I've never eaten cornbread before, but I'd bought a pack of finely ground yellow cornmeal from the supermarket - just because it was there - and had no idea what to do with it! I often buy new products on the spur of the moment, on the grounds that they might not be in stock for long, especially if there's no demand for it - I've read that supermarkets sometimes only trial new products for two or three weeks before deciding whether to stock it permanently.
A planned meal of chilli con carne seemed an ideal opportunity to use the cornmeal and try cornbread. The first problem was the wide diversity of recipes online. Which is more traditional? Which do I already have the ingredients for? How sweet do I want it be (The answer is 'not very'!!)? How large a batch do I want to make? And, most importantly - whose recipe could I trust?
I had just settled for a very simple cornbread from Martha Stewart, which used only storecupboard ingredients (no need to shop especially for yogurt or buttermilk), when I read a reply to the post I'd put on one of the messageboards I frequent, which recommended this recipe. This was similar to the Martha Stewart recipe in it's proportions, but added a little fat. So I decided to add some oil to Martha's recipe; then things got out of control, and I added some chopped hot chillies from a jar of preserved chillies and some grated strong cheddar cheese.
I'd also read that cornbread gets a crisp crust if the batter is poured into a pre-heated and greased skillet, so I used a 24cm (9.5") non-stick skillet pan, which I heated on the hob with about 25g of butter, before pouring in the batter.
By this time I felt as if I'd got a recipe to call my own, so here it is!
130g plain flour
130g fine cornmeal
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
250mls semi-skimmed milk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
50g strong cheddar cheese, finely grated*
4 small preserved hot chillies (fresh would also be good), seeds removed and finely chopped*
25g unsalted butter
*in my opinion, more of both of these additions are needed to get a good flavour - I will double both next time, with due regard to the varying heat of chillies..
Preheat the oven to 220C (200C fan).
Put the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and whick together to mix evenly.
Measure out the milk into a jug, add the eggs and oil and whisk together.
Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mix and stir quickly to amalgamate. As with muffins, don't bother too much if it looks lumpy.
Heat the butter in a 24cm skillet, until it is hot and foaming.
While this is happening, quickly mix the grated cheese and the chopped chillies into the batter, then pour it onto the foaming butter.
Turn off the heat and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden, and a cocktail stick comes out clean.
Serve immediately, cut into wedges.
The reaction to this cornbread was mixed. Hubs and I ate it as the only accompaniment to the chilli con carne, and he preferred it to having our usual rice. I thought it was a little dry and bland, so the recipe needs more work, but liked having it as a change to rice. I can't say I preferred it, though; it was strange eating the chilli on it's own, without some rice with every spoonful. I can imagine cornbread being a better accompaniment to soups. CT and new taster, FB (first born daughter, living at home for a while) both liked it, but thought it was strange eating it alongside chilli and rice, although they didn't want to do without the rice! Overall, I can see this being on the menu occasionally, but not as a permanent replacement for rice with a chilli!