I am obsessed with cookbooks, as I am sure most avid cooks and food bloggers are. From my slowly growing collection I make lists and lists of recipes, techniques, and new things to try. I especially love when the author gives us a little glimpse into how the recipe evolved, information about the ingredients, and where they come from, etc. Still I find my favorite recipes usually come to me not from cookbooks, magazines, internet, or a food focused television network (need I speak the name?), but by word of mouth. This cornbread is made from one such recipe.
The original recipe was given to me by a pastry cook friend of mine, who was sworn to secrecy by her friend, whose Southern forebears would probably roll over in their graves knowing that their heirloom recipe had been passed along to a Yank like me. Until that day I had never been able to produce a moist delicious cornbread from any recipe I tried. Even the Joy of Cooking let me down, and forget the recipe on the back of the cornmeal package. Every attempt resulted in dry, crumbly bread – barely edible when fresh, and definitely not edible the next day. This, I have sadly come to learn, is what distinguishes Northern style cornbread from it’s Southern cousin. Northern cornbread is traditionally a savory affair, with a higher proportion of cornmeal, often omitting flour altogether. Was I wrong to want the kind of cornbread I loved at barbecue joints – that sweet, moist bread that was just perfect for mopping up sticky meaty barbecue sauce dripping from a rack of St. Louis pork ribs?
Well, this was it. However, my adaptation differs from the original on two points. First, the recipe given to me called for a portion of cake flour, which is not something I always have on hand. I make it with 100% all purpose flour and actually prefer that it’s not as cakey and has a nice looser crumb. The second adjustment is in the glaze. The original recipe calls for a glaze of honey, butter, and water, but I have added that old Yankee flair by using maple syrup in place of honey, and adjusting the proportions to account for it. Applied after the cornbread has baked and has had time to cool slightly, the glaze is the magic key to keeping it moist and buttery. It is even good cold, and will never need to meet a pat of butter. It keeps well, stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days, but I have never seen it sit around for that long.
By the way, anyone who wants to try the original recipe can send me a message and I will be happy to send it to you. However I cannot so publicly breach a confidence as by publishing it. Cheers.
INGREDIENTS, for (1) 9″ x 13″ cake pan:
2 c. cornmeal
2 c. sugar
2-1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/3 c. corn, or other neutral cooking oil
1 c. milk
1/2 c. buttermilk
3 oz. (6 Tbsp.) brown butter (see step 3 below)
1-1/2 oz (3 Tbsp.) butter
1/3 c. pure maple syrup (not the fake stuff, please)
1-2 Tbsp. water
a pinch of salt (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray the baking dish or grease with butter.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl mix the eggs, corn oil, milk, and buttermilk.
3. Meanwhile, make the brown butter. Place the 3 oz. of butter in a small saucepan or saute pan and melt over medium-high heat. Watch it. First the butter will melt, then it will start to foam as the fat separates from the milk solids, visible as white granules or clumps. Once all the water in the butter has evaporated, the milk solids will start fry. Once they are lightly browned and take on a nutty aroma, the butter is ready. Remove immediately from the heat, and be careful because brown butter is VERY HOT. It will continue to cook even after you have taken it off the heat , so let it cool some before using it. Also, take care that you don’t burn the butter or it will impart a bitter, carbon like flavor to your bread.
4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the egg and milk mixture. With a few swift strokes of a wooden spoon or whisk, mix them together briefly. Pour in the cooled brown butter and stir in immediately until the batter is just smooth and uniform, taking care not to overwork it.
5. Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake in on the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer stuck in the middle comes out clean or with only some crumbs sticking to it. Let cool 5-10 minutes.
6. While the cornbread cools, make the glaze by simply heating all the ingredients together in a small saucepan until the butter is melted. Whisk or stir it briefly to combine the butter with the water and syrup. Using a pastry brush, dab the glaze all over the top of the cornbread. Allow the glaze to absorb and set before cutting the cornbread.