Bake

New England Spider Cake

December 19, 2014
24 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

This is a two-bowl, all-of-the-ingredients-are-already-in-your-pantry sort of cake. It belongs on your post-holiday brunch table—and not only because you can make it at 8 A.M. on December 26. Throw together the batter when you realize you spent so much time fussing over holiday meals that you forgot about feeding your guests the next day. It will slow your mind—anxious from dolling up pretty candies—and your body—strung-out from digesting sugary treat after sugary treat—but it's not so virtuous as to be annoying.

This recipe comes from Jonathan Reynolds at the New York Times (http://cooking.nytimes...). —Sarah Jampel

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 8
Ingredients
  • 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
  • 1 splash maple syrup, for serving
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Combine the milk and vinegar in a bowl and set aside to sour (wait 5 to 10 minutes—you'll see the milk get lumpy).
  2. In another bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Whisk eggs into the soured milk. Stir into dry ingredients and set batter aside.
  4. Melt butter in a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Pour in the batter. Pour cream into center, then slide the skillet into the oven and bake until golden brown on top, about 45 minutes.
  5. Slice into wedges and serve warm, with maple syrup if you'd like.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Debora Ajenblit
    Debora Ajenblit
  • Marlene Bos
    Marlene Bos
  • Yo Shiina
    Yo Shiina
  • Kurtis Kage
    Kurtis Kage
  • Jeannine Doyle
    Jeannine Doyle

113 Reviews

Debora A. February 7, 2021
From the recipe I think I would really like this cake. My cast iron skillet is bigger (a little over 13-in), What would be a best substitute: an enameled skillet or stainless steel?
 
Marlene B. December 21, 2020
For those commenting on being too sweet or cornbread shouldn't have sugar, remember, this is not cornbread! This is cake; it's meant to be sweet.

Cider vinegar works just as well as white. You can also use 2 c. buttermilk instead of milk and vinegar.

For those people claiming that NO TRUE SOUTHERNER adds sugar to cornbread, please don't lump the whole entire south into one group! Maybe your family/area doesn't, but many certainly do. I've eaten cornbread in many restaurants across the south when traveling and many cooks put sugar in it. Some added just a little, some added a lot. I lived in Texas and Alabama for several years, and almost everybody I knew there added sugar! And they were many generations southern. Some families differentiated between cornbread and corn muffins. The bread didn't have sugar but the muffins did. Others added or not according to how it was going to be served. If they planned to serve it with chili or something else savory over it, or were making stuffing, they didn't add sugar. If it was to be eaten just as a bread, they added sugar.
 
neenagoswamy December 20, 2020
I tried this recipe and it mostly came out great..the only issue was that the crust was too brown (maybe burnt?) for me. If you have any tips on how to make a softer crust please do let me know!
 
Eva December 20, 2020
Could be that your oven runs hot. I’d try turning the temp down to 325F and/or covering it with a piece of aluminum foil for the last 10 minutes.

(Another possibility is that your cast iron skillet was too hot when you poured the batter in... This seems unlikely to me, but you could try melting the butter, then letting the skillet cool a bit before adding the batter.)
 
neenagoswamy December 20, 2020
I tried this recipe and it mostly came out great..the only issue was that the crust was too brown (maybe burnt?) for me. If you have any tips on how to make a softer crust please do let me know!
 
Yo S. April 24, 2020
I've been eyeing this recipe for some time & just made it, a half batch as Julianna below wisely suggested. Shortened the time to 35 mins (will do 30 mins next time). Love the custard in the middle! Thank you so much for this recipe.
 
Julianna March 20, 2019
This recipe was tasty on a cloudy cool day. I made a half batch recipe with less sugar in an 8 inch pie pan. The flavor was good, but I might tweak it slightly to have more of the custard layer.
 
Yo S. April 24, 2020
Thank you for giving me an idea to make a half batch! That was perfect for my 8" pie dish. I shortened the baking time to 35 mins but could have been good at 30 mins. Will definitely make again!
 
Jenn C. March 14, 2019
I made this with bob’s red mill GF apf and it turned out great! I agree with others that it could be a little less sweet. And I actually liked it better the next day after spending time in the fridge. The flavors meld into custardy corny sweet goodness and it becomes almost like edible pudding. It makes me want to experiment with corn and cream in fancier formats. Simple and delicious.
 
Kurtis K. March 24, 2018
Does anyone know why it's called a spider cake?
 
