Create: Cornbread Redux
Not Exactly Cornbread
Photography by Janet Warlick
Anyone who has read Michael Pollan’s essay on corn in The Omnivore’s Dilemma knows corn is in everything these days. Our ancestors were happy to have it and it often was the only choice, so they found lots of ways to transform it into sustenance.
Crescent Dragonwagon, former owner of Dairy Hollow House in Eureka Springs, Ark., sums it up best in The Cornbread Gospels: “Every part of the corn plant — the second-most plentiful cereal grown on earth for human consumption — serves us in some way. The husks of corn are traditionally used in making tamales, the kernels for food, the stalks for cattle and hog food (silage) and the silks for medicinal tea. You can fry in corn (corn oil), bake with it (cornmeal, of course), snack on it (popcorn, tortilla chips), sweeten with it (corn syrup), thicken with it (corn starch) and get drunk on it (bourbon).”
There are legions of recipes for muffins, pancakes, fritters and salads using cornmeal and cornbread. I decided to offer some contrasting choices, traditional and unexpected, for this month: skillet cornbread; cornbread stuffing; cheddar polenta; and a lovely pear cornmeal tart for dessert. Happy Thanksgiving!
Not Exactly Cornbread
This recipe is a personal favorite. It’s definitely not traditional; this buttery cornbread is spruced up with dried fruit. I really like the contrasting flavor the fennel seeds provide.
• 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
• 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal (not coarse)
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
• 2 large eggs
• 1 ½ cups well-shaken buttermilk
• ½ cup golden raisins
• ½ cup dried cranberries
• 1 ½ tablespoons fennel seeds, optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter, and set aside to cool. Butter and flour 2 medium loaf pans, 8 inches by 4 inches by 3 inches. Line with parchment paper for easy removal. Coarsely chop raisins, cranberries and fennel seeds, if using, with two or three pulses in the food processor. Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk wet ingredients together in a separate bowl.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just to combine. Stir in the chopped fruit. Divide the batter into the loaf pans, smooth the tops and let stand for 10 minutes. Bake in the middle of the oven until tops are pale golden and a tester comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool in pans about 10 minutes then turn onto a rack and cool completely.
Notes: Currants can be substituted for golden raisins and fresh or frozen cranberries if you don’t have dried. Don’t skip the “let stand 10 minutes” step.
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Dairy Hollow House Skillet Cornbread
Improve on this classic by pouring the batter into an already-hot skillet coated with sizzling butter, which results in a crispy crust outside and a moist, tender inside.
• Vegetable oil cooking spray
• 1 cup unbleached white flour
• 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon baking soda
• 1 ¼ cups buttermilk*
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 egg
• ¼ cup mild vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons butter or mild vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 10-inch cast iron skillet with oil, and set aside. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl; set aside. In a small bowl, stir the baking soda into the buttermilk, then whisk in the sugar, egg and ¼ cup oil.
Put the prepared skillet over medium heat, add the butter and heat until the butter melts and just starts to sizzle. Tilt the pan to coat the sides and bottom.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and combine them quickly, using as few strokes as possible. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cornbread until it is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool for a few moments and slice into wedges to serve.
*Tip: No buttermilk? Use regular milk and stir in juice of half a lemon, about 1 tablespoon.
Adapted from The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon
Sausage Cornbread Stuffing
Everyone needs a cornbread and sausage stuffing recipe. This one incorporates fennel and cranberries or apples, for contrast. The Dairy Hollow House cornbread is a great match for this recipe.
• 1 8-inch-by-8 inch pan plain cornbread recipe, not sweetened
• 1 pound quality bulk breakfast sausage
• 3 medium leeks, thoroughly washed and sliced, greens discarded
• 1 bulb fennel, sliced, greens discarded
• 1-2 cups pickled cranberries — fresh, frozen or dried*
• 1 cup turkey broth
Make the cornbread. Cool. Remove from pan, crumble onto cookie sheet and dry slowly in an oven at 170 degrees, until crispy. Sauté sausage; remove from pan. Sauté leeks and fennel until soft. Combine cornbread, sausage, leeks, fennel and cranberries in a large bowl. Pour in turkey broth. Bake, covered, in a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
*Note: you may substitute 1 to 2 cups chopped tart apple, if desired.
Submitted by Barry Goldberg, Little Rock, AR
Cheddar Baked Polenta
Polenta is Italian grits and can be made with water, chicken broth or a combination of milk and cream. As long as the grains are cooked long enough to open and soften, it can be eaten at any stage from soft to firm and grilled. It also holds in the refrigerator easily and can be combined with almost any cheese.
• 5 cups 2-percent milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1 cup yellow cornmeal
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• Salt to taste
Combine milk, cream and cornmeal in a heavy saucepan. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently for about 15 minutes or until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot. Turn heat to low, and add the cheese; stir until just combined. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Pour the polenta onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and set in the refrigerator to firm and cool completely, about 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When ready to serve, cut the chilled polenta into desired shape or portions, place on a baking pan and warm in the oven for five minutes or until heated thoroughly.
Note: you can skip the 3 hours in the refrigerator and just let it set for 10 minutes or so on the counter before sprinkling with some extra cheese and reheating. How you serve it once it is cooked — soft, firm, grilled — is just a matter of personal taste.
Source: Made in Vermont by Colleen O’Shea
Pear Cornmeal Tart
If you only make one recipe from this article, make this one! Perennially in demand at my house, this delightful and unusual tart combines the smooth texture of poached pears with the gritty texture of cornmeal.
• 1 stick plus 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
• ¾ cup sugar
• 3 egg yolks
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
• 1 teaspoon salt
Put the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt into the food processor and scatter the butter on top. Process with 3 or 4 pulses just until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Beat the egg yolks lightly. With the machine running, pour the egg yolks in a steady stream through the feed tube and process just until the dough comes together — you may need a small amount of ice water. Stop the machine as soon as the dough masses on top of the blade — over-processing will make a tough pastry. Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured board, gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes to 1 hour.
Poached Pear Filling:
• 2 cups full-bodied red wine like cabernet sauvignon or merlot
• ¼ cup sugar
• 3 whole cloves
• 3 long strips of lemon zest
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 2 pounds firm d’Anjou pears, peeled & cored — weigh after peeling and coring — cut into fat slices, then cut crosswise in half
• ½ teaspoon cornmeal
• 1 egg, beaten
Heat the wine, sugar, cloves, lemon zest and cinnamon to a boil in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan. Gently boil until reduced to 1 ½ cups, about 15 minutes. Stir in the pears, and cook over medium heat until tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Strain the pears, discard cloves and lemon peel. Cool to room temperature.
Butter an 8 ½-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Cut the pastry in half and return half to the refrigerator. Roll out the dough, and ease into the tart pan. Build up the edge so that it is substantial enough for the top pastry to be attached.
Sprinkle ½ teaspoon cornmeal on the bottom of the shell to soak up juices from the pears. Spoon the well-drained pears into the tart shell. Roll out the remaining dough; place over the pears, pressing the edges together and crimping decoratively. Lightly brush the crust with the beaten egg.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with lightly-whipped cream.
Adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field
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