The bustle of the holiday is over for this household. New Years is ahead but Christmas is the most active and exciting period of merriment for our preteens. It was fun but man I’m glad it’s done! There are decorations to take down (which I dread) but thankfully it doesn’t have to be done right now. Nope, not today. Today is for easing up, for taking a slow, comfy, casual coast downhill; and when I think of slow, comfy, and casual, I think of the richness and the flavors of southern food. Nothing says “don’t hurry” like a pot of pinto beans cooked with honest-to-God ham hock, and a pan of so-heavy-you-wonder-if-you-did-something-wrong cornbread.
Oh yes you did something wrong. But sometimes wrong is the only right there is.
And then there’s even wronger that turns out even righter if you’re lucky or if you only have enough cooking wit to be halfway dangerous. I’m not saying I’m smart or possessed of good fortune but the pan of blogging-inspirational cornbread worked. It was one mistake after another, pure kismet mixed with a smidgen of autodidact kitchen edge-oo-macation keeping it from turning into a disaster, which it certainly could have without realizing the potential for wasteful ruination of simple fine ingredients, and without the oven hovering (hovenering?). I was determined. And, dearest readers, determination can sometimes compensate for a lack of good sense.
What started this whole mess was a joyful collection of leftover ingredients from the riptide of Christmas cooking. When such an eclectic gathering amasses in the kitchen it’s a shame to let it go bad. Waste buttermilk and cheese? Not in this house, not even a little bit.
I really wanted Mexican cornbread but didn’t have jalepenos although there was some leftover hot sauce from the many batches of holiday Brunswick stew. I also happened to have white cornmeal on hand which I prefer to yellow because it’s usually a little less sweet and because southeasterners are supposed to prefer white cornmeal to yellow, and who am I to buck a tradition? (Well … I am usually one of the first contrarians to veer off the established path but that’s a story for another time. In this case, according to regional laws of cornmeal preference, I remain true to time-honored roots.) It seemed like the perfect crave-taming set-up.
There were no recipes that used exactly the ingredients I wanted to use which meant I either had to compromise or come up with my own recipe. Since my 2012 resolution was to be more stubborn (yeah, not really – stubbornness is a personal time-honored tradition) it seemed better to create than to settle. Here’s the recipe with dire warnings attached. DO try this at home but DO be vigilant when it comes to the actual baking. That is where disaster can strike if you dare to blink.
2 c. cornmeal (yellow or white, your preference)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1-1/4 c. buttermilk plus ¼ to ½ c. more
1-1/4 c. corn (about a can, if you’re not using fresh) – do NOT use creamed corn!
1 c. cheese
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 – 2 Tbsp hot sauce (optional)
Oil spray or greasing agent for pan(s)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Mix well and set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk 1-1/4 c. buttermilk and both eggs until well-mixed. Set aside.
4. Put corn in a container somewhat larger than one in which the corn will fit (a 2-cup measuring cup works great). If you are using canned corn, drain the liquid off the corn first.
5. Pour buttermilk over corn until it just fills the crevices between the corn pieces. Do not use one more drop of buttermilk than it takes to be level with the top of the corn in your container. (It won’t hurt to use slightly less, in fact.)
6. Add corn and buttermilk to buttermilk and egg mixture. Add in melted butter, cheese, and hot sauce and mix well.
7. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir until just well-mixed. Mixing with a spatula is probably your best bet.
Let’s take a quick break, have some tea, and talk for a minute. We have some options here. You can either make one really thick luscious cake of cornbread (pictured) or you can make two somewhat smaller cakes. It’s totally up to you. Making the two smaller ones will be far less treacherous. The working accident, for me, occurred at this point because I chose to make just one cake. Be wary but fear not: I’m taking most of the guesswork out of it for you. It’s no longer an accident! Making the over-full one will require some watching and testing but when it’s done it’s a wow!
IF you choose to make the two smaller loaves, here are the instructions:
1. Spray two 8” cake rounds with cooking spray and divide the batter evenly between them.
2. Cook in your preheated 400 degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes, or until a knife or cake tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean.
3. Ta da! You’re done!
IF you instead choose to make the one gigantic cake, continue on, Brave Soul. Bon fortune and godspeed. This is a messy procedure that should only be attempted by the true extreme devil-may-care foodie adventurer.
1. Spray ONE 9” cake round with cooking spray and pour cornbread batter in. The batter should be about 1/4″ from the top of the pan. If you have excess batter, you can cook it in a dry non-stick frying pan, or in a frying pan with a spray of oil, and make yourself a little pre-cornbread cake treat.
2. With the oven rack at the halfway spot, place the cake round in the oven and with a baking stone or some other hearty pan on the bottom rack to catch the stuff that drips down. It will drip. A lot. These drippings will make you happy to be alive.
3. Cook for 15 minutes. Do not cringe when you hear the sizzle of the batter drippings hitting your stone. The drippings are divine, and you are going to (carefully) reach in to get them. Be excited!
4. Turn the oven temp down to 350. This is a great time to carefully move the top and bottom racks into position to allow you to scrape or scoop the dripped cornbread onto a plate. Be sure to keep the cake round over the drip pan. This dripped stuff is now cooked, and tasting it will give you a hint of what is to come. Be sure to have a good hold on the counter when you take a bite – swooning is entirely probable.
5. Put the pans back into position (keeping the drip pan where it is for now). Set the timer for 20 minutes. At the end of the 20 minutes, you can probably remove the drip pan. You can tell if you can move the drip pan by shaking the cake round. It should have lost most of its glop character.
6. Loosely cover the top of the cake in foil. Set the timer for 20 – 25 minutes. At the end of that time, test the cake for doneness by inserting a cake tester or butter knife near the center. If it comes out clean, it’s done. The top of your cake should be dark golden and the middle should be moist and light. If the cake doesn’t test as done, cook in 5-minute increments until the testing utensil comes out clean. When done, cool for 5 minutes, cut into 8 pie-like wedges.
And there you have it: simple fine ingredients to make one filling suppertime indulgence. If you want to send your crew into decadence overdrive, rub a little salted butter over the top of the still-warm cake before serving.