What an awkward time for me to admit this, as no doubt these will grace some tables this week I’ve been gracefully invited to, but I’m not really into, well, mashed things: potatoes, yams, parsnips, root vegetables and other purees that serve as the piles to sop up everything awesome that runs off our main courses before our forks can catch it. I mean, I won’t pushed mashed potatoes away; it’s not that they actually taste bad. It’s just that I’ve never been convinced that they taste better than the sum of their copious amounts of various combinations of butter, cream, buttermilk, sour cream, crème fraîche, cream and goat cheeses. No, really, I mean copious. Jeffrey Steingarten, a man whose essay collections you should read if you have not already, found that the magic formula that elevated mashed potatoes to, well, the kind you’ll probably gush about on Thursday night fell somewhere between one and four sticks (a pound) of butter for every two pounds (two to three) of potatoes. I know, I know: “Deb, you are such a party pooper.”
But I delight in cornbread. And this, corn bread meets pudding meets soufflé under the alias of spoonbread, is something that I would happily heap on my plate and eat it without fear that my heart might give out before I can get to the pie. A Thanksgiving without pie would be unacceptable, afterall. I’m not saying this is health food — guys, I hope you know I would never do that to you so close to the eatingest holiday of the year — it is, afterall, whole milk, eggs and butter, but it has a richness that suggests so much more.
I tried to write something here about the history of spoonbread. I occasionally do things like that, flex my rusty research muscles and whatnot, but it got too long, because corn, as you probably know, is stuff with a history. Suffice it to say, it is the essence of culinary compromise as the Old Worlders had to adapt their cakes and puddings to pesky New World ingredients like corn and the Thanksgivingness of it cannot be denied. Tall and generous, rich and custard-like, cornbread never had it so good. But if your Thanksgiving
dance card table is already full, do consider this for breakfast the next day, as I have an itch to drizzle it with maple syrup and serve it with scrambled eggs and bacon, for those of us who will probably fall asleep before the meal is done.
One year ago: Creamed Spinach and Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake
Two years ago: Olive Oil Muffins, Chicken Pot Pie, Chocolate Toffee Cookies, Chickpea Salad with Roasted Red Peppers, Meyer Lemon and Fresh Cranberry Scones, Winter Fruit Salad and Mushroom and Barley Pie
Three years ago: Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies, Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts in Brown Butter and Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie
Four years ago: Chocolate Stout Cake, Couscous and Feta-Stuffed Peppers, Cream of Tomato Soup and Three Cranberry Sauces
Sweet Corn Spoonbread
Adapted, just a little, from Cook’s Country
As originally written, this recipe used a ridiculous amount of dishes and appliances. I run into this a lot in the CI universe; I have great respect for what they do, this attempt at perfect recipes, but they often leave me questioning if it is worth all that. Fortunately, this is. That said, I found a place or two where the recipe could be streamlined, and if you have an immersion blender, this is a great time to use it and save yourself energy. Finally, the recipe suggests you preheat your oven before you begin. For me, this led to an oven running at 400 degrees for an hour — silly. But some ovens take longer than others to preheat; if yours is one of them, turn it on when the recipe suggests. If not, find a time 20 minutes or so before you need to bake it.
Serves 6, generously
1 cup cornmeal
2 3/4 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing dish
2 cups corn kernels (from 3 to 4 ears of corn, or frozen, if defrosted and well drained)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 400°F (see Note above if this seems too early). Very generously grease a 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish or an 8-inch square baking dish. Whisk cornmeal and 3/4 cup of milk in a small bowl until combined and set aside.
Melt butter in a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Cook corn until beginning to brown, which can take as little as 3 minutes with fresh corn but with defrosted frozen corn, took me closer to 10 minutes. Stir in sugar, salt, cayenne and remaining 2 cups milk and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let mixture steep for 15 minutes.
If you’ve got an immersion blender, please use it to save time. Otherwise, transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Back in the pot (or still, if it had never left) bring it back to a boil, reduce heat to low and add the cornmeal-milk mixture, whisking constantly until thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. If you want to do fewer dishes and don’t mind if it takes longer to cool, you can leave it in the pot. Otherwise, transfer to a large bowl and return mixture to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Once cool, whisk in egg yolks. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form and fold it in to the corn mixture, one-third at a time. Pour batter into prepared baking dish and baked until spoonbread is golden brown and has risen above rim of dish, about 45 minutes. Serve immediately.