Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cornbread -- how sweet it is


A few weeks ago, I had a lovely lunch at Dovetail, an Upper West Side restaurant that serves what I would call creative comfort food. The meal was good but the one thing that stood out for me (besides the excellent company) was the bread they served—it was a small, sweet loaf made with cornmeal that was by far the highlight of the meal.

Now, I’ve long said that cornbread made with sugar is no longer bread—it’s cake. That isn’t to say that it’s not delicious, but don’t go serving it alongside a bowl of beans or a plate of greens because sweet cornbread is best saved for dessert. (And I'm not alone in this belief.)

That said, while it doesn’t have a role during the main course, sweet cornbread at the end of the meal can be a wonderful thing. And for some reason I’ve always felt like it’s healthier than your usual dessert, even though with all the sugar and butter involved, it’s certainly not as virtuous as eating, say, an apple.



But perhaps my feeling goes back to when I was young. Whenever my family went to Luby’s, I was never allowed to get dessert. But I was allowed to get a sweet corn muffin to eat at the end of the meal, which in my mind was just as good if not better than any other dessert I might have chosen.

Dovetail’s sweet cornbread was no different. It would have been out of place paired with chili, but since my main course included French toast, the sweet cornbread was just fine. And while I usually make my cornbread Texas style without sugar, there’s nothing wrong with having a sweet cornbread in your repertoire for either dessert or for pleasing your Yankee friends. Dovetail’s had a soft, creamy texture that definitely made me want to bake it at home, so I asked for the recipe and, surprisingly, they gave it to me.

When I looked at the recipe, I started to laugh. No wonder it was so good—in it was over a cup of sugar and a cup of butter. There weren’t any eggs, so it wasn’t quite cake but instead more like a very sweet cornmeal biscuit. The recipe also called for cheddar cheese, but the amount was so minute that in proportion to the other ingredients, its sharp tangy flavor was lost. Not to mention, this cornbread would be best topped with fruit and cream or slathered in lots of honey—and neither one of those applications are made better with cheese.

If you like sweet cornbread, you will love this. But even if you agree with me that there should never be sugar in cornbread, you might also enjoy this because, well, it’s not truly cornbread. Instead, think of it as cake or a sweet biscuit. I know I will. And when those springtime strawberries arrive in a few weeks, this cornbread will make a dandy shortbread.

Sweet cornbread, adapted from Dovetail
Ingredients:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup coarse cornmeal
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese (optional)
2 sticks cold, cubed butter
1 cup buttermilk

Method:
Preheat oven to 400.

Mix all the dry ingredients. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles pea-sized crumbs. Add the buttermilk and stir until dough comes together.

Chill for one hour. Roll out into 3/4” thickness and cut out desired shapes.

Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Notes: If you want to make this savory, I’d cut out most of the sugar, increase the amount of cheese and throw in some jalapenos. You can also make it prettier if you do a milk wash before baking.

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49 comments:

Siri said...

Looks good, good, good. I'd never thought about making cornbread into any shape other than "pan" or "skillet". Bookmarked.

ellis said...

I've decided we're tastebud twins. I read PLENTY of food bloggers, but yours is the only site where I resolve that I simply MUST make everything you create.

Culinarywannabe said...

Yum yum yum! I love, much to my grandma's dismay, sweet cornbread. I always go for it over the savory kind. I'm seeing strawberry shortcakes in my future... :)

Olivia said...

Luby's RULES, I heard they were closing down but I hope they don't go the way of Wyatt's! I really miss eating all that good honest food, usually on the Luann Platter with everything you need. *sigh* God bless Texas...

Anyway, nothing beats a good yellow hunk of cornbread with lots of butter and a bowl of chili with melted cheese on top.

Ingrid said...

I'm a native Georgian and I prefer a sweeter cornbread. I didn't think sweet cornbread was a Yankee thing, just another option like sweet or unsweet tea. I will digress and say my opinion about sweet tea is a strong one. In the South, you shouln't have to even indicate sweet or unsweet. When you ask for iced tea, it should come sweet.

Back on topic, I like the sweeter bread because it's a good balance to the saltiness that some Southern favorites like collard greens can have or it can compliment sweeter dishes like candied yams or creamed corn. For savory cornbread, I like it in the form of hoe cakes with their crispy edges and softer middle.

