Image adapted from LearningLark, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

The cast-iron skillet is a smart choice for baking because of its ability to keep things hot on the entire surface of the skillet—so whatever you’ve got inside there is going to cook evenly while developing a wonderful crust around the edges and bottom. This is going to make all sorts of recipes come out just right for you. Curious what those recipes might be? Here are five surprising things you can bake in a cast-iron skillet, and tips for how to do it.

Pie

No dessert offers a slice of old-fashioned Americana quite like a skillet-baked fruit pie. The continuous circulating heat of a hot skillet in the oven keeps the bottom crust of a pie nice and toasty, which will give it a wonderful crunch and just-browned flavor when finished.

To make a pie in your skillet, you can go the simplest route and make your recipe as usual, but place it inside a skillet instead of the usual pie plate. Or to kick it up a bit, try this: Melt butter in your skillet over the stovetop; sprinkle brown sugar over the melted butter and cook until fragrant, just about a minute or so. Then layer your pie into the skillet as usual: first the bottom rolled pie dough, followed by the fruit filling, followed by the rolled pie crust on top. Bake as usual, and enjoy the especially brown, buttery crust on the bottom of the pie. There’s a recipe for Easy Skillet Apple Pie on MyRecipes.com that exemplifies this technique rather well.

Cake

You may scratch your head over the idea of baking a cake in a cast-iron skillet, until you’re reminded of upside-down cakes, which are almost always prepared in skillets. Baking a cake in a skillet is a fun way to play around with your everyday cake recipes, and maybe even transform them into upside-down renditions!

To make an upside-down cake, layer fruits (seasoned, stewed, or simply sliced) along the bottom of a well-greased skillet, pour the batter over the top, and bake. Once done, flip the cake out of the skillet and—voila!—the fruity bottom is now the top of the cake. (Hence the name: upside-down cake.) Your skillet cakes don’t have to be upside-down, though. To do your regular cake recipe in a skillet, simply pour your prepared batter into a well-greased skillet and bake as usual.

If you’d like to get a recipe first-hand for trying out this 1800s-style cake, give a peek here at the Apple Cake from respected food blogger The Pioneer Woman. It gets shining reviews from her followers.

Roast Chicken

In a recent article in the New York Times, food writer Melissa Clark raved about the ease and effectiveness of roasting a whole bird directly inside a cast-iron skillet. The idea is that with the skillet method, the thighs of the bird cook faster than the breasts, so the breasts stay juicy and tender while the thighs have their chance to fully cook through.  

Clark recommends that you splay the chicken’s legs while using this technique to result in an even quicker cook time. To learn more about this cooking method and Clark’s personal tips, view the whole article here.

Cornbread

Some Southerners claim that the only real way to make cornbread is inside a cast-iron skillet. And no matter how you prefer your cornbread—sweet or savory, chunky or smooth—you’re guaranteed a treat if you try baking it in a skillet. You’ll get a lovely brown crust around all the edges and bottom, a difficult result to achieve from any other baking dish.

It’s easy enough to bake cornbread in the skillet. Simply place your skillet inside the oven while you set it to preheat. Take it out of the oven and oil (or butter) it when you’re ready to do the batter. Prepare your cornbread batter as usual, then pour inside your prepped skillet. Bake as usual. You’ll know it’s done when a toothpick inserted inside the center just comes out clean, and when the sides of the bread pull away from the skillet.

Breakfast Skillet

Hashed potatoes cooked in a regular pan on the stovetop have a tendency to turn mushy from developing too much moisture, but a cast-iron skillet maintains a hot cooking surface on the bottom of the potatoes, which helps them to develop that desirable brown, crispy crunch. Similarly, all types of breakfast scrambles—potatoes, eggs, vegetables, and the like—develop a caramelized crust when baked in the oven in a cast-iron skillet.

To cook your breakfast in a skillet, first preheat your oven to anywhere around 350°F. Sauté your vegetables as usual on the stovetop directly in the skillet in hot oil or butter. If you’re topping the dish off with a few eggs (as in huevos rancheros), crack them over the sautéed vegetables right before placing the whole skillet inside the preheated oven. Bake the dish until the vegetables (and eggs, etc.) are cooked, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes total.  

Once you’ve tried out these five cooking ideas, your cast-iron skillet is probably going to need a good cleaning. Check out our article on cleaning a cast-iron skillet right here, and happy baking!

Image adapted from LearningLark, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0