Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spider Cake

Gorgeous plates by Lisa Neimeth. Post to follow.

I HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO MAKE the Spider Cake touted in Jonathan Reynolds' boisterous homage to breakfast in the NYT a few years ago. Lord he went on! Now we've made the thing so often it's surely properly considered an old-family-recipe. And to say it's a favorite is to understate the feeling mightily.

The dish won't let you go. It's a cornbread eclair for God's sake, a rough, layered soufflé. Even the old-line southern manners of the recipe are provocative: you purposely sour milk with vinegar; pour cream into the middle of raw batter for the addictive moist center lift. It wobbles when it comes out of the oven. And it's breakfast food in the most old-fashioned sense: fortifying tender grain made opulent with dairy, hovering on the savory end of sweet. This is definitely not your modern, trifling sugar bomb.

So, I ask myself, why not spread the love and blog it (now that I do that sort of thing)? But you are warned, once you let this crazy-ass, cream-cracked, under-sweet confection into your world it takes over. Even when I have no earthly intention of losing a wide-open Sunday morning to baking, I'll stumble into the kitchen to find our coffee pot barricaded with bags of cornmeal, the fridge stocked with heavy cream we don't normally dabble in, and slow chants of "Spider Cake!" rising to the rafters. Your life won't be your own.


2 cups 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

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.

Melt butter in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Pour in the batter. Pour cream into the center, slide skillet into the oven and bake until golden brown on top, about 45 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve warm.

Possible variations? Add a cup of fresh sautéed Summer corn, the scrapings of a vanilla bean...