Saturday, September 13, 2008

Craig Claibourne's Sunflower, MS Spoonbread

"Craig Claiborne was the pioneering food editor of the New York Times food section, having started it in 1957. Claiborne was originally from Sunflower, Mississippi, where his mother and the family's cooks served up this basic soufflé-style cornbread." Adapted from The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon.

Craig Claiborne was one of my early influences. I read the food section in the Sunday Times religiously, and bought the Chinese Cookbook Craig wrote with Virginia Lee while I was still in high school, determined to teach myself how to cook. Wish I had known him.


Vegetable oil cooking spray
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sifted stone-ground yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons baking powder

1. Preheat oven to 350°F, and spray a deep 1 1/2- to 2-quart baking dish with oil.

2. Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan, preferably nonstick. Gradually pour in the cornmeal with one hand, whisking with the other, creating a very thick mixture. Reduce heat; add the butter and salt. Continue cooking over low heat, stirring almost constantly, for 10 minutes.

3. Remove the cooked mush from the stove; transfer it to a medium-size heat-proof bowl. Let the mush cool to lukewarm, about 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a large, high-sided, nonplastic bowl. When the mush is lukewarm, beat yolks vigorously with a fork, then whip baking powder into them and quickly mix yolks into the mush, making sure yolk mixture is thoroughly incorporated.

5. Beat egg whites until stiff and glossy. Gently fold them into mush; transfer batter to prepared baking dish.

6. Bake until a knife inserted into center comes out barely clean, about 40 minutes. The spoonbread will have risen slightly, and its top will be irregular, with small deeply golden-brown patches. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wedding Spoonbread Redux

We got married on Sunday, in upstate New York, with our friends and families beaming all around us. The ceremony was the culmination of an indelibly memorable weekend. Our friend Tim Connor summed it up beautifully here.
(Have you seen Tim's installation of photo light boxes on display at the Atlantic/Pacific station in Brooklyn? Drop what you're doing and go see it, for god's sake! You'll leave inspired.)

At the end of the wedding we gave out little favor bags with the spoonbread recipe and pots of homemade strawberry jam. John and Karen tested the recipe today and sent me pictures of their luscious heart-shaped spoonbread, along with a few important modifications, which are reflected below: essentially,the J-K version is twice as sweet as the standard, and baked a little longer than usual. (Sort of like John, come to think of it...)
4 eggs, separated
1 cup cornmeal (preferably arrowhead mills)
3 - 4 cups whole milk (it depends on the kind of cornmeal you use. The finer grinds will absorb more liquid. If you use the larger amount of liquid, the baking time will be increased by about fifteen minutes)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup honey or more, to taste
2 Tbs sweet butter, plus more for buttering the dish and serving

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 1 and 1/2 quart baking dish. In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until medium peaks form. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal and 1 and 1/2 cups milk. In a pan over low heat, scald the remaining milk and then add the cornmeal mixture to it, whisking constantly until it begins to thicken, about 8 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Add the salt, sugar and butter. Stir in the egg yolks, one at a time. Fold in the egg whites. Pour the batter into the baking dish. Bake for about 65 minutes. Try not to open the oven during baking. The top will be a deep crusty brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean. Serve hot, with butter and jam.
Serves 6
(Wedding photo by Frank Jump)