BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Let Them Eat Cornbread

Unwittingly, shamefully, it seems I’ve committed yet another culinary corruption. It was a crime of passion, as most are, born of unrequited cravings stemming from a deep, indecipherable source, compelling yet not entirely comprehensible. True love could hardly be described as rational, illuminating a clear path towards happiness, which is how this particular journey somehow got derailed into delinquency.

Cornbread, soft and sweet, haunted my dreams. Containing an impossibly dense yet fluffy crumb, melting away to a light, satisfying coarse grit on the tongue, this was the stuff of legend, a memory logged long ago during those early formative years that lack clear timestamps. