Tag Archives: cornmeal

CORNBREAD II: DEANIE HICKOX’S SWEET CORNBREAD

Several months ago, my daughters and I started on a book project about the history of corn, cornmeal, and corn-based recipes. As part of our effort, we got into a friendly competition to find the best cornbread recipe. As a purist, my contribution was totally sugar-free. Sarah submitted this recipe, which has a lot of sweetening including honey. For my taste, it is too sweet to sop up pot liquor or beans. Still, it is absolutely delicous, so much so that it is difficult to resist eating the whole batch by oneself even though it should serve four to six. There is relatively little cornmeal as most cornbread recipes go, and it is almost like a cake. That is why in this post I have presented it as a dessert paired with macerated strawberries and whipped cream.

The recipe came from one of Sarah’s cooking friends, Deanie Hickox, who at one time worked as a pastry chef at Michael Mina’s in San Francisco.  The original version made enough cornbread for a crowd of restaurant customers, so I adapted it for the home baker. You’ll see that my finished cornbread fell a little in the middle.  That was from my using too much baking soda for this altitude (7,000 feet). If you are a high altitude baker,  see the note below

RECIPE

Ingredients

Dry Mix

  • 1½  cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda *(for high altitudes, reduce to 1 teaspoon)
  • ¾  cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Wet Mix

  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 4 ounces (one stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1½ tablespoons honey

Method

  1. Combine dry ingredients
  2. Mix eggs and butter, and then add other wet ingredients. The order is important to keep the butter from solidifying too much.
  3. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and stir. Don’t worry about getting out all the lumps. Most of them are lttle clumps of butter that will melt during baking.
  4. In a pre-heated oven, bake at 350°F (177°C) in a greased 8 x 8 x 2 inch pan for about 45minutes. Cover with foil if the cornbread takes on too much color.
  5. Cool for 5 minutes. Then cut into serving-sized squares.
  6. For dessert, add macerated strawberries or other fruit, and top with whipped cream.
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MORE EAST TEXAS CORN – SPOONBREAD

A well-made spoonbread is haute cuisine cooking with corn. There are lots of recipes for spoonbread, but many of them are not much more than a version of cornbread. The version I love is more like a cornmeal soufflé, and baking one requires many of the methods and techniques used to make a soufflé. According to Bernard Clayton in his classic, The Complete Book of Breads, spoonbread was developed by accident in colonial Virginia when a batch of cornbread was forgotten. To me, that seems likely to be apocryphal because spoonbread – at least this recipe – uses entirely different techniques from cornbread.

When we were dating, my wife, Susan, often made spoonbread at my request. She had many special dishes that proved she was a great cook, but without a doubt, spoonbread was one of her major achievements. After our children became old enough to have favorite foods, spoonbread was one of them, so much so that Susan sometimes made two separate spoonbreads for one meal.  

During our most recent visit to East Texas, Susan made spoonbread  for her brother, sister, and brother-in-law. I flew in for a late dinner, and all I got was a dab. That was better than nothing, though, and many a late diner has missed out on Susan’s spoonbread.

 

Some recipes call for added cheese. This version gilds the lily with added ham, mushroom duxelles, and scallions. The cheese can be added by serving the spoonbread with Mornay sauce. You don’t have to add all of those things. The basic model is good enough to keep you coming back for more.

For this post, I combined the dressed up spoonbread with fresh asparagus and braised lamb shanks – both go well with Mornay sauce.

RECIPES

Ham and Scallion Spoonbread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 extra-large eggs, separated
  • ½ cup cooked Black Forest ham, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely diced sautéed mushroom duxelles, squeezed dry
  • ¼ cup scallions, finely chopped, including the green tops

Method

  1. In a  4-quart saucepan, combine the cornmeal and milk. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes until the cornmeal is soft.
  2. Remove the cooked cornmeal from the heat. Then stir in the salt, baking powder, melted butter and additional milk.
  3. Beat the egg yolks until foamy. Stir into the cornmeal mixture. Mix well to reduce lumps – you won’t be able to get rid of all of them.
  4. Stir in the chopped ham, mushrooms, and scallions.
  5. Beat the separated egg whites to form stiff peaks. By thirds, fold the egg whites into the cornmeal mixture. Do not beat.
  6. Pour the batter into a greased two-quart soufflé dish and bake for 1 hour  in the middle of an oven preheated to 325°F (163°C).
  7. Serve immediately while the spoonbread is still puffed.

Mornay Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ cup grated Swiss cheese
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • juice of ½ lemon

Method

  1. In a 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat
  2. Stir in the flour and cook for several minutes to remove the raw flour taste.
  3. Add the half and half, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens.
  4. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cheese until it is completely melted.
  5. Stir in the lemon zest and juice and adjust seasonings.
  6. Keep warm until ready to serve with the spoonbread.

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MORE EAST TEXAS – FRIED CATFISH AND HUSH PUPPIES

A fish fry is one of the great traditions of the entire South, but nowhere is it more on display than in East Texas and nearby Louisiana and Arkansas. The corners of these three states are so akin to one another that residents of the region call it the ArkLaTex. If you use that name, everyone knows where you live, and everyone knows what you think is important in life. Years ago we lived in Shreveport where one of the favorite eating haunts was the Cypress Inn. This huge, ramshackle place sat on the banks of the Cypress Bayou and though they had a lot of choices on the menu, nobody ever went there except to eat their fried catfish dinner complete with hush puppies.

 

The hush puppies were golden balls of melt-in-your mouth goodness – crispy outside, creamy inside of cornbread and chopped onions.  Now, you may have had the eraser-shaped hush puppies in one of the big “country-style” chain restaurants, but those are a pale, tasteless copy of the real thing. The Cypress Inn had the real thing, and you could make a whole meal of hush puppies alone.

