonderful complement to the pig.

So lucky to have local food, grown with care, to work with. As a friend of mine says, a huge part of the secret of good cooking is good shopping.

Happy summer everyone...


Yvonne said...

Thanks for posting this. Now where can I buy red fife flour? I live in the Hamilton area, and I haven't seen it here, at least not in mainstream supermarkets.

naomi said...

I think you'll have to look for it in farmers' markets... I don't know of other options. And otherwise use whole wheat pastry flour 50-50 with all-purpose, or whatever..Everything works with the skillet cake, but I love the texture I get with tender flour (pastry) and whole grain; and the red fife is also a nice texture, despite the fact that it's a relatively strong flour.