Thursday, May 15, 2008

How Not to Make Cornbread

Ah, cornbread. The perfect combination of the sweet and the gritty, of comfort and strength. I always think of cornbread personified as a kind cowboy -- tough and rugged, and curiously gentle. I don't know how it works, but the bread's (and the cowboy's, I suppose, to really force the analogy) rough texture combined the light honeyed taste just do. Wonderfully, cosmically, without fail.

Except for my most recent loaf. Over-baked, bland, and broken, the cornbread that emerged from my oven earlier this week in no way embodied cowboy-incarnated perfection. It's sad, really, because cornbread is not hard to make. In fact, I've produced several loaves and batches of corn muffins to great effect. Throw a little butter or honey onto a warm slice of cornbread and you're golden, both literally and otherwise.

But not this time. I blame it on my own overzealous ambition. I wanted to make cornbread, with a twist. Cornbread that really popped. Cornbread that was different, brilliant, a shining light in the cornbread community.

This month's ingredients for the Royal Foodie Joust, hosted by The Leftover Queen, are raspberry, lime, and almond. Fruity, nutty goodness, eh? My brain hummed and percolated, until I decided -- wouldn't those ingredients taste great folded into a loaf of cornbread? A little sweet, a little savory, it seemed like a sure success.

The loaf, along with the two sampling muffins for myself and the Best Husband Ever (I wanted to give the loaf of bread to my wonderful mother-in-law), looked really lovely as it went into the oven. Raspberry zinger cornbread crusted in almonds -- it couldn't fail. The lime with the cornbread reminded me of Mexican-style tastes, while the raspberries seemed to lend color, sweetness, and extra zing. The almonds would add sustenance and a beautifully crunchy top crust, I thought. With a little lime zest grated over the top of the bread, I closed the oven and waited with great expectation.

The two muffins finished baking first. Setting one aside for the hubby, I settled down to enjoy my Joust-winning raspberry zinger corn muffin. Warm and steaming and full of plump, pink raspberries, the muffin tasted -- pretty good. Not bad, to be sure. But not amazing. Not brilliant. Not zipping with limey tang as I had thought. Instead it just tasted like cornbread with some raspberries thrown in.

Darn. What happened? In hindsight, I think the failure in terms of taste is due to a deficit of limes. Next time I will put at least one whole lime into the batter in addition to the two tablespoons of lime juice. Also, the sprinkling of lime zest didn't seem to add much, if any, flavor as I trouble grating the rind. It came off sort of gloopy instead of as the crisper curls that I expected.

The loaf of cornbread still baked away in the oven. It seemed to be taking much longer than its usual twenty-five-ish minutes. Perhaps I was just feeling hasty, eager to practice some yoga and get on with my day. I poked the warming bread with what felt like an eternity of toothpicks, but they continued to come out sticky. After about forty minutes, I decided that enough was enough and removed the cornbread, setting it to cool in its pan for a few minutes before attempting to move it to a cooling rack.

Upending the loaf, which at this point seemed overly brown and crispy on top, was a mistake. Everything seemed to be going well until half of the bread dislodged and uncooked batter poured out. I yelped, righted the pan, and hastily stuffed the now mangled bread bake into the oven, where I let it bake for another twenty minutes or so.

The final result was more than salvageable. Only the bottom of half of the loaf had fallen out, so I could passably disguise the mistake. Also, it all tasted pretty good, and didn't come out too dry. I could still gift it to my mother-in-law, although with same sadness as she -- and any mom, really -- deserves a non-crippled loaf of cornbread. Still, it seemed like a waste to do anything else with the forlorn bread. She was, as always, gracious and exclaimed over it regardless.

But is the cornbread worthy of the Joust? I really don't think so. It doesn't truly embrace or show off the combination of raspberries, lime, and almonds in a unique way. So another attempt is in order for June's Joust for me. I was toying with the idea of cornbread pancakes with raspberry, lime, and ground almonds, or perhaps almond butter, but at this point I don't know if I'm up for another cornbread adventure or, as the case may be, misadventure. For now, enjoy this updated and not-bad-at-all recipe.

Raspberry Zinger Cornbread

3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 t baking powder

1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup egg replacer (or 1 egg, or 2 whites)

1 cup raspberries
1 whole lime, chopped, rind removed
2 T lime juice
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the dry ingredients. Add the milk, egg, applesauce, berries, lime, and lime juice. Stir until fully mixed.

Pour into a bread pan or a muffin tin. Sprinkle almonds and grated rind from the lime over the top of the batter, covering the entire area.

Bake for 20-25 minutes for muffins, or 40-50 minutes for a loaf, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

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