New England's Spider Cake Got Its Unique Name From A Type Of Skillet

A New England spider cake, for those who are unfamiliar, is essentially a sweeter version of cornbread, typically featuring more sugar, as well as heavy cream. Further, the cake is often served with maple syrup drizzled over the top, truly cementing it as an ultra-sweet treat. In other words, New England spider cake and cornbread really represent the difference between a "bread" and a cake," despite both having the corn flavor at the forefront. But why is it called a spider cake? Well, the name comes from the type of skillet that it used to be made in.

A spider skillet is a cast iron pan with three legs underneath — to keep it from touching the flame. This was necessary back in the day when a lot of cooking was done over an open flame or a hearth fire. Nowadays, the spider skillet has essentially become obsolete thanks to modern stoves and cookware — but, still, the name has stuck around for New England spider cake. It certainly has a nice ring to it, that's for sure.

If you're intrigued, either by the sound of a super sweet version of cornbread or by the fascinating history of the spider skillet, you're probably curious about attempting to bake it yourself — even though you likely do not own a spider skillet.

Can you make New England spider cake without a spider skillet?

Luckily for us, the New England spider cake has stuck around even though the spider skillet is no longer a common pan to have lying around. This brings us to one important question: What type of pan has replaced the spider skillet when it comes to making spider cake?

Nearly every recipe for spider cake you'll find calls for a cast iron skillet — in other words, a much more common type of pan to find in modern kitchens. Just like with traditional cornbread, the cast iron skillet will distribute heat evenly and help the spider cake cook evenly and give it the crispy, golden brown crust that can make or break a good cornbread (or spider cake).

If you don't have a cast iron skillet, a carbon steel pan is also a great choice — it's the lesser appreciated pan to substitute for a cast iron and will deliver similar results. The main difference between the two is that the cast iron takes longer to heat up than the carbon steel pan, but retains heat for longer, which shouldn't affect the outcome of your New England spider cake.