Handy Items Week: Cast Iron Skillet

Cait and her fiancé iPM will be on a whirlwind tour of St. John’s this week (they arrived late last night), so the Pie and I will be playing host and tour guide while they’re here.

To keep you entertained until they get out of our hair and I can give you your own personal tour of my city, I’m giving you eight days of gadgets that I cannot live without.

Today we have the cast iron skillet. Actually, we have two, having purchased one recently.

Non-stick frying pans are great and all, but they don’t brown things well and sometimes you just need that extra-crispiness.

Cast iron is also handy when moving from the stove-top to the oven, as we saw with the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

The trick to frying in cast-iron is similar to that of a barbecue.  Dab a little oil on the frying surface and let it heat up for a little while.  Don’t put your food in the pan until the metal is nice and evenly hot.  The instant contact of the food on the super-hot surface will help to seal in all the good stuff in your foot and will make a nice firm layer of cooked food that will help prevent your stuff from sticking to the pan.

Cast iron will, of course, rust if you don’t take good care of it.  A well-seasoned cast iron skillet, however, will last you for decades.

You can initially season a new skillet by rubbing the entire cooking surface with olive oil, and then putting it on your stove top at medium-high heat until the oil starts to smoke, or by baking it in your oven for a little while at about 400°F.  Leave the skillet to cool and wipe out excess oil before storing.

Never wash your skillet with soap.  If the pan is not that dirty simply wipe it out with a soft cloth to maintain the oil coating.  If there is a lot of stuff stuck to the pan, fill the skillet with boiling water and leave the excess oils and food to rise to the surface.  You can give it a scrub with a plastic scrubby as well.  Rinse well and place on your stovetop element to dry it quickly without rusting.

If you need to use soap to get out some really cruddy crud, make sure to re-season the pan before you put it away.

We store them with dish towels in between to prevent scratches.

Aeble-what?

I happen to own, because I am that awesome, an æbleskiver pan.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” you ask.

Æbleskiver.  It’s a Danish treat using apple slices (it’s Danish for ‘apple slices’).  They’re like small spherical pancakes/popovers with stuff in them.  It’s a food traditionally served with glogg during Advent.  You might be reminded of the commercial knock-off, Pancake Puffs, which have recently come on the market.  ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTIONS!

I have the pan because my mother gave it to me.  She found it at a second-hand store.  Hers came from a relative.  We use ours to make the family recipe for Molasses Gems (don’t worry, I’ll give you the how-to for those later).

Anyway, I figured I might as well experiment and see if I could put the pan to its intended use.

Peel two apples and chop them into 1/2″ pieces.  I found this made me end up with quite a bit of extra apple, but better to be safe than sorry and you can always serve it on the side.

Your æbleskiver pan is cast iron, and will take a little while to heat up thoroughly.  Put it on the burner at medium high heat and leave it while you do other stuff.  Just remember that the handle will also get very hot, so be careful.  We have these handy silicone sleeves we slip onto our metal handles.  You can pick them up pretty much anywhere.

In another pan, sauté the apples in two tablespoons butter until softened but still firm.  Sprinkle them with cinnamon and set aside.

In a clean bowl, whip two egg whites until soft peaks form and set aside.  The eggs will fluff up the best if you bring them to room temperature first.  To do this I put my eggs in a bowl of warm water before separating them.

In another bowl, whisk together your two egg yolks and one tablespoon sugar until creamy.

In yet another bowl, sift together two cups flour with one teaspoon baking powder.  Slowly add this, alternating with one and one-half cups buttermilk, to the yolk mixture.

Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Test your æbleskiver pan to see if it’s hot enough.  Butter should sizzle on its surface.  Reduce the heat to medium and drop about one-eighth of a teaspoon butter into each little well to grease.  Use a pastry brush to cover all the sides of the well.

Spoon enough batter into each well to fill it halfway.  Drop in an apple piece and press it down bit. Be careful not to burn yourself.

Fill the wells to the top.

Allow to cook until the edges of æbleskiver turn brown and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Run a metal or wooden knitting needle (traditional method), skewer, or fork around the edges to loosen the æbleskiver and flip it over inside the well. 

It takes a little bit of practice to do this without getting batter everywhere.  By the end of it, though, I had it down.  Allow to cook through until you can give it a poke and nothing comes out stuck to your skewer.

Remove the æbleskiver to a plate and sprinkle with (or roll in) icing sugar or dip in jam to serve.  Maybe try maple syrup.  Or home-made fruit sauce.  You can of course experiment as well with what goes in the æbleskiver – try other forms of fruit, like mango or strawberry or perhaps something savoury like a nice hard cheese.  Here we have it with whipped cream, lemon curd, strawberry jam, and leftover apples.

Make sure to repeat the buttering process each time you put batter into the wells of the pan.  You can keep the cooked æbleskiver warm on an oven-safe plate in the oven at 250°F while you’re making the other batches.

This recipe makes about 28 æbleskiver, which is four batches in my 7-well pan.