Sunday, March 6, 2011

Breakfast Cornbread

This recipe began its life as a corn muffin, but was transformed for several reasons. One, I do not have a muffin tin, which may be shocking as I present myself as a “baker.” The thing is, I do not have a dishwasher, and I feel sure that cleaning a muffin tin is something done in the fourth circle of hell. Besides, the “muffin” as a measurement is inconvenient. Sure, they're cute and pretty and puffy, but sometimes a muffin is too much, and sometimes, if I'm feeling gluttonous, it's not enough. And what do you do then? Cut the muffin in half and have to do something with half a muffin. Not that having an extra muffin half around is a huge bother, but I'm trying to make a case for non-muffin breakfast foods. Also, I'm constantly prowling for new and exciting ways to use my cast iron combo cooker, which is changing my life one dish at a time.

So, in my mind, as I read the recipe for Honey Corn Muffins, I almost immediately pictured it as a skillet cake. Then, because honey and corn seemed too one-dimensional to me (they would have only been slightly sweet, but sweet would have been the only flavor, and I'm not big on that kind of baking), I decided it couldn't hurt to throw in some blueberries and lemon zest. The tart zing from the berries and zest (and buttermilk) would be perfectly complimented by the mild, floral sweetness of the honey and the distinct flavor of the cornmeal. This is how a new recipe is born, kids.

I haven't had my cast iron combo cooker for long, but even so, it was seasoned well enough so the cornbread didn't stick. However, I have a Lodge combo cooker, and they supposedly come pre-seasoned, so this may factor into the seasoning equation. For those of you new to the cast iron scene, a few pointers.

      1. Don't believe anyone who says that you can't wash cast iron. You can. You may use soap as well. The important things to remember, though, are that you should not leave your cast iron sitting in water for extended periods of time. However, if you start soaking it and then forget until the next morning and the pan is rusted, don't worry. You can save it. Use steel wool to scrape the rust off, coat the pan with vegetable oil—inside and out--, and place it in a 350 degree oven until the oil burns off. This will smell bad, you will have to open your windows and turn on fans, and there will be smoke, but saving your cast iron is worth it. If you have a charcoal grill, you can re-season your skillet on the grill, adding charcoal as necessary. This will solve the problem of turning your lovely home into a sweat lodge. I also heard one old-timer say that if you have a bonfire, you can just coat the skillet with “grease” (Crisco) and throw the skillet into the hot ashes. The method is up to you, really.

      2. Every time you use your cast iron, wash it as soon as possible, and immediately dry it with a clean towel and coat it with oil. Not so much oil that it drips, but as much as the cast iron can soak in. I find that a teaspoon or two does just fine.

      3. Apparently there's a myth that you should never use cast iron for eggs. Bull puckey. You can use cast iron for any old thing (and this is according to an 18th century reenactor friend of ours who does most of his cooking on cast iron in a hearth). Cobbler, quiche, stew, bread, baked apples...The important thing is to keep it seasoned and dry. Granted, cast iron may not be ideal for eggs, which seem to be the reason teflon was invented, but should you find yourself with a craving for eggs and nothing but cast iron to cook them in, don't hesitate.

      4. I know this is common knowledge, but in the name of kitchen safety I'm going to restate it anyway. When cast iron gets hot, it gets hot all over, and it stays hot. Even though we all know this, I don't think I've met any cast iron user who has not burned him or herself badly because they forgot this rule. I think Lodge makes little sleeves to cover the handle of their cast iron pans, so if you're particularly forgetful, this may be the way to go.

Blueberry-Lemon Breakfast Cornbread

Makes one 9-inch corncake

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. If your skillet is well-seasoned, there's no need to grease it. Otherwise, spray or grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet. Place the skillet in the oven while it is preheating. In a medium bowl, whick lightly:

2 large eggs

Add and whisk to combine:

1 cup buttermilk

¼ cup honey

¼ cup (½ stick) salted butter, melted and cooled

zest from one lemon

In a large bowl, combine:

1 ¼ cups yellow cornmeal

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix just to combine. Fold in:

1 cup frozen blueberries

Pour batter into hot skillet. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until the top of the cornbread is a deep golden brown color and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm with butter and warmed maple syrup. There's no need to cool this on a rack. I left mine in the skillet to cool, and the crust did not burn. Any leftovers are delicious sliced and toasted.

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