Monday, January 5, 2009

Semi-Southern-Style Cornbread: Ringin’ in the New Year

“The North thinks it know how to make corn bread, but this is a gross superstition. Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern corn bread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite as bad as the Northern imitation of it.” – Mark Twain

Happy New Year, sweet readers! Hope you all had a lovely break, and enjoyed the downtime with tons of Zima and old Bon Jovi videos. (Note: in other words, exactly how I spent New Year 1994.) In accordance with my nap schedule, posting’s been sparse here lately, but that’ll change starting today. See, we’re kicking off a flurry of 2009 posts with a bang. A sweet, corny bang.

Namely, cornbread.

Despite hailing from New York, I consider myself a cornbread enthusiast. (Or, in English, I loves me some cornbread.) In the bread pantheon, it ranks just above banana bread, but slightly below my beloved garlic bread. In fact, when I worked in Times Square, I’d often hit up the Columbus Circle Whole Foods and buy a hunk of the stuff to chomp on, oblivious to the number of crumbs I dropped into my bra. (Man, I liked having my own office.)

Anyway, as a Big Apple-ite, I’m pretty used to Northern-style cornbread, which is moist and puffy, like a cake or a muffin. Sadly, it tends to be full of fat and calories, which is somewhat of a downer.

Enter (per usual) Cook’s Illustrated. For a somewhat healthier snack, their Best Light Recipe Book suggests opting for a Southern-style cornbread. This variety tends to be drier and crumbier than its Northern cousin, and subsequently, less brutal on your thighs. To test it out, I made two batches this weekend.

My first batch (which came straight from the book) was decent, but could have used more moisture and sweetness. So, for Round #2, I doubled the sugar and added two more tablespoons of buttermilk. Then, I dumped in 1/3 cup of frozen kernels for kicks. Admittedly, the kernels themselves didn’t do much – maybe added a little more corn flavor, but that’s about it. On the other hand, the extra sugar and buttermilk were solid improvements. My second batch was a clear winner.

Should you try it yourself, hear this: this is definitely a low-calorie cornbread. But as those go, it’s pretty dang good, and will pair splendidly with (coming soon) today’s Serious Eats column on Tomato Soup with Roasted Garlic and Herbs. (Which? Is one of the greatest soups in the history of time and space. Susan at FatFree Vegan Kitchen knows the score.)

That said, welcome back, everybody. Let’s make this the best CHG year yet. (And as there’ve only been 1-1/2 so far, it should be easy.)

Semi-Southern Style Cornbread
Makes 10 pieces of cornbread
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe.

1 cup yellow cornmeal (Quaker suggested), divided
1/3 cup boiling water
3 or 4 teaspoons of granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
7/8 cup low-fat buttermilk (3/4 cup plus two tablespoons)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ tablespoon flour
1/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
Cooking spray

1) Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan or 8-inch square brownie pan with cooking spray.

2) To a medium bowl, add 1/3 cup cornmeal. Set aside.

3) In a small bowl, combine remaining 2/3 cup cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk it all together. Set aside.

4) Go back to the first bowl, with the 1/3 cup cornmeal. Pour water into it. Stir until it's thoroughly combined and stiff. Slowly whisk in the buttermilk until the mixture is lump-less. Whisk in egg and butter. Pour the flour mixture into the cornmeal mixture and stir until everything is barely moist. (If desired, before adding batter to the pan, stir corn kernels with flour in a small bowl until just covered. Then, add corn to the batter, stirring lightly until just mixed.)

5) Pour batter into pan. Bake 20 minutes or so, until it's risen slightly and top is golden brown. Remove from oven. Remove bread from pan. Cool on wire rack at least 5 minutes. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
96 calories, 2.6 g fat, $0.14

1 cup yellow cornmeal: 533 calories, 5.3 g fat, $0.45
1/3 cup boiling water: negligible calories and fat, free
3 or 4 teaspoons of granulated white sugar: 65 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
1 teaspoon baking powder: 2 calories, 0 g fat, $0.03
¼ teaspoon baking soda: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
½ teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
7/8 cup low-fat buttermilk (3/4 cup plus two tablespoons): 105 calories, 3.5 g fat, $0.44
1 large egg: 74 calories, 5 g fat, $0.18
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled: 102 calories, 11.5 g fat, $0.08
½ tablespoon flour: 25 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.01
1/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen): 51 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.17
Cooking spray: 3 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 960 calories, 25.8 g fat, $1.42
PER SERVING (TOTAL/10): 96 calories, 2.6 g fat, $0.14

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Jaime said...

Ha, when you said you doubled the sugar, I was thinking cups rather than tsps. Also, this sounds amazing. I wonder about an easy lactard variation on buttermilk. I think I've read about soy milk and vinegar... I love kernels in cornbread. Tasty stuff!

Anonymous said...

Just came upon your blog- so far I love it, keep up the great work! It's going to be a healthy yummy year.

thirtyaweek said...

I made 2 kinds of cornbread for our NYE's chilifest: spicy and sweet and I used the Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites cookbook. That recipe hasn't let me down and I have had Southerners give it their stamp of approval. I change it a bit and cook it in a hot buttered skillet, which seems to improve the texture.

thirtyaweek said...

Jaime, you can use soy milk and vinegar. I also like to use a bit of plain soy yogurt in the mix when making it vegan.

MS said...

Being a born-and-bred Southern gal, I am firmly of the opinion that true cornbread does not have any sugar in it, so I was suspicious when you talked of doubling the sugar! At least it's not very much sugar, but still. I had fantastic results with Alton Brown's "Cornbread No Chaser" recipe in his baking cookbook (I'm Just Here for More Food).

legalbrunette said...

I too am a southern girl who believes cornbread should be more savory than sweet. However, Cook's Illustrated has hardly ever steered me wrong, so I am going to have to give this one a try

Kristina R. said...

I can't wait to try to make this for my husband, the corn bread lover in our family.

Daniel said...

I've always been conflicted with my cornbreads too... born and raised in the north but a fan of southern style cornbreads too. This one sounds like the best of both worlds.

Here's to another great year for CHG!

Casual Kitchen

Leigh said...

Oh, Miss Kris, I just got back from down yonder, where, even there, the sugar vs. no debate rages. My dad and I (piedmont) say no, my bro-in-law (by the beach) says yes.

Not that I will kick any cornbread off the table. If it's made from cornmeal, I'll probably eat it.

One question: skillet or baking dish?

PS - This goes great with what I'm planning for Thursday! We're so simpatico.

Kris said...

Leigh! I went with a 9" round pan, but cast iron skillets will work wonders, I hear. Man, now I totally want some cornbread.

Leigh said...

You heard right about the skillet. It makes the edges so crispy.

Oh yeah. Me too. I'm making some tonight.

Amanda said...

I'm a Yankee married to a Southerner. We lived in GA for several years, where I learned to love proper southern-style cornbread (read, NO sugar at all). I haven't been able to go back. It's no sugar for me!

spotter said...

Cornbread is near and dear to my heart, too...I'm from Michigan but have relatives in Tennessee, and my senile Aunt Edna still remembers me as the 3 year old who proclaimed, "Amen, please pass the cornbread!" after saying grace at dinner.

Northern or Southern style, I like it all, but I also agree that the skillet beats the pants off of the baking dish any time. Might have to add your recipe to my dinner menu now...