I love my cast-iron skillet. It's hands down the most versatile piece of kitchen equipment I own. You can put it on the stove-top or in the oven. For breakfast you can use it to whip up French toast, eggs and bacon or an omelette. For lunch, a frittata or a grilled cheese sandwich. For dinner, it makes easy work of sauces, sausages, even roast chicken. And for dessert, of course, there's nothing better for a Tarte Tatin. I use it to toast spices and pinenuts (because too many of those expensive little suckers have burned out of sight in the oven), brown meat, caramelise onions... There are so many things you can do with a cast iron skillet. But before the Sunday lunch I cooked the weekend before last, I had never made a cake in one. Let me tell you, it was a revelation.
Ozark pudding cake was popularised by US President Harry Truman's wife Bess when she served it to guests at a 1946 White House dinner attended by Winston Churchill. Hailing from the midwest, it was originally made with apples, but this variation uses pears instead. It would be equally scrumptious with either fruit I would think, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream nestled beside it, melting into the still warm-from-the-oven cake.
Ozark pudding cake
Adapted from the Tacoma News Tribune, which in turn adapted it from Bess Truman's original recipe
As mentioned above, this was originally made with apples so if that's what you've got in the house (be it White or any other colour) at the moment, by all means use them instead. Get double use out of your skillet by toasting the sliced almonds in it before greasing for baking.
2 large ripe but firm pears, peeled, quartered, and cored
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (I used coarse and it was fine)
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup + 1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sliced natural almonds, toasted
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
vanilla ice-cream for serving (optional)
Grease a 10 inch cast-iron skillet with one tablespoon of soft butter. Centre an oven rack and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Finely chop one pear and thinly slice the other. Sift together flour, baking powder, ginger and salt in a bowl, and then whisk mixture by hand to ensure that ingredients are well combined.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend the butter and 1 cup of sugar together on medium speed until the mixture ressembles wet sand. Add egg and vanilla and blend on medium-high speed til fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl occasionally as needed. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture all at once. Mix until just blended. The batter will be stiff.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chopped pear, half the almonds, and the cranberries and stir til just blended. Set aside the sliced pear and other half of the almonds for the top of the cake. Dump batter into the pre-prepared skillet and spread it in an even layer. Arrange the pear slices on top of the batter and sprinkle with remaining almonds and the remaining teaspoon of sugar. Place the skillet in the middle of the oven and bake til golden in colour and the centre springs back when lightly touched, about 38-40 minutes. The heat from the pan will continue to bake the cake after it's removed from the oven, so take care to remove it when it is barely done. Serve the cake warm from the skillet, topping each slice with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
This cake is best eaten on the day it's baked. However, well-covered, it will keep in the skillet at room temperature for up to 2 days.