This was my son’s birthday cake this year. I was so happy he loved it!!! 🙂
An old-fashioned term, “spider” refers to a cast iron skillet, which I use to make this cake; spiders are not an ingredient. 🙂 Pineapple Upside Down Cake is probably one of the best known spider cakes baked today.
The use of vinegar and baking soda to provide the acid/basic-inspired rise of the cake, and the oddball directions to add liquid ingredients into three “troughs” or indentations in the dry mixture, followed by pouring water all over the top, provide unmistakable clues to the ancestry of this cake. This cake is a gluten- and allergen-free descendent of an American classic known by many names: Crazy Cake, Wacky Cake, Oil and Vinegar Cake.
Typically, Crazy Cake is made in an 8″ or 9″ square pan, though I’ve seen it doubled into a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake creation as well. In the past, I’ve made my own gluten- and allergen-free version in a 5″x7″ Pyrex baking dish. (To see a lemon version, check out Lemon Craze.)
Most of my kitchen equipment and pots and pans, including my 9″ square baking dish and 9″x13″ casserole, are stuck in storage thousands miles away from the tropical island of Saipan, where I now live.
I’m pretty specific about the pots and pans I allow in my kitchen (no aluminum, Teflon, or other non-stick), and kitchenware sold here tends to be limited and relatively expensive, so that means I’m basically stuck with the few pieces I already have. And to make matters worse, my oven lacks insulation and, as a result, is prone to wild temperature swings and thus, produces bad, BAD baked goods.
For these reasons, I’ve adapted my original gluten- and allergen-free 5″x7″ cake to be made in a 12″ covered cast iron skillet, which DH thoughtfully lugged over to Saipan in his carry-on bag. (Thanks, DH!!!) Cast iron, which is slow to heat but, once fired up, retains the heat forever inside, tempers my oven’s temperature swings (temper temperature!), making it an excellent medium in which to bake a cake or anything else that requires even heating.
The resulting cake offers up an impressive crumb and satisfying mouth feel; it is neither heavy nor chalky. This cake is chocolatey (as opposed to being just super sweet), moist, and evenly cooked all around.
Of course, cast iron’s ability to retain heat well is hardly news. Cooks were cooking in cast iron long ago — including cakes (often on stove tops).
Obviously, this cake could be adapted to smaller (10″, 9″, 8″) cast iron pans. I left my 10″ cast iron pan in storage back home in the States, so that recipe alteration will have to wait till I get back.
Adopting a “Bride’s Biscuits” mentality, I threw in some baking powder as rising action insurance. I have a feeling that it probably wasn’t necessary, which is a good thing since I am running low on aluminum-free baking powder, an ingredient I have yet to find in Saipan. I’ll be making this cake next time without the baking powder. But for now, the recipe below is exactly how I made it tonight.
1 1/2 c Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Mix
1 1/2 c rice flour
1 c sugar
2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t aluminum-free baking powder
1 t sea salt
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 to 2 c water
1/2 c pure cocoa powder
2 t gluten-free vanilla
2 T rice vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
rice flour – Erawan
sugar – Florida Crystals, Sugar in the Raw, C&H Raw Washed Sugar
baking soda – Arm & Hammer, Smart & Final’s in-house First Street brand
aluminum-free baking powder – Rumsford (I believe Trader Joe’s and maybe even Whole Foods might also sell an in-house product)
extra virgin olive oil – Costco’s inhouse Kirkland Signature brand
pure cocoa – Hershey’s (processed in a facility that the company says is dedicated 100% to cocoa)
vanilla – McCormick
rice vinegar – Nakano
Preheat oven 325 F. Oil inside (interior bottom and sides) of 12″ cast iron skillet well. When oven is preheated, cover skillet with lid and place on center oven rack. Preheat covered skillet for at least 30 minutes.
Have a fork, rubber spatula, and oven mitts nearby.
In large bowl, add dry ingredients and mix well.
Remove covered skillet from oven. Do not remove cover.
Create three troughs (long indentations) in mixture. Add oil into the first trough, vanilla into the second trough, and rice vinegar into the third trough. Pour water all over top. Using the fork, mix quickly but thoroughly, eliminating any flour lumps.
(You will notice the bubbling action resulting from the acid-basic interaction of the vinegar and baking soda; this provides the cake’s rise. You want to capture that bubbling action in the oven, which is why you must act fast during this step. But be careful and don’t burn yourself; that cast iron is HOT!)
Uncover skillet. Promptly pour batter into preheated skillet, using rubber spatula to quickly scrape any remaining batter from bowl. Don’t worry if you can’t get all the batter; just do your best to scrape out most of it; time is of the essence! Promptly cover skillet with lid, leaving lid slightly askew, and return to center rack of oven.
Bake about 40 minutes. Remove skillet from oven. Let cake rest in pan for 5 to 10 minutes or so. Using a spreader knife, carefully loosen the cake’s edges from the pan. Place large plate on top of cake. Holding the plate to the cake (without smashing the cake), carefully flip cake onto plate. (It’s best to have someone else hold the plate as you flip the extremely heavy and hot cast iron pan upside down to release the cake.) If possible, transfer to a cooling rack.
Let cake rest and cool till warm or completely cool. Slice with serrated knife and enjoy unadorned. Alternative: Cool completely and dust with allergen-free powdered sugar or frost with allergen-free frosting. (Recipe and product info to be posted at a later date.)
12″ round single-layer cake
Corn-allergic folks: Rumsford aluminum-free baking powder, which is what I used, contains corn starch.
Traditionalists may want to serve this spider cake upside down.