Cast iron, the stand-by cookware of years ago, is being re-discovered by many cooks, and not just for frying taters either. Baking with cast iron lends some delectable results. Just like it puts a good sear on steaks, it does the same with baked goods. Those brownies come out with crispy edges and nice, gooey insides.
The main reason cast iron works so well in the oven is that it gets hotter than traditional baking sheets and has higher sides. It also retains heat better than other baking materials. On the flip side, its greatest downfall is that it does have hot spots and does not heat evenly. But, with a little cast iron savvy, it can become your oven’s best friend.
When using cast, it is critical to remember two basics; to preheat and to season. Cast is thicker and heavier than most other cookware so, naturally, it takes longer to heat but retains heat longer. If you add cold food to a cold pan, you will have food sticking. Thus, cast always needs pre-heated, whether you are using it on the stove top or in the oven. It will take a little practice, but once you get your timing right, cast will yield amazing results.
Seasoning is the biggest factor when using cast iron. It is probably the thing that also scares folks away from using it. This makes no difference if your cast iron is new or vintage. On this note, the consensus is that old is better. If you are fortunate, you have your grandparents’ skillets or if you are a fan of flea markets or yard sales, you can usually find vintage cast iron there.
The gold standard of cast is Griswold brand, that was manufactured in Erie, Pennsylvania from 1865 to 1957. Today, they are collector’s items. Lodge, the family-owned company that has been making cast iron in Tennessee for 123 years, is the only remaining company that makes the cookware today. Although their pieces come pre-seasoned, it is still best to do it yourself. Through the years, their formula has changed slightly, so if you find vintage, that is still the way to go.
To season initially, scrub the skillet well and dry thoroughly. Drying is the key because rust is the biggest enemy of cast. After drying, spread a thin layer of shortening or vegetable oil over the skillet, inside and out. Then, place it upside down on the center rack of the oven and heat to 375* for an hour. Be sure and place foil on the lower rack to catch drips. Let the pan cool in the oven.
That’s all there is to it. After using the cast iron, a shortened version of this process can be done on the stove top. After scrubbing and drying a skillet, place on a hot burner and add a thin layer of oil when hot.
Seasoning is essentially applying a layer of fat to the surface. The oil will be polymerized to the surface until it wears off. This layer protects the cast iron from rust and helps food to release, making cast iron cookware non-stick. The polymerized layer is more like a plastic than a fat.
Although any oil can be used, it is best to use healthy ones like canola since some of the oil will end up in whatever you are cooking. This brings us to the question of whether cast iron cooking is healthy for you. Some argue that iron from it will leach into the food which, for most people, is a good thing as it will supplement their iron intake. You also tend to use less oil when cooking with cast iron. There is a misconception that you cannot cook acidic food in it, but as long as it is seasoned well, tomato-based foods are fine.
Cooking and baking with cast is easy. It is very forgiving, if you mess up, just re-season and start over. The main thing to remember is to always have it seasoned well, to preheat and to not over heat. Here are a couple recipes to get your oven acquainted with your cast iron:
Giant Buckeye Brownie
- 1 pkg chocolate cake mix
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- Optional, hot fudge ice cream topping, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and melted creamy peanut butter
- Preheat oven to 350*
- Combine cake, eggs and oil, then stir in chocolate chips
- Press half into a greased 10-inch cast iron skillet
- Combine peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar, spread over dough in skillet
- Press remaining dough between sheets of parchment paper into a 10-inch circle and place over filling
- Bake until toothpick comes out just moist, about 25 minutes
- Server warm with optional ingredients
Shoofly Choclate Pie
- Pastry for single crust pie
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1-1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 T butter
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup molasses
- Line a 9-inch cast iron skillet with crust, flute edges and sprinkle chocolate chips in crust, set aside
- Combine flour and brown sugar, cut in shortening until crumbly
- Set aside 1 cup for topping, add baking soda, water, egg and molasses to remaining crumb mixture, mix well. Pour over chips, sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.
- Bake 350* 40 to 45 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean, serve warm