Saturday, November 3, 2012

Grits to Glory - Polenta Corn Bread

I have an extreme love/hate relationship with corn bread.  It can take a bowl of chili to intoxicating highs, when executed properly, or devastating lows when not.  Sadly, all of the cornbread I have consumed in restaurants has fallen short of my expectations.  Way short.  Like "careening down a depression spiral" short.  What is the obsession with sweet corn bread?  Why would anyone want Maple or Honey Butter to smear on something that is already so sweet it makes your teeth hurt? I just don't understand this "Cornbread" that is really more of a light and fluffy corn muffin.  Don't get me wrong, I LIKE corn muffins... for breakfast, not with my chili.

So how do I like my cornbread?  Well, it should have a dense, but tender crumb.  Crusty on the outside, moist on the inside.  Savory deliciousness should be the prevalent flavor, not sweet and cloying.  Inclusions of Cheddar, Onion, or Bacon are welcomed, but not a necessity. 

As a result of the above criterion for palatable cornbread, I have concluded that I like buttermilk based cornbreads that are baked in a cast iron skillet that has been liberally smothered with copious amounts of butter, which has been browned in the oven prior to dispensing the cornbread batter therein.  In order to facilitate a more dense crumb, only a SMALL amount of flour is necessary.  Just enough to keep the corn bread from crumbling in your hand.  To achieve a moist interior, I take a tip from the Italians.  I find that the addition of a polenta-ish mixture made with chicken stock fits the bill quite nicely.  True, it's more of a cornmeal mush than polenta, since I don't cook it nearly long enough, but polenta sounds classy, so I am sticking with it.  LOL

Luckily, I have Buttermilk left over from making Cultured Butter a couple days ago.  Woo Hoo!
But enough chewin' the fat.  Here is how I make my cornbread.

Polenta Cornbread

3 TB unsalted Butter, cut into pieces
118ml (4oz) (1/2 cup) Chicken Stock
280g (9.8oz) (1-3/4 cups) Medium-Grind Stone-Ground Yellow Cornmeal, divided (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
64g (2.25 oz) (1/2 cup) AP Flour  (just a little bit)
2 TB granulated Sugar
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
pinch of Cayenne
236ml (8oz) (1 cup) Buttermilk
5 TB Sour Cream
2 large Eggs, lightly beaten
optional - 85g (3 oz) (3/4 cup) Cheddar cheese

Heat the oven to 425°F and throw a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet in there.
In a small saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil.

Divide up your corn meal by placing 80g (2.8 oz) (1/2 cup) in a small bowl, and the remaining 200g (7 oz) (1 1/4 cups) in a large bowl.

Add the Flour, Sugar, Baking Powder, Salt, Baking Soda and Cayenne, then whisk to combine and set aside.

When the chicken stock comes to a boil, pour it over the cornmeal in the small bowl, whisking constantly, until it forms a polenta-ish mass (or puls, or mush, as the case may be).

Add the Buttermilk, Sour Cream, and Eggs to the cornmeal mush and whisk after each one is added.

Now is also the time to add any Cheese if you like. (always add to the wet ingredients, whether cheddar, green onions, bacon, diced jalapeno or all of them at once)

When the oven and pan are fully heated (about 15 minutes) remove the skillet from the oven and add the butter then throw it back in the oven (not literally, cause that would be messy) and let the butter melt and brown slightly.

While the butter is melting, add the Buttermilk/Polenta mixture to the dry ingredients in the large bowl, and stir, just until blended. (don't over mix, it doesn't need to be completely smooth)

Remove the cast iron skillet from the oven and tilt the pan to swirl the butter around to coat the pan evenly, then pour the butter into the batter and stir to combine about 6-8 strokes should be good.

Pour the batter into the hot skillet. (The sizzling is music to the ear)

Place back in the oven for about 18-20 minutes, or until the cornbread pulls away from the side of the skillet.

Remove the skillet from the oven and immediately turn the bread out onto a rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Serve hot, with a big bowl of chili. (though not necessarily as adorn with condiments as this bowl is).

mmmmmm  Crunchy exterior, dense, moist and totally tender interior... THIS is the stuff dreams are made of.


1 comment:

Patti T. said...

How funny is that, I eat my chili out of that same exact bowl. I love topping my chili with cheese and a dollop of sour cream. I am definitely using my cast iron skillet to make my corn bread next time, I think I will use some bacon grease instead of butter in it though, I know hubby would like that.