Homemade Cornbread — A Sassy, Satisfying and Savvy Side

11 Oct

Using my new cast iron skillet

Sometimes the best reason to prepare a particular food is a whimsical one. I finally bought myself a cast-iron skillet a week or so ago when they went on sale. I’ve been told cornbread is best baked in one. So when I elected to make the vegetarian chili, I went looking for a cornbread recipe to eat with it.

My Savvy Single friend Pierre recently sent me a terrific looking one that had been a hit at one of his recent dinner parties [from Simple Stunning Parties at Home by Karen Busen (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009) by way of Epicurious.com]. I didn’t have time to go looking for Manchego cheese, but I did have old cheddar in my refrigerator. And I thought 1/4 cup of sugar seemed like a lot for what is essentially a (baking) soda bread.

I found a comparable recipe in Rose Murray’s A Taste of Canada: A Culinary Journey (Whitecap, 2008) — Cheddar Jalapeño Cornbread.

Grate 1 cup of old Cheddar cheese

Here’s a great place to start if you think you cannot make ‘bread’. The yeast-free batter comes together in a flash and the bread bakes in less than half an hour. Just make certain that you use fresh baking powder so your bread rises properly. With a little planning, it can be baking in the oven while you are cooking the chili. Don’t let the lack of a cast iron skillet stand in your way. All you need is an 8 inch/2 L square baking pan. Whichever pan you use, grease it well. I always rip off a bit of waxed paper, scoop up some softened butter and wipe around the bottom and all interior sides of the baking pan.

Start out by setting a rack in the middle of your oven and pre-heat it to 400°F/ 200°F.

Mix dry ingredients

You can save time by buying already grated cheese (old Cheddar, Monterey Jack or even Gouda) or you can save money by grating your own with a box grater. Measure out 1 cup. Mince or finely dice 2 fresh jalapeño peppers. Your own taste buds will decide if you use the seeds (a hotter flavour) or don’t (milder).

Add 2 Tbsp minced fresh jalapeno

In a large bowl, whisk together the grated cheese, 1 cup cornmeal, 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the minced jalapeño.

I used a large glass to beat 2 large eggs with a fork. In a 2 cup glass measure, pour in 1/3

Measure out oil & buttermilk

cup of canola oil and 1 cup buttermilk. The recipe calls for regular milk, but I love the moist texture (and lower fat content) that buttermilk provides to baked goods.

{If you don’t want a half-used carton of buttermilk clogging up your fridge you can make your own soured milk. Start about 10 – 15 minutes before, pouring out 1 cup of milk and stirring in 1 tablespoon of plain white vinegar or lemon juice. Let it rest for 10 – 15 minutes before using in your recipe. It will look curdled, but that is the effect you want.}

Whisk eggs, oil & buttermilk. Stir with fork into the dry ingredients.

Add the beaten eggs into your measuring cup of oil and buttermilk and stir well. Add the liquid mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients. Using a fork, stir them together until just combined. The batter will be a little lumpy and slightly more liquid than solid.

Pour the batter into your prepared baking pan, pushing the batter out to the edges and smoothing the top. Place your pan into the pre-heated oven.

Lumpy, slightly sloppy batter.

Bake until the cornbread has risen and it is golden in colour, about 30 minutes. Bread will be ready when a tester inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean.

My cast-iron skillet is 10″ in diameter, so my bread baked in about 25 minutes. The recipe suggests you will have 16 square servings, but I cut my pan into 8 large wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cornbread has risen and is golden on top

I found warming my cornbread slightly (about 20 seconds on High in the microwave) softened the cheddar enough to render the taste moist and heavenly. The jalapeños offer a nice little bite (I didn’t use the seeds, as there were also chilies in chili I ate). But the buttermilk and melted cheese provided a lovely counterbalance.

Wrap left-over slices in plastic and then over-wrap in foil and frozen for future use. I plan to microwave them from their frozen state. My hope is they will keep their original moistness and won’t crumble unduly because they’re made with oil instead of butter.

Moist and cheesy when warm, and with a kick!

In my kitchen this week, the cornbread accompanied the Sweet Potato Vegetarian Chili but it would work equally well with barbecued ribs, roasted or barbecued chicken or even a Cajun-spiced fish dish. I expect to eat some of the left-over wedges with hearty fall soups.

A plain cornbread — known in the Savvy family home as Johnny Cake — is made in the spring to eat alongside a bowl of the new season’s crop of maple syrup for a sweet and nourishing dessert. Something to look forward to at the end of winter!

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