The catfish was equally delicious with a golden, crunchy outside of cornmeal crust  and the flavorful tender catfish inside.

Catfish, especially those caught from a lake or bayou can have a muddy taste to them. These days, though, most are farmed in huge tanks or ponds. Still, it’s worth using an old trick that locals swore by to get rid of the muddy taste. A good soak in buttermilk is supposed to brighten the taste of the catfish, and I do belive that it works. That soak is part of the method of this recipe.

The other parts of the Cypress Inn meal  were the hand-cut cole slaw and the fresh cobbler, apple or peach depending on the season. You probably have your own favorite recipes for these, but you definitely need to have some slaw, tartar or cocktail sauce, and fruit cobbler handy when you sit down to enjoy fried catfish with hush puppies.

 

RECIPES

Fried Catfish

Ingredients

  • 4 catfish fillets, skin and bones removed, about 4-6 ounces each
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon  ground black pepper
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • vegetable oil for frying

Method

  1. In a shallow pan or plate, cover the catfish fillets with buttermilk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  2. In another pan or plate, combine the flour, seasoning, paprika, salt and pepper.
  3. Fill another pan or plate with the cornmeal
  4. When you are ready to fry the catfish, remove the buttermilk-soaked fillets from the refrigerator and transfer to the plate with the flour mixture, letting any excess buttermilk drain from the fillets. Turn each fillet in the mixture so it is completely coated with the flour mixture.
  5. Then transfer the coated fillets to the cornmeal, again turning them so they are completely coated with the cornmeal
  6. Fry the fillets, one at a time or in batches  in a deep pan with about 2 inches of vegetable oil pre-heated to 350⁰F (177°C), turning them over so that both sides are golden brown and crispy.
  7. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately while still hot.

Hush Puppies

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups yellow cornmeal
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup scallions, green tops only, chopped very finely
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • vegetable oil for frying

Method

  1. Stir together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt so that they are completely mixed
  2. Add the chopped scallions, buttermilk, and beaten egg. Mix so that they are thoroughly combined.
  3. By spoonfuls, drop the mixture into a deep pan with about 2 inches of vegetable oil that has been heated to 350⁰F (177°C), turning until the hush puppies are golden brown on all sides.
  4. Drain on paper towels and serve while still hot.  Makes about 30 hush puppies.

 

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CORNBREAD AND SPRINGTIME IN EAST TEXAS

This is the best season to be in East Texas. The winter rains have filled up the ponds and encouraged the emerging leaves into a hundred different shades of green.  The days have warmed without the blazing heat that will begin in only a few weeks. The nights are still cool and perfect for sleeping.

Unlike most of the rest of Texas, the “Piney Woods” are set on rolling hills which are filled with Southern pines, hickories, sweet gums, maples, and oaks of several varieties. This time of year, though, the redbud trees announce themselves as well as Spring. Beautiful shades of pink and red light up the woods.

More hidden in the depths of the forests, dogwoods hang like clouds in the shadows. The branches spread, and the white sepals seem to drift suspended. Close up, the markings remind us of the legend of the dogwood serving as the wood of the cross. It seems appropriate that the beautiful show occurs in the Spring.

East Texas has not lost the commercial opportunities of the redbuds and dogwoods. The Palestine Dogwood Festival (that’s Pal’-a-steen, Texas) provides visitors an opportunity to eat street food, watch the crowning of the festival queen, and tour the beautiful woods.

There are lots of foods that typify East Texas, including fried catfish, hush puppies, greens of all sorts (collards, kale, pokeweed), and at other times of year, black-eyed peas.  For me, though, the quintessential food is cornbread.

Cornbread is almost universally popular, especially in the South. Craig Claiborne, the famous New York Times editor and food critic from Mississippi declared that there are more recipes for cornbread than magnolia trees in the South! Yet finding good recipes for plain cornbread in cookbooks is a difficult task.  Moreover, the popularity of packaged cornbread kits has made it even harder to find a real home-made chunk of cornbread.

If you decide to bake your own cornbread,  there are  decisions that need to be made.  Cornbread made from white cornmeal tends to be more popular in the east with yellow cornmeal gaining increasing popularity the further west you travel.  Northern cornbread, or “Yankee cornbread” as it is commonly called in East Texas, usually contains some sort of sweetening – molasses, maple syrup, sugar, or honey;  Southern cornbread  usually does not contain sweetening, but these distinctions between north and south are not absolute.

This is a version of Southern cornbread, baked in a cast iron skillet as, in my opinion,  all authentic cornbread must be. Some time ago, we had an informal family competition for the best cornbread recipe. This was my entry. One of my daughters used a recipe from one of her friends. It contains sugar (heresy!) and is more like cake. But it is so good that you could wind up eating the whole thing by yourself. I plan to post that recipe in the near future.

RECIPE

 

Southern Cornbread

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat for greasing the baking pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 jumbo eggs, room temperature
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

 Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C) . Grease a 9 inch cast iron skillet with bacon drippings and place in the oven 10 minutes before you are ready to pour in the batter.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the wet ingredients: buttermilk, beaten egg, and melted butter. When they are well combined, stir them into the dry ingredients.
  4. Mix the batter for only a few beats until the mixtures are combined and the large lumps have been smoothed. Do not overbeat.
  5. Remove the heated skillet from the oven, pour in the batter, and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes in the top half of the oven. Turn  the skillet 180 degrees and continue to bake for another 15 minutes or  until the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven, cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into eight wedges, and serve immediately while still warm.

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