Sunday, September 5, 2010

From the Cornbread Files

Ooh Cornbread!

This cornbread was one of the first recipes I made from Passionate Vegetarian.  Seven years later, I have a hard time making any other cornbread recipe.

Actually, this cornbread and I have been through some twists and turns together.  The basic formula remains the same, but now I’ve been converted to the way of the cast-iron skillet, as the original recipe instructed.  I’ve used it to court the love of a certain Southerner, who asked me for the recipe after a friendly evening of chili and cornbread.  Later, much later, I convinced him that cornbread would be an excellent go-with for his signature curried okra dish and spicy roasted chickpeas.  That evening, the cast-iron skillet was a total rock star: the cornbread went into the oven first, and when it came out, in went the chickpeas.  The skillet kept our cornbread warm and delicious while it waited for the rest of the meal to come together.  After that, I never went back to my glass pan, though I still think fondly of those early years in my first apartment, making do with what I had and loving every minute of my kitchen time.

I still love baking cornbread.  I don’t make it very often, truth be told.  Nevertheless, seven years is a lot of cornbread, and I’ve had time to tinker with the ingredients, for better or worse.  For one thing, it’s not a good idea to use baking soda instead of baking powder.  That was an accident, a very salty one.  But other substitutions are really delicious.  I think my very favorite version of this cornbread uses melted butter in place of the vegetable oil; the result is so rich and flavorful that it’s hard to go back to oil afterwards.  But oil is still tasty, especially if one feels better about using oil instead of butter.  For the liquid, I’ve tried all sorts of things: straight buttermilk, yogurt thinned with a little bit of water, or even a combination of yogurt, plain almond milk, and heavy cream (ooh!).  The version with heavy cream has this velvety texture and a sort of custardy richness—it’s very nice.  I always try to have something sour in there so that the cornbread will get a nice rise from the acid + base of sour liquid + baking powder.  But you can really mix and match depending on taste and what’s in the fridge.

I really believe that cornbread is meant to be shared, and I love making it for other people.  But I think it would be cruel of me to deny myself cornbread just because I’m having a solo dinner.  Sometimes cornbread is just the thing to make an evening at home feel special.  What I do now is help myself to seconds when the cornbread is hot and buttery, then I tuck the leftovers into a plastic bag and use them in a savory cornbread pudding.  I make these puddings in single-serving ramekins because I think cornbread pudding is at its peak when it’s warm and fresh out of the oven.

Dig In

The best part is that they are really easy to put together.  This recipe (if I may call it that) is becoming a weeknight staple for me: cornbread pieces enriched with egg and salsa, then topped with cheese.  The egg and salsa soak into the cornbread, adding richness and flavor.  And the cornbread on the very top gets a little crunchy from the heat, so you get some textural contrast.  I’ll make one or two of these for myself and then eat them alongside a big pile of vegetables or a bowl of soup.  It’s a satisfying, delicious dinner that I think you would enjoy too.  Without further ado, the recipe!

Savory Cornbread Pudding for One

Serves 1

My inspiration for this came from two authors: Crescent Dragonwagon (author of Passionate Vegetarian) and her Featherbed Eggs and Mollie Katzen and her Cheddar-Shirred Eggs, which led to my recipe for baked eggs.  I love baking eggs in ramekins; they make my dinner seem so neat and cozy.  They also make for minimal clean-up—always a blessing on a weeknight.  After dinner, I usually just soak my ramekins in some soapy water for a while and then scrub them clean.

Cooking spray

2 tbsp. tasty salsa

About 1/2 cup cornbread crumbs and small pieces (I just break a wedge of cornbread into smaller pieces with my hands)

1 egg

Salt and pepper to taste

About 2 tbsp. shredded cheese, such as cheddar or something similar

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a small ramekin (6-8 oz. in volume) with cooking spray.  Spread the salsa on the bottom of the ramekin.

2)  Pile the cornbread crumbs into the ramekin on top of the salsa.  Beat the egg in a separate bowl, then pour it over the cornbread.  You can move things around a little bit with a fork to make sure the egg gets into all the nooks and crannies.  Sprinkle the top with some salt and pepper.

3)  Place the ramekin on a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.  I err closer to 20 minutes because I like the texture to be moister, more like a custard.  At 25 minutes, the pudding can be a little dry.  Top with the shredded cheese and serve.


Laurie said...

Thanks so much for posting this and for linking to your cornbread recipe. I have a cast-iron skillet, but our library only carries Ms. Dragonwagon's (hee hee, Dragonwagon)picture books. Now I almost have everything I need to attempt cornbread.

Your Cornbread Pudding looks wonderful. I do a similar dish on a larger scale with rye bread. It gets assembled the night before and baked in the morning for breakfast. Don't know if cornbread would withstand the sitting time, but there are interesting possibilities if it does. (Assemble in morning, bake after work while running...)

Rosiecat24 said...

Hey Laurie! I'm happy to oblige; I think Crescent would approve of sharing her cornbread recipe with another curious cook.

I did want to mention one more thing about the skillet. To make "skillet-sizzled" cornbread, Crescent recommends heating the skillet over medium heat, adding the butter, and letting it melt until it starts to sizzle. Then you tilt the pan to coat it with butter, add wet to dry ingredients for the cornbread and mix them quickly, pour in your prepared cornbread batter, and pop it in the preheated oven. Whew! Let me know if that didn't make sense :-)

And ooh, a rye bread pudding! That sounds delicious--I will have to try that! I do think the cornbread puddings could be assembled ahead of time, but I never do, mostly because with my small portions, they come together quickly.

Happy baking, blog friend!

Unknown said...

what a fabulous idea for this cornbread pudding!!

Rosiecat24 said...

Thanks, Shannon!