The Fresh Loaf

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Cornbread advice for non-native eaters

Yorkshire Pudding's picture
Yorkshire Pudding

Cornbread advice for non-native eaters

Hiya,

Here in the UK, cornbread is not part of our culinary heritage. It's good stuff, and I make it quite a lot, but it's not as though I have my mother's mother's mother's old faithful recipe/technique to rely on. I've been playing about with this recipe I got from the NYT many moons ago, and it's broadly OK, but it tends to be a bit dense and heavy whatever I do to it, and can suffer from being a bit crumbly and granular on occasion.

So, this is kind of a recipe request, but an advice/info request too. Is cornbread 'supposed' to be a light, moist affair or does it tend toward the hefty? Is it soft and chewy or is crumbliness inherent? Do folks have any recipes which steer towards the soft and light?

Now, as I mentioned, I'm in the UK, and that means I find capacity-based measures for dry goods infuriating. I know the history, I know about Fanny Merritt Farmer, I know they're entrenched in US cookery now, but they're still infuriating when you're trying to be accurate! So, obviously I can work with stuff based on cups if that's what folks have, but if anyone happens to have weight-based recipes, I'd be really very grateful!

Thanks everyone,

YP

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

I too am from the UK, and so have no heritage either, and the same abhorrence of capacity measure. But I love cornbread, yellow for preference. Mine is quite crumbly and dries after a day or two (if it lasts that long). Recipe details are here.

Yorkshire Pudding's picture
Yorkshire Pudding

Woo (and, if you will) hoo.

Thanks for that, I'll give it a bash. 

charbono's picture
charbono

I don't think cornbread is supposed to be a particular way, although most people agree about a cast-iron pan.

People have grown used to a crumbly texture caused by relatively coarse meal. Some add an extra egg for cohesiveness. For lightness, lots of people use a high percent of refined wheat flour.

Exact measurements are not important.

I use 80% fine corn flour. Bob's sells it, but I make my own. My cornbread is cake-like.

Yorkshire Pudding's picture
Yorkshire Pudding

Well, I do know that "corn flour" in the UK is likely to be what you know as cornstarch, so - two cultures divided by a common language and all - you might need to translate for a foreigner...

Presumably 80% refers to the proportion you use in the recipe, but presumption is probably unwise: is that what you mean, or is "80% fine corn flour" a thing? 

charbono's picture
charbono

YP,

I am not referring to cornstarch. Nor am I referring to masa harina. I am referring the finest fraction of first-break, ground, dent maize. Ideally, I would use a floury variety, not a dent variety. The fine fraction will give you more of the floury endosperm and less of the flinty endosperm, resulting in a bread texture that is less gritty and crumbly.

When I say 80%, I mean my own blend of 80% maize flour and 20% all-purpose wheat flour.

cb

Yorkshire Pudding's picture
Yorkshire Pudding

I knew you didn't mean cornstarch! I just meant that as "corn flour" in the UK means cornstarch, there was a chance there might be other examples of same word/different meaning that I hadn't encountered.

I know enough to know that I might not know enough - it's always safest to ask.

charbono's picture
charbono

There's plenty of confusion on this side. I often look to the old country to keep our language straight.

A couple of comments about differences in the word “meal”:

  • I am under the impression that a whole wheat bread in the US is a whole meal bread in the UK.

  • In the corn (maize) dry-milling industry, there is a range of products. Coarser fractions are called grits. Intermediate granulations are called meals. Fine fractions are called flours. (One of the products of wet-milling is corn starch.)

To get back to your original question, most people in the US are using corn meal to make corn bread. They are not aware of, or don't seek out, corn flour. Their corn breads are inevitably somewhat gritty or crumbly, depending on how much refined wheat flour is incorporated. If the bread is too moist, it's simply not baked long enough.

 

Yorkshire Pudding's picture
Yorkshire Pudding

I'd never really considered the "meal" element of "wholemeal": I guess because it's always run together as a single word. "Whole wheat" tends only to be used with reference to breakfast cereals.

I'd heard of there being a product over there called corn flour (as opposed to cornflour) and assumed it was essentially a finer milling of the common corn meal, but I couldn't be sure how readily available it was.

Corn meal is relatively uncommon here - not rare, as such - but certainly not something I'd guarantee being able to find in every supermarket. Corn flour, therefore, is probably quite a reclusive creature on these shores, and given the preponderance of cornflour (starch), probably labelled as something different! 

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

Try the following to improve whatever recipe you use:

1) use buttermilk for liquid, kefir, or yogurt diluted with mild.

2) most importantly, after mixing all ingredients, let it sit on the counter for an hour - then put batter in tins and bake.  That extra hour makes them moist and you may find the batter stiffened up after the rest so feel free to add a little more liquid to get it right.  Then add the baking powder.  Make sure your batter is closer to cake batter than say mash potato consistency, the extra hydration works well.

3)  Use extra fine grind vs course sand like cornmeal if possible.  Combined with #2 above, I have made them 100% corn flour vs 50/50 white/corn, or 20/80 or such. That said I do like 1/3 white flour.   It will work fine with courser corn meal if you give it the hour rest before baking.

4) Muffin tin and cake pan works fine, as does cast iron pan.  whatever you have will  likely work fine.

Hope these tips are useful!

Cheers...

Yorkshire Pudding's picture
Yorkshire Pudding

I haven't tried any of this yet, but it all sounds instinctively like good advice. Thank you! 

I'm going to assume that "yogurt diluted with mild" is a typo? Even in these days of craft-beer enthusiasm, mild's still pretty rare, even in England... 

Itamito's picture
Itamito

I have used the recipe from King Arthur for many years and really liked the cornbread.  Also their recipes have weights as well as cups for the ingredients.  I get the recipe here  https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/cornbread-recipe 

 
idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Here's what I mainly grew up with as "corn bread" or "corn muffins": 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=jiffy+corn+muffin+mix&i=grocery&tag=froglallabout-20

BTW, some folks from the Indian subcontinent like yellow corn flour (not the stuff we call "corn starch" which is your "corn flour"), so you may find fine grind real corn flour/meal at Indo-Pak stores.

One brand is "Sher Brar" from Canada. Here in the US, it's next to the wheat flour in the Indo-Pak stores. Sher corn flour comes in 20 pound bags, so you may need to get a "re-pack" where the grocer sub-divides it to sell in smaller quantities.  See the package here: www.sherbrarmills.com just scroll down a bit.

The corn that mostly  goes into our American "corn bread" is called "corn meal" and comes in at least two levels of particle size, fine and coarse.  Yellow, as opposed to white, corn meal was used back in my youth.  It usually almost always has the germ removed to preserve freshness, so it is labeled "degerminated."

Some people like whole kernals of corn in their corn bread, from fresh off the cob, canned, or frozen.  I don't like it that way.   I prefer a mostly dry crumb that can soak up the stewy sauce from chili.

In my book, corn bread or corn muffins can have up to 50% wheat flour, but preferrably no more than 33% as a percent of total corn+wheat flours.

Polenta, a very coarse corn meal, can also be used, but needs to be soaked and softened, or pre-cooked, first before adding other ingredients.

Bon appetit!

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

I do not soak the corn meal sold as polenta, at least here in Italy, before using it, and my cornbread is pretty good. I do advise against instant polenta though, as it tends to be gummy, a mistake I made once.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

YP, your are correct - I missed the typo.  Should be water used to dilute the yogurt to the consistency of buttermilk.  Plain yogurt with no gum or additives, just natural cultures.  Buttermilk is preferred but yogurt will do just fine.  Post your results!

Cheers!

Baker Frank's picture
Baker Frank

Try Jeffrey Hamelman's cornbread: good rise, hard crust, not crumbly, not dry, no sugar added, no buttermilk. Great for so many uses: toast with jam is my favorite.

Years ago Daniel Leader sold a corn bread at Green Markets. A very similar bread, in my opinion better. I've tried searching for the recipe, I even wrote to him. It will forever be a fond memory. He may have a similar recipe in his original book but it's not the same.

Frank

 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Like any other type of bread, corn bread has many variations and ingredients. In the US, corn meal is ground dried (dent?) corn.It comes in various grinds from powdered to very coarse  (polenta). For cornbread, the corn meal is more like Cream of wheat/semolina-gritty like sand-not powdery like flour. Any grind of dried corn can be used but like any grain added to bread, the larger the grind, the more it should be soaked/cooked prior to using in a fast mix/short bake bread or you risk sacrificing a few teeth. So that is the description of the corn meal used in US based corn bread.

Secondly, corn bread originated with native Americans and was often hand ground (on a rock) corn, soaked,mixed with flavorants (onions) and possibly fats and cooked in an open fire in the form of small cake or flatbread. It was crumbly or very tough-not much in between. Fast forward to colonial times and ovens and corn cakes became more small loaves or cakes. Still crumbly or tough. "Journey Cakes" travelled well but were very hard on the teeth and the name became bastardized to "Johnny Cakes".

Fast forward again and it has become a signature dish of the American South and Appalachia region where corn was king and many people (even into the 1900's) may never have had wheat-based bread. Corn was the staple crop and corn bread was the staple.

Modern times-Corn bread has regional differences. Southern corn bread is a baking soda/powder leavened batter "bread". It often has buttermilk for acidity and baking soda to react to raise the bread. Southern corn bread typically has NO sugar and is 100% corn meal so it is dry and crumbly. Honey/jam/gravy is put over the top.   Modern tastes have changed, wheat flour is easily obtainable so the recipe has changed a lot. Now the corn bread is made with varying percentages of wheat flour/corn meal so the bread remains non-crumbly when eaten. Fats and sugars are added and it has become much more cake-like.  Nowadays,traditional "corn bread" in the US is always chemically leavened and not meant to be a sandwich loaf. Muffins, cast iron corn pone or corn stick pans and cast iron skillets are commonly used to achieve a crunchy exterior these days. Additives are whatever you like-bacon,cheese, jalapenos, sweet and savory additives.

So have fun and bake some delicious corn bread.

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Namaste, YP-sahib,

My suspicion of Indo-Pak stores in the UK having corn products turned out correct.  Here's a web store:

https://www.spicesofindia.co.uk/cgi-bin/ss000001.pl?page=search&SS=corn&PR=-1&TB=O&ACTION.x=0&ACTION.y=0

scroll down to see cornmeal and "fine" polenta.  I suspect "fine polenta" might be the equivalent of medium or coarse "cornmeal" in the US.

This almost guarantees, or at least strongly suggests, that a brick-and-mortar Indian/Pakistani store near you will carry similar products.  And therefore, you can inspect packages in person without gambling on a web order.

Buen provecho!

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Is here: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9375-cornbread

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons butter, olive oil, lard or bacon drippings
  • 1 ½ cups medium-grind cornmeal
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ to ½ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¼ cups milk, more if needed

See link for instructions.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

http://www.thefreshloaf.com//recipes/cornraisinbread

Love it!

Toasting, roasting and browning not to mention anything over a fire, are some ways to bring out the best flavours in corn.