Cornbread goes back thousands of years, to native peoples of North, Central, and South America. Most likely, it spread from central Mexico over 7000 years ago. For many centuries, it was just a thin round unleavened flatbread, made of ground corn (called "maize" outside the USA) and water. Around 1700 this started to become referred to as "tortilla" (the Spanish for "little cake", derived from the Latin word "torta" for "flat cake" or "round loaf of bread"). The widespread pre-colonial North American native variety is referred to as "pone". The early colonial American equivalent is the "hoecake": it was originally baked over a wood fire on the flat metal part of a hoe (a spade-like tool for breaking up soil and removing weeds); the batter now included salt. Making a New England "Johnnycake" was taught to colonial settlers by the Pawtuxet Indians. These original flatbreads were nothing too exciting or tasty, and certainly not when eaten just plain. They were basically for sustenance rather than eating pleasure. This changed when the 2-ingredient recipe started getting jazzed up with eggs, fat (lard or butter), and buttermilk. Also, the dense bread was now fluffed up with a leavening agent (yeast or - towards the late 1800s - baking powder and baking soda). Note that good cornbread never needs additional sugar, as the meal is made of a corn variety with a high Brix number (% sucrose content).
Cornbread is not a form of polenta. Polenta (derived from puls, the Latin word for porridge or mush) is a slow-cooked semi-liquid mixture of ground grains. Until corn arrived in Italy around 1500, when European invaders returned from their excursions in what are now called the Americas, polenta was only made with ground spelt, barley, rye, millet, wheat, or buckwheat. Corn polenta is normally made from a corn variety with a high starch content (typically "otto file" = "eight-row" flint), and is also milled differently from cornmeal.
And NO, no matter what you say, believe or have read, there is NO such thing as the "original" or "genuine" cornbread recipe!
- Preparation time: 30 minutes
- Baking time: 35 minutes
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) coarse cornmeal
- If you want to try something different, use (natural) blue cornmeal - which does not appear to be available in Europe...
- 1/2 cup (80 grams) all-purpose flour
- In France, I use flour of type 55 (type 550 in Germany)
- 1/2 cup (240 ml) milk (skim milk is OK)
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- A standard large egg ways 63-73 grams in Europe, 57-64 grams (2-2.25 oz) in the US and Canada
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (not baking soda!)
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons duck fat (F: "graisse de canard"), melted
- In a pinch, you can use goose fat.
- Optional: 1 tablespoon Provençal dried herb mix (rosemary, oregano, marjoram, basil, thyme, savory)
Corn cobs - white, yellow, blue, and Native American multi-color
Duck fat is simply the rendered and filtered/cleaned fat of... ducks. It has lots of flavor, and is also absolutely delicious for pan frying potatoes, eggs, etc! It is basically pure fat, and does not have the lactose and proteins of butter. So it has a higher smoking point: it can be heated to higher temperatures than butter, without smoking and becoming very unhealthy. Nutrionally speaking, despite it being of animal origin, duck fat ranks between olive oil and butter. Compared to butter, it contains only half the amount of saturated fat, but not as much unsaturated fatty acid as olive or canola (rapeseed) oil.
Duck fat - nutrional properties
(source: Santé Canada)
Duck fat is typically sold in glass jars and cans. It comes in two colors: white and yellow. There is no difference in taste. The color difference is simply caused by the color of the corn (maize) with which the ducks were fed: white or yellow. Yellow corn just contains more carotene. Evil tongues claim that the yellow duck fat is actually duck ear wax, but duck ears are too small for industrial scale production...
White and yellow duck fat
(image source: Ferme de Las Crabères)
EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES
- Large size bowl
- Medium size bowl
- Wire whisk
- Plastic kitchen film (cling film, wrap)
- Stand mixer / kitchen machine with a dough hook
- Spring form pan, diameter ca. 16.5 cm (6.5 inch) (F: "moule à charniere")
- Alternatively: mini-loaf silicone mold
- Optional (but very helpful): food/meat thermometer
ADD PIX SILICONE MOLD, SPRING PAN, ....
PREPARATION / DIRECTIONS
- Pre-heat the oven to 175 °C (350 °F), put rack at the lower third of the oven
- Mix all
- Grease pan (not mould)
- Bake for 35 minutes and until deep golden - check doneness with a metal skewer or small sharp knife.
- Baking time varies with the thickness and material of your pan, your oven, etc.
- Core temperature should be at least 80 °C (175 °F)
- Should rise to about 3 cm (1.5 inch)
- Let cool 5 minutes, then remove from pan or mould, and transfer to wire rack until completely cooled off.
- ???? vs very hot skillet
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