Cakes baked in skillets have a uniquely homey, informal quality and special ease of preparation. The recipe here combines a buttery caramel-and-apple top surface with tender spice cake below, and it is the perfect ending for a casual lunch or dinner--particularly with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Processing time for the batter is less than one minute, which surely is faster than using a cake mix. The recipe calls for processing softened butter and sugar with the metal blade then adding eggs and liquid to the mixture before pulsing in the dry ingredients, so that the cake remains tender.
Over-processing is a pitfall when it comes to baking cakes, and care must be taken not to process too long after dry ingredients are added. For best results, I like to add dry ingredients in two batches, incorporating the first with three or four half-second pulses--until the flour mixture is three-quarters absorbed.
Bursts of Power
A good sweep of the processor container with a rubber spatula will help push most of the unincorporated dry ingredients from the side of the container back down into the batter. Then remaining dry ingredients are added and quickly mixed in with the shortest possible on/off turns, or bursts of power. Any dry ingredients that remain on the surface of the batter can easily be mixed in with a spatula.
After pouring the batter into the pan, excess batter can quickly be removed from the metal blade by replacing the container and blade on the processor base and pulsing once or twice. I call this technique "pulsing off."
The brief spinning of the metal blade in a nearly empty container forces the small amount of batter clinging to the blades off the blades and onto the container side. It can then easily be removed with a spatula and added to the skillet.
APPLE-CARAMEL SPICE CAKE
3 medium green apples, peeled, cored and cut in eighths
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup milk
Place 4 tablespoons butter in 9-inch oven-proof skillet. When butter is halfway melted, adjust heat to medium and add 1/3 cup sugar. With fork, stir mixture continuously until sugar softens and turns honey-brown, about 5 minutes. Butter will appear to have separated from sugar. Set pan aside.
Pat apples dry and arrange in skillet in concentric circles, with rounded sides down. Set pan aside. Sift flour with baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Set dry ingredients aside.
Insert metal blade in processor. Process 6 tablespoons softened butter with 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy, about 20 seconds. Add eggs and vanilla and process until combined, about 10 seconds longer. Add milk and blend into mixture with 1/2-second pulses, just until incorporated.
Add half of dry ingredients and process with 1/2-second pulses just until absorbed. Pulse in remaining dry ingredients. Pour batter carefully over apples and smooth top. Bake at 375 degrees until cake tester inserted into center is withdrawn clean, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Cool 10 minutes, then carefully invert cake over serving dish to unmold. Cool to room temperature before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.