In my attempts to consume nothing but foods dripping with American during our brief jaunt to the motherland, I made some interesting choices. I bought all sorts of junk that I didn’t actually end up eating, I made brownies that nobody in my family but me likes, and I decided to make cornbread stuffed with cream. Drowned in maple syrup and blueberries. For dessert. The only thing that could make this thing more American would be if you doused the whole thing in hot fudge and sprinkled bacon crumblings on top. Alas, we had a vegetarian at the table.
I’d seen this recipe before, but I put off making it until I was in the States because it just didn’t feel right. It was going to be over the top, unabashedly indulgent and deliciously irreverent. And while Australians and Americans share lots of food loves – McDonalds (“Maccas”), MasterChef, meat – I’ve never even seen cornbread here and imported maple syrup is so expensive you wouldn’t exactly use it to douse. My mind was made up. Before I could make custard-filled cornbread, a symbol of everything wrong and right with America, I’d have to wait until I was back on American soil where such things could be truly appreciated.
The problem was the actual custard-filled cornbread was kind of…how shall I put this?….subtle. The cornbread layer was very dense, while the custard was almost runny. None of it could really be described as sweet – but it wasn’t savory – and I long debated the merits of serving something so closely resembling breakfast – maple syrup and all – for dessert. I asked everyone I could to take a bite and tell me what they thought. “Fine,” my dad said. “It’s good,” said mum. “I don’t like it,” said Francesco before asking for another bite and changing his mind.
And that’s kind of how everyone felt about it. It was fine. It was ok. It was a pleasant – if not original – end to a delicious meal. Did it quicken your pulse? Not so much. But maybe that’s where I learned a lesson. American cuisine doesn’t have to be outrageous in the quantities of butter or canned ingredients it uses. It doesn’t have to overload your senses. Sometimes a piece of cornbread with cream and maple syrup is as simple as it sounds. We Americans never pride ourselves on the simple things. But, judging from our apple pie-filled repertoire, maybe we should.
Recipe adapted ever so slightly from Marion Cunningham, from The Breakfast Book via Le Petit Brioche. Serves 12 for breakfast, tea or dessert. Serve warm (or reheated in the microwave) with lots and lots of good-quality maple syrup (grade B is my favorite) or honey.
butter for the pan
1 cup flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 large eggs
3 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
2 cups whole milk
1 ½ tbsp white vinegar
1 cup heavy cream
lots of maple syrup or honey for serving
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish or a 9 inch round pan. Put the dish in the oven to warm while you’re preparing the batter.
In a small bowl whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda.
Whisk the eggs and melted butter together. Then add the sugar, salt, milk and vinegar. Whisking constantly, add the flour mixture. Mix until the batter is smooth and no lumps are visible. Remove the heated pan from the oven, and pour in the batter.
Carefully pour the cream into the center of the batter. DO NOT STIR. The cream will form a layer just under the surface of the batter. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving. Can be made a few days ahead and kept wrapped in the fridge.