CornbreadPosted: February 21, 2014
My local supermarket recently set aside some shelves for non-traditional items. I’m guessing it’s on a trial basis, but I’m always curious to see what’s new and exciting in the land of food retail. (Hey, you have to get your jollies where you can).
One of the items that caught my eye was a big bag of corn meal (corn flour), and I decided I’d see if I could bake myself some ultimate American cornbread. Simple, you’d think? Well, that’s what I foolishly assumed when I began my searching, but what I discovered was it’s a real minefield out there, with devotees for variations from both north and south, sweet and salty, and with various additions including actual corn kernels, corn puree, cheese, bacon grease and chillies.
I was in a fog of indecision until I stumbled across this recipe from an old farming magazine from 1847. Several things about the recipe appealed to me, not least because it claimed the resultant ‘cakes’ would be light and honeycombed. Other details that made it stand out from the many other recipes I had been seeing were that it was yeast raised, sugar free, fat free and gluten free. In addition, unlike many of the modern recipes, it contained solely corn meal and unlike the modern gluten-free recipes, there was no additional alchemy required in the form of different flours and additives to put in.
The method varied too, with the batter being set to rise overnight using yeast, and then, once the other ingredients had been added, being poured into a cold pan before baking. Actually, the original recipe didn’t specifically say that it should be a cold pan, it just said to bake it, but since all of the other recipes were most insistent that the pan be roaring hot before adding the corn mix, that’s what I did for the first trial run. It wasn’t a success. The extreme heat killed the yeast on the edges, so while the middle rose delightfully, the edges were heavy and hard. Subsequent trial runs with a cold pan were much more successful, as the picture above illustrates. I used my non-stick, heavy 24cm diameter saute pan to bake the bread in the oven, because the handle is removable.
Excuse me for banging on, but this recipe is yet another example of why I love old recipes so much. Simple, wholesome ingredients that can be enjoyed without the need for complicated additives or specialised components. The only requirement for this particular recipe is time – remembering to mix up the corn meal and yeast the night before – or in the morning if you want to enjoy it with your evening meal.
It was delicious warm from the oven, with butter and honey, for breakfast. Other uses are as an accompaniment to, for example, chilli, gumbo, jambalaya. It’s best eaten warm, but once cold, can also be easily reheated with a quick zap in the microwave or oven. I turned the remainder into crumbs and froze them, ready to use in meatballs, stuffing and as coating for home-made chicken nuggets and fish fingers.
Feel free to customise this to your own tastes by adding whatever flavourings take your fancy, but I hope you’ll try it just once as is, in all its splendid simplicity.
Jenna in Ohio – I hope you approve! 😀
450g corn meal
1 sachet easyblend yeast
warm water to mix
- Put the corn meal, salt and yeast into a bowl and add enough water until the mixture is easy to stir. It varied, depending on the moisture content of the corn meal, but you’ll need to add between 600ml – 1200ml (1-2 pints). It will have the consistency of a loose batter.
- Cover with cling film and leave overnight or for at least 8 hours.
1 large egg
2tbs milk 
2tbs plain yogurt 
1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Grease a 24cm deep, heavy pan or skillet.
- Whisk the ingredients for Mixture 2 together and then whisk it into the cornmeal.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the pan around after 20 minutes to ensure even colouring. Check for done-ness by inserting a cocktail stick into the centre.
- If the top seems to be browning too quickly, slide a sheet of either foil or parchment over the pan.
- Serve warm from the pan.
 You can use 60ml or 4tbs of buttermilk if you prefer.