Tara C. March 24, 2018
It used to be cooked on one of those cast iron things with “legs” that sat over a fire that resembled a spider
 
Jessica R. May 4, 2021
Kurtis, I got this from the NYT Cooking website, which is where the recipe originally came from. That contributor explained why the name below:

"So-called because of the veins created by the cream in its vortex, which separates the crumb during baking, this substantial one-skillet meal will get your kids to school happier than they've ever been, and you happy only if they've left some behind."
 
Kurtis K. May 5, 2021
Thank you for the response! That makes more sense than the other reply and makes me wonder why the author of the article didn't mention it.
 
louise61 May 7, 2021
Tara C was correct - a spider is a cast iron pan with three legs that was commonly used in New England for skillet breads and cakes.
 
Jeannine D. March 2, 2018
Just made this. I had some maple sugar from Vermont which I used instead of regular sugar. Had no cornmeal, but did have polenta. Used a 12” nonstick skillet. It turned out great!!!!! I love it and I have been looking for a use for the maple sugar and thought this would work. It did.
 
Hannah January 27, 2018
This was really good, thank you so much! So delicious and heartening! I didn't have a cast iron skillet, so I made it in a ceramic baking dish - still turned out well for my taste. Next time, I will choose a little wider dish, so the spider cake will be a little flatter - better for the custard. Great excuse to make it again! Thank you so much for sharing this!
 
Curlytexan January 22, 2018
I made this as written. Such an interesting cake. It was good - like a sweet cornbread with a custard layer through the middle. The batter was very thin, but it turned out fine. I poured the whipping cream directly in the middle as directed. It was interesting how it perfectly separated out into custard like layer in the middle. I see lots of places where you could experiment and expand on this recipe, but start with it as written and go from there. You won't be disappointed.
 
Tracy December 27, 2017
Reading these comments are making me want to make this straight away!! Yummmm!
 
Crystal H. March 22, 2017
I wish the instructions were clearer about the middle part being normally jiggly. I only found out when I went to the NYT original recipe and a commenter mentioned that. I added an extra ten minutes and I finally took it out. The outside was a bit too brown -- the part that touched my cast iron pan. The middle was jigglier than the pics. But it was good. I think I would decrease the sugar next time.
 
jungli_beleza February 8, 2017
So delicious! I had to make some variations because of pantry & dietary reasons but I can't wait to try it as is next time. I used aquafaba instead of eggs, and pureed canned creamed corn because i didn't have any cream. and it's still so yummy and i'm sure it's going to be oh so good with the cream filling, too. maple syrup on top of course (used less sugar because of this plus the canned corn is already sweet :).
 
Archibald K. January 25, 2017
Just made this for the first time tonight since I had milk I needed to use up. Oh man, so good! Thing is, I didn't have heavy cream, but I DID have strawberry-banana drinkable yogurt. Dropped that in instead and BOOM, amazing. I think I would rather use the yogurt than cream in the future as well.
 
Tara C. January 25, 2017
Now that's an idea worth trying! Make this all the time & can't wait to try this variation:)
 
Elizabeth D. May 15, 2020
What a great idea! That would be spectacular with Peach Kefir topped with grilled peaches (and ice cream) in peach season.
 
Jeffrey B. January 18, 2017
I make this last weekend. It was OK don't know if I'll make it again.
 
cpc November 28, 2016
@Lisa Hill, I would recommend refrigeration. This isn't really a display sort of cake. It is good though.
 
Lisa H. November 28, 2016
I'm eager to try this recipe. Any comments on storage? Does it need to be refrigerated or can i leave it in display in my fabulous covered cake stand?
 
Linda November 20, 2016
What kind of pan can you substitute for the cast iron one?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. November 20, 2016
You can use a regular 10- or 12-inch cake pan. If it's not stovetop-safe, just melt the butter in a small pot and pour it into the pan. The results might not be quite as crispy because the cake pan will conduct heat a bit differently, but it should still be delicious!
 
Eva October 14, 2016
Isn't this the same as the Custard-Filled Cornbread in Marion Cunningham's 'The Breakfast Book'? (photos and recipe here on Lottie + Doof: http://www.lottieanddoof.com/2012/01/custard-filled-cornbread/) I've made it many times, and it's wonderful... but I think the recipe is identical, no?
 
Bridget November 2, 2016
This recipe seems to be a good bit sweeter than that one (3/4 cup sugar vs. 3 tbsp in the recipe you linked). Also, this recipe requires souring the milk before combing with other ingredients.