Spoonbread is like polenta met cornbread — and they called up soufflé and custard to have a party. This recipe is gluten-free, but not because the ingredients are left out that need to be there, but because it is naturally gluten-free. It has Native American roots and strong ties to the South. It can make a great addition to your Thanksgiving stuffing selection. The whole recipe comes together much quicker than you might think. Simmer milk, whisk in cornmeal, then eggs and bake. Slather with butter and enjoy!
Starch gelatinizes when hot. If you add the cornmeal to cold liquid and then bake the spoonbread, it can double the cooking time. Adding the cornmeal to cold liquid can also result in the spoonbread not have quite the airy texture that you get by whisking the eggs into the hot mixture. Mix the milk, cream, salt and butter in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. This allows the milk to be evenly seasoned with the salt and the butter to be evenly distributed.
Reduce the heat and toss in the cornmeal and sugar (the sugar can be left out if you are looking for strictly savory results). After a minute or two, the mixture will become a paste. At this point, you can add in some other items: whole kernels of corn, cheese, herbs, jalapeños, sautéed mushrooms, sautéed spinach or just about anything else that you can think of.
The hot cornmeal polenta mush is probably close to 185 degrees at this point — too hot to add eggs and not have them scramble. Some recipes will have you wait for 20 to 30 minutes. I find that waiting about 3 to 4 minutes is sufficient enough time to cool the mixture enough so the eggs don’t scramble. The mixture may separate slightly and then come back together when the eggs are fully incorporated. Once the eggs have fully incorporated, toss in the final ingredient of baking powder and scrape the whole mixture into a pan that has been slathered with butter. The pan needs to hold about 1½ quarts. Most 9- to 10-inch cast iron pans work well, a 9×5 loaf pan works great, or you can double the recipe for a 9×13 pan.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees for a convection oven, 400 degrees for a conventional oven. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until the top is set, golden brown and the entire mixture shakes as one mass. You can use a cake tester in the center. When inserted and removed, it should come out clean. Remove from the oven, but only rest for about 5 minutes. Even though it is slightly dangerous, it is best hot out of the oven, spooned onto a dish with a large pat of butter on top.
¼ cup cream
3 ounces butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 ounces cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 to 2 tablespoons butter to grease pan
Mix milk, cream, butter and salt into a saucepan. Have the other ingredients measured out (cornmeal and sugar can be mixed) and close at hand. Bring the items in the saucepan to a simmer over medium heat, reduce the heat and add cornmeal and sugar and stir until mixture thickens to a paste. Remove from heat and add corn kernels (or other desired items). Whisk for a few minutes to cool and add all 4 eggs at once and stir vigorously until incorporated. Whisk in baking powder and transfer to a greased pan. Place into a preheated 375-degree convection oven (400 degrees for conventional) for 12 to 15 minutes (rotate about halfway through) until the top is golden brown and shakes as one mass. A cake tester in the center should come out clean. Cool slightly, spoon onto a dish, top with a large pat of butter and enjoy.
Brook Harlan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center.