Food for Thought: Craft your favorite cornbread

2013-01-09T00:46:00Z 2013-01-09T00:58:10Z Food for Thought: Craft your favorite cornbreadBy Jan Roberts-Dominguez, Food for Thought Corvallis Gazette Times

When making cornbread, don’t be afraid to experiment

It’s the perfect time to be pondering cornbread construction because it makes such a dynamic accompaniment to chili. And who isn’t hankering for chili this month?

The editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine devoted five whole pages to turning out stellar batches of cornbread in their ambitious cookbook, “The Best Recipe,” which just goes to show it’s a controversial concept. At the most basic level, they claim, southerners like their cornbread on the crumbly, dry and flat side of the subject. Northerners lean toward a sweeter, lighter, and more golden style.

My personal preference is moist, dense and flavorful. And I get especially excited when the character is achieved from interesting additions, such as honey, sauteed onions and/or bacon, shredded cheese, and sour cream or buttermilk. If I want the cornbread to turn out particularly crusty, then I’ll opt for my iron skillet, which I’ll preheat in the oven, along with a dollop of butter so that when I pour the batter in it sizzles and smokes.

The kind of corn meal you use is another way to affect the outcome. Stone-ground cornmeal is usually a bit coarser than cornmeal processed through steel rollers and produces a texture that is, in my estimation, more interesting. But most important of all, I think, is to have a sort of free-wheeling attitude for the entire process. Don’t be afraid to experiment After all, eating such failures is definitely a part of the fun. Bon appetit.

Golden Cornbread

Makes 9 servings

This cornbread leans toward moist and light, with a rich corn flavor. Use stone-ground yellow cornmeal for the most appealing taste and texture. Stone-ground cornmeal can be recognized by its light and dark flecks.

1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 teaspoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

2/3 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup milk

1/3 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus extra softened butter for greasing the pan

Adjust oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square metal pan.

Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Push the dry ingredients up the side of the bowl to form a well.

Crack the eggs into the well and whisk lightly. Then whisk in the buttermilk, milk and sour cream. Finally, stir the wet and dry ingredients together quickly until barely combined (do not over-mix). Add the melted butter, stirring just until it is combined (without over-mixing).

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake about 25 minutes — until the top is golden brown and lightly cracked. The edges will be pulling away from the side of the pan. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool slightly on a wire rack. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Cheddar Cheese Variation: After adding the butter, quickly fold in 1 cup (21/2 ounces) shredded Cheddar or Monterey jack cheese.

Chiles Variation: After adding butter, quickly fold in 1 small jalapeno that has been stemmed, seeded and minced. For a fiery flavor, use up to two jalapenos and don’t leave out the seeds.

Bacon Variation: After adding butter, quickly fold in 1/2 cup of crumbled bacon bits. To end up with the 1/2 cup of bacon needed for this recipe, cut 8 ounces of sliced bacon into small dice, then fry in a large skillet until well-browned and crisp; drain, cool, then set aside until ready to fold into batter.

Sauteed Onion variation: Saute 2 cups of chopped yellow onions in 1 tablespoon of butter (or canola oil, or bacon grease) until very soft and translucent. Let cool. Then, when preparing the cornbread, fold in the onion right after you have added the butter.

Combo variation: Consider variations on the variations above! You decide what will make it perfect.

Source: Adapted from “The Best Recipe,” by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated.

Coyote Café Corn Cakes

Makes about 18 to 20 corn cakes

Chef Mark Miller brings a unique twist to a classic. The corn cakes can also be served alone for breakfast, or as an appetizer (topped with sour cream and green onions) , or even with fowl such as duck and quail.

1 cup corn kernels (frozen OK)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup stoneground cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

11/4 cups buttermilk

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 egg, beaten

2 green onions, chopped

Puree 1/2 cup of the corn and then combine it with the remaining 1/2 cup of whole kernels; set aside.

Place the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a bowl and mix together. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and melted butter, then whisk in the egg. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Fold in the whole and pureed corn, along with the chopped green onions. If necessary, add additional buttermilk to thin the mixture.

Using a nonstick pan over medium heat, ladle the corn cake batter and form 3-inch cakes. Cook until golden brown (about 21/2 minutes on each side). Keep the prepared corn cakes on a warm platter in a warm oven until all of the batter has been used.

Source: Recipe adapted from “Coyote Café” by Mark Miller.

Bobby Flay’s Chipotle Cornbread

Makes 8 pieces

The smokiness of chipotles heightens the taste of the corn. Besides making a delicious accompaniment to a big pot of homemade chile, consider serving at a brunch, with butter and pepper jelly.

1 cup stone-ground cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup milk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

4 canned chipotles, pureed (see note)

• Shortening

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. And preheat two 6-inch cast-iron skillets in the oven for 20 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Fold in the egg, buttermilk, milk, butter and pureed chipotles.

Brush the preheated pans with shortening and immediately pour in the batter, approximately three-fourths of the way up the sides of each pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cornbread is brown around the edges and firm. Cut each cornbread into 4 wedges.

Source: Recipe from “Bobby Flay’s Bold American Food,” by Bobby Flay.

Blueberry Cornbread

Wedges of this hot amber bread, mottled with local blueberries (fresh or frozen) and lavished with creamy butter and warm honey, are hard to match for down-home goodness. Other berries can be substituted, especially raspberries, which are marvelous against earthy cornmeal.

3/4 cup (11/2 cubes) butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

3 large eggs

11/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease a 9- or 10-inch square baking pan.

Combine the butter, sugar and honey in a mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream together until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the eggs until thoroughly blended, then beat in the cornmeal.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Alternately, mix the dry ingredients and the milk into the creamed ingredients, ending with milk. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Turn the mixture into the prepared pan. Place in the oven and bake until lightly browned and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly on a wire rack before serving.

Source: Recipe adapted from “Oregon’s Cuisine of the Rain,” by Karen Brooks.

 

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. LAStar
    Report Abuse
    LAStar - January 09, 2013 12:27 pm
    Hooray for cornbread! A commentary on cornbread by Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham:
    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wual/news.newsmain/article/0/0/1445051/APR.News.Reports/A.Cornbread.New.Year.-.Commentary
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