Ozark pudding: A quick cake that’s White House–worthy

Harry Truman’s wife, Bess, created a bit of a national craze for Ozark pudding.

A great made-from-scratch cake doesn’t need to involve “fussy techniques” or “elaborate layers of buttercream,” said Julie Richardson in Vintage Cakes (Ten Speed). Since colonial times, home cooks have been creating quick cakes that require only a single mixing bowl and an hour or less from start to fresh-from-the-oven finish.

Harry Truman’s wife, Bess, created a bit of a national craze for Ozark pudding when she started serving a humble Midwestern apple cake to guests at the White House. Since it was refined enough to be showcased at a 1946 dinner attended by Winston Churchill, you may feel there’s no reason to alter Bess’s recipe. Still, I like to replace the apples with Bartlett pears because they’re so thin-skinned they don’t have to be peeled. When this cake is ready, it “wafts heavenly aromas” from its skillet as it swoops directly from oven to table.

Recipe of the week

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Ozark pudding cake

  • 2 large ripe but firm pears, peeled, quartered, and cored
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sliced natural almonds, toasted
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)

Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 tbsp of soft butter. Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Finely chop one pear and thinly slice the other. Sift together flour, baking powder, ginger, and salt in a bowl, and then whisk mixture by hand to ensure that ingredients are well mixed.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the butter and 1 cup sugar together on medium speed until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add egg and vanilla and blend on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl occasionally as needed. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture all at once. Mix until just blended. The batter will be stiff.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chopped pear, half the almonds, and the cranberries, and stir until just blended. (Set aside the sliced pear for the top of the cake.) Dump the batter into the prepared skillet and spread it in an even layer. Arrange the pear slices on top of the batter and sprinkle with the remaining almonds and the remaining teaspoon of sugar. Place the skillet in the middle of the oven and bake until the cake is golden in color and the center springs back when lightly touched, 38 to 40 minutes. (The heat from the pan will continue to bake the cake after it is removed from the oven, so take care to remove it when it is just barely done.) Serve the cake warm from the skillet, topping each serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

This cake is best the day it is baked. Well covered, it will keep in the skillet at room temperature for up to 2 days. Serves 8.

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