Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Cornbread Trials: Pt 1 - Saveur's Texas Issue

My sister's in the midst of planning a full-tilt barbecue for my nephew's first birthday. A barbecue is not something we take lightly, having been indoctrinated in the world of all-things-smoky during our parent's tenure in Texas. When she asked me to be in charge of the cornbread, I took this task to heart: I've got a little less than a month to produce the perfect product.

I love me some cornbread. It's not quite the same as having a dinner roll or baguette to accompany a meal. Cornbread is a feature unto its own. It's got its own heartbeat, enough to straddle the line between main and side, and not to be treated as an afterthought. Anyone that's had it warm, either fried in bacon grease or with a pat of butter will attest to that.

The first version we tested was from Saveur's July 2009 Texas issue:

Jalapeno Cornbread
2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups flour
1.5 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp and 1 tsp baking powder
2.5 tsp salt
2 cups milk
0.5 cup corn oil
2 eggs, beaten
0.75 cup fresh/frozen corn kernels
0.75 cup sliced pickled jalapenos
2 tbsp butter

Heat oven to 425. Whisk cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt in a large bowl. Whisk in milk, corn oil, and eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in corn and jalapenos. Heat a 12" cast-iron skillet; grease with butter. Pour in batter, bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.

I made a few variations to the ingredients. First off, I'm not a huge fan of overly sweet cornbread, and prefer mine to be on the savory side. 1.5 tbsp of sugar seemed like an awful lot to me, so I reduced it to 1 tbsp, particularly as I wasn't sure how sweet the corn would be. For the corn, I picked up a few fresh ears of 2 colour corn grown locally, which didn't end up being nearly as sweet as I thought it would (an ear of peaches and cream corn or yellow corn probably would've been sweeter). One medium-sized cob turns out to yield roughly 0.75 cup.

Pickled jalapenos also ain't the easiest to fine, or, moreover, I was way too lazy to look for it on a Saturday afternoon and thought fresh jalapenos would work out just fine. My brother-in-law also has a heightened sensitivity to spice, so I cut that amount down to 2 jalapenos, which I assume would be about a third of a cup, tops.

If you've never made cornbread before, it bakes quick. 35 minutes is probably a bit on the high side; mine was probably done around the 25 to 30 minute mark. I didn't have a 12" cast-iron skillet - those bitches can be mad expensive - so I just used our standard 9" square baking pan.

Going over the recipe, you'll notice one thing: there's little to no butter involved. In fact, the only butter that is used is really just to grease the pan. This cornbread relies mostly on the milk and corn oil for its moistness, which is why you'll want to opt for milk with a higher fat content than usual (I went with 2% as we mostly drink skim; bachelors/husbands with tolerant wives will want to opt for homo).

We bought a little cornbread from Whole Foods just to have a frame of reference (it's the little round one in the picture above). Their's was definitely more in the sweet variety, and had little niblets of corn. For a cornbread that's probably been sitting on the shelf for at least a day, Whole Foods does a good job of keeping it moist.

Overall, ours ended up alright, though I'd probably add in that missing 0.5tbsp of sugar that I skimped out on, particularly next to the Whole Foods one. It might not be the most health-conscious decision, but I'd probably also add in a little butter for that added umph, but the fact that it didn't really have any certainly kept the missus happy. I'm also a bit curious to see what the skillet adds to the whole thing, so I'm off to go get one today...maybe.

Here's a Gaturs track to accompany: "Gator Bait"

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