Helene said...

So cute, I love the idea.

twentysomethingwoman said...

Mmm, I'm from southwest Louisiana and sweet cornbread is a staple. I consider salty cornbread a crime :-) This recipe looks great though!

tzaddi-93 said...

I think that savory cornbread needs a little sugar, but only about a teaspoon full in a whole pan of cornbread. A touch of sugar highlights the corn flavor without making it dessert. (I also put a spoonful of sugar in the water when I'm boiling corn to acheive the same effect.)

I definitely agree with you that corn bread or muffins made with a cup of sugar are desserts! It's corn cake, not corn bread!

Hillary S said...

I grew up eating cornbread made in an iron skillet with NO sugar. This does seem more like a cake but would probably be really tasty with BBQ.

Annie said...

I'm from Houston and we always had savory cornbread but I do actually like sweet cornbread a lot...but mostly cause it's like dessert as you say. I always liked bread for dessert anyhow. Growing up, my grandparents would let us have a snack before bed when we stayed with them. For my grandfather and my brother this was normally ice cream, but for Maw Maw and me it was always bread and butter. Of course back then it was Mrs. Bairds and margarine, which is not something I even like today. Give me real bread and real butter please! And can I just say, Luby's has the best macaroni and cheese on the planet. Oh my god. It is amazing.

heidi said...

Considering that I used to get the frightfully green jello cubes for dessert at Luby's, I think you made the right choice with the sweet corn muffin. Although I am on the "cornbread should always be savory" side of the fence :)

Jumper said...

This may not apply to this recipe, but lately I replace a bit of the cornmeal with masa. Gives a good cornier taste.

When I have (unsweetened) cornbread for dessert, I slather it with molasses and butter.

EAT! said...

I love cornbread and never make it enough. I have had both regular and sweet and they each have their place in a meal. Either way, I like mine with butter and honey.

lisaiscooking said...

I'm with you on savory cornbread for going with a main course. But, this sounds fantastic as part of strawberry shortcake!

Heather B said...

oh now...I'm a firm believer that sweet cornbread definitely goes with a bowl of beans. Not super sweet mind you but just enough to give it a touch of sweet. It's the cornbread I grew up on in Texas. I love super sweet at the end of the meal definitely...with lots of butter! But of course I love just about any cornbread as well!

Amy C Evans said...

Mmmm, can't wait to try this recipe! Also, Luby's!!!!! ;)

Aaron said...

This former Dallasite adds himself to the savory-only crowd, but he prefers to add chopped jalapenos to his cornbread.

Brenda in Texas said...

Well i have never met a pan of cornbread that I didnt like. My mom always put a tablespoon of sugar in her cornbread and I do the same.
She also put a little sugar in her fresh veggies when she was cooking them. She was just a great country cook and I sure would love to walk in her house and smell beans and
cornbread cooking. It is still one of my favorite meals and she has been gone for 6 years now. Miss her every single day.

KellyO said...

You are truly a Texan! Everyone in my family scoffs at those who consider the sweet cakey stuff cornbread. It's not!! Little do they know how much I like the sweet stuff. Can't wait to try this...

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Siri--Nor had I--though granted most cornbread batter wouldn't roll out.

Ellis--I have to say that you have very good taste!

Culinarywannabe--You're poor grandmother!

Olivia--I am a big fan of the Luann platter.

Ingrid--See, I'm one of those oddball Southerners who doesn't like sweet tea. Strange, isn't?

Helene--Thanks!

Twentysomethingwoman--Maybe it's just a Texas thing.

Tzaddi-93--Hmmm, I never thought about it that way.

Hillary S--If you have a sweet tooth, this would be awesome with barbecue.

Annie--I have to admit, that I still have a weak spot for Mrs. Baird's bread, though even margarine might be a bit much for me. I'll have to see if I can get Luby's macaroni and cheese recipe.

Heidi--See, I was upset that I couldn't get the green Jello--consider yourself lucky!

Jumper--I've never done that but will definitely try it next time I make cornbread.

Eat!--I'm a honey gal, too!

Lisaiscooking--I know--I can't wait to try it when the strawberries arrive.

Heather B--I'll have to try that next time I make beans.

Amy--It's been waaaaaay too long since I ate at a Luby's.

Aaron--Oh, yes! Jalapenos are awesome in cornbread.

Brenda in Texas--What a lovely memory. I love how food takes us back.

Kelly O--You're like my mom--she's a closet sweet cornbread lover, too.

suburban housefrau said...

My highlight of my Luby's visit was undoubtedly the little dish of jello cubes I got to have - only the red kind please.

My mother still makes her cornbread in a cast iron skillet. She'd give me dirty looks if she knew I used jiffy corn muffin mix. It's sweet, but it does it in well, a jiffy. ;)

My grandfather always had stale cornbread crumbled into buttermilk with breakfast. BLERGH! can't stand buttermilk...

Holly said...

Since moving to Mississippi from Houston, I have longed for Luby's mac and cheese. Out of sheer desperation, I googled the recipe a year or so back and found one that tastes right. If you have no luck that way, I know for sure it is in the "Luby's 50th Anniversary Recipe Collection Cookbook.

Shari@Whisk: a food blog said...

I love your heart-shaped cornbread!

Amelia said...

In my Oklahoma home I add sugar to my cornbread..have in the past and always will. Not enough to make it a sweet (like cake) but just a hint of sweetness. A must is yellow cornmeal - none of that white meal! Must be cooked in a very old cast iron skillet for the best taste.

Paula said...

I adore cornbread ... all types, sweet and cakey, savory and crumbly, with cheese w/o cheese, with stuff in them or plain ... I'm happy to eat them all! I love these little heart shaped goodies, and am drooling that they have both cheese and buttermilk in them. YUM!

Debra said...

This Georgia girl votes NO on sugar in the cornbread. Don't even get me started on Jiffy "cornbread" mix. Pffft.

I love a good crusty piece of cornbread (baked in the cast iron skillet, please) with my homemade vegetable soup or some greens and black-eyed peas.

One of my favorite desserts is a piece of cornbread slathered with real butter and topped with a generous spoonful of homemade fig preserves.

Yum. Makes me happy just thinking about it. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! I haven't seen this much fur fly since the Dixie Chicks said they didn't much care for Mr... oh never mind.

I always look forward to a new post from you, but I too have to disagree with the sugar thing.

My (Texan) grandmother used to make the best cornbread I've ever had. She made individual "ears" in cast iron molds. Even with years of seasoning on those molds, she would add a little bacon grease so the cornbread wouldn't stick. The bacon grease would fry the edges of the cornbread and the sugar would caramelize to make beautiful rich brown crust.

The great thing about those little "ears" of cornbread is the high ratio of "crust" to total cornbread.

Lee

suburban housefrau said...

oh, I totally forgot about the "ears" pan my grandma had!

Paula Maack said...

Wonderful idea! I love all cornbread, and especially the idea of a sweet cornbread shortcake with strawberries!! Yum!!!

How timely for the holiday. So cute!!

I just blogged about an aphrodisiac infused Valentines Day picnic at home here, should you be interested.

Happy Valentines Day!!

~ Paula

Cynthia said...

I first had corn bread for the first time last December in the US along with collard greens and fried chicken and it was sweet. I like the idea of a savoury corn bread. I am going to check your archives to see if I can find a recipe. I made Ina Garten's Jalapeno-Cheddar cornbread the other day.

Isla Edwards said...

Cornbread was a staple on our grade-school lunch menu. A good size semi-sweet square alternating some weeks with a couple of packets of Saltines, enchiladas TWO Wednesdays a month. Only in the Rio Grande Valley...I'm guessin'? I rarely packed lunch. :-)

I missin' home right now.

ann said...

How on earth did you know I was going to come to you for a cornbread recipe, and then I click over and lookee there, it's cornbread! We're making "white" chili with some of the awesome beans I just got shipped from Steve tomorrow night, and your cornbread will be alongside it. Mighty fine company, no? See you soon!

Anonymous said...

Not a cornbread purist. Cook in a dish or a cast iron pan, as long as you generously coat it with crisco lard or bacon grease and preheat the dish. I use Martha White's in the blue box to which I add 1/2 cup of canned or frozen sweet corn and 2 finely diced and seeded jalapenos. Everyone loves it.

mikefromtexas

Bren said...

i ate at this North Carolinian reto many years ago where the food was out of control delish. the owner/chef, Ms. Mildred was so loved that Good Morning America flew her up to feature on a cooking segment. The one thing I remember is the bread! good Lawd!!! this recipe reminded of that wonderful time!

masdevallia said...

I'm from California. I grew up eating proper cornbread, per your definition. But I worked in a TexMex restaurant that made a sweet corn cake that they served with platters of fajitas, etc. I like them both. I've never thought of making the sweet version at home, but this is a great idea. Thanks for reminding me that we're so close to berry season. I CAN'T WAIT!! I'll try this then!

Kelly J. said...

The only kind of cornbread I enjoy is the sweet kind, unless the cornbread is soaking up chili. I like my cornbread just slightly sweet and use honey for my sweetner. It also has the benefit of extending the life of the cornbread for an extra day.

The hearts, BTW, are way cute!

Jen said...

LOVE cornbread!! Looks amazing. Thanks.

Kylie of Thin Crust, Deep Dish said...

Lisa,
I'm going to have to try these. I've been on a biscuit kick lately, but I haven't really been able to find a recipe I love. And I also just got done making some cornmeal cookies, so this sounds like the perfect mix of the two. Thanks so much!
Take care,
Kylie

tbsamsel said...

I guess there are still those heavy aluminum (?) cornbread pans in the shape of Texas or Oklahoma. I prefer my Griswolds (cast iron).

Out in the Van Horn area, I saw a fellow put chopped raw jalape┼łos with the buttermilk and aigs in a blendor and use that as the fluid ingredients... made the cornbread appear to be a pale green, but it was extremely good with a bowl of frijoles.

Ted

Under Anesthesia said...

Wow, I just found this blog and I am so so happy! I moved to Savannah from Austin, TX about 6 months ago and have been so homesick, mostly for the food! In search of a King Ranch Chicken recipe, I find a blog stockpiled with many delicious foods from my homeland. Hurray! Thank you for providing me with much needed Texas yummies.

Captain Blogozines said...

So good on a tight budget too :) I love corn bread

Gregg said...

I was just surfing around some food websites and came across this article .....

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/real_food/article5561425.ece

Wow, you're even known across the pond now! I think you should be rated much better than #32, however.

Nicole said...

I happen to like both sweet and savory...I posted a cake-like version on foodbuzz.com under "sautegrillfryfunnygirl" and the recipe is called vanilla cornbread...Also, I would love for you to check out my website, fellow Texas girlfriend! http://itsthatgirlfromtheinside.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

I do understand what you mean about sweet cornbread. But I do like mine on the sweet side so I just worked a recipe that kinda finds that mid ground of Sweet and Hot water cornbread.
Thanks so much for your blog I live in Los Angeles and can so relate to all of your recipes

AT said...

Gotta weigh in - I'm in the sweet camp. We always had cornbread muffins with things like chili, beef stew, and collard greens when I was growing up. The sweet paired with the savory is what made it so good!

Angie B. said...

Thanks. I was looking for a good sweet cornbread recipe to make strawberry shortcake with and this is the by far the winner. Without the cheese, of course. Thanks again.

Ashlee said...

I absolutely love your blog! I found it a few days ago when I was searching for a carne guisada recipe and all your recipes seem to hit close to home! I'm from West Texas and miss that home-cooking so badly.

I also totally agree with you that sweet cornbread is considered cake! Can't eat it with red beans, greens, or cabbage like you can unsweetened corn bread! Just my opinion but can't wait to try the rest of your recipes. Thanks for this blog!

breadisbest said...

Mmm, I'm making this right now. It's still resting in the fridge, but it seems like it'll be the perfect scone-cornbread mix. I can't wait to eat it warm with honey.

Anonymous said...

I just like cornbread!! I like it plain, sweet, buttered and mostly topped with honey for dessert or breakfast (with a couple of pieces of bacon and hot coffee) and I am a 6th generation Texan :-)

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