You have to love a town where muffin tins, rolling pins, and pizza stones can be found right on Main Street. Need a springform pan on the spur of the moment? Check the bottom left-hand shelf of aisle 1 at the Variety Store. One-cup soufflé dishes? Emporium Hardware, third aisle on the right.
Late on Thursday afternoon, just before Nor’Easter Nemo hit town, I rushed out of my house in desperate need of a cast iron skillet. I had a bowl of organic Fuji apples in the refrigerator, and had become possessed by the idea of making an old-fashioned skillet cobbler while the snow fell. My neighbors were stocking up on salt and snow shovels at the hardware store while I stood breathless in front of the Lodge frying pans, trying to decide which size—they ran from 8 inches to 16 inches across — to take home.
They were so reasonably priced that I was tempted to buy the lot. But when I tried to pick them up and carry them to the cash register I realized that no matter how many weight lifting classes I took at the Sag Harbor Gym, I would never be able to carry 75 pounds worth of heavy metal all the way home.
So I settled on a convenient 10 ½-inch pan, and wondered why I had never bought one of these kitchen workhorses before. Aside from its nice price, my new skillet has a lot going for it. Cast iron is an excellent conductor of heat, and great for evenly cooking all kinds of foods without scorching. A well-seasoned cast-iron pan is a chemical-free alternative to Teflon-coated cookware, which can release potentially harmful fumes when heated. It is true that iron from the pan can leach into foods, especially acidic ones, but this is not dangerous and in fact can be a nutritional godsend for those of us who need more of this important mineral in our diets.
The pan I bought was pre-seasoned, meaning it had already been brushed with oil and baked to give it a natural nonstick finish and was ready to use. If you inherit a pan from your mom or grandma, yours will be even better, because use only improves the pan’s cooking surface. If you buy a pan that needs seasoning, just brush it with vegetable oil and heat it in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour. For a truly nonstick surface, you should repeat this process once or twice more before cooking. To clean your seasoned skillet, wash it in warm water with soap, but don’t scrub it with steel wool or you will rub the seasoning off and you’ll have to start the process all over again.
With its metal handle, a cast iron pan can go from stovetop to oven (remember to use a potholder when transporting it, because that handle will get hot). This makes it the perfect vessel for a cobbler. Cooking apples on the stovetop rids them of extra moisture and concentrates their flavor. Placing the cobbler topping on the hot apples just before baking gives the underside a head start so it is baked through and not gummy. And the heat of the oven bakes the top so it’s golden brown.
Skillet Apple Cobbler
For the filling:
3 tablespoons butter?, 6 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/-inch-thick slices,?1/4 cup brown sugar?,1/2 teaspoon cinnamon?, Pinch salt
For the topping
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into bits
½ cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make the filling: Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a 10 ½-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved and apples are soft and most of their liquid has evaporated, another 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
2. Make the topping: Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. With the motor running, add the milk and vanilla and process just until a rough dough forms.
3. Scatter the topping over the warm apples and sprinkle with the almonds. Bake until the topping is golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand 30 minutes, dust with confectioners’ sugar, and serve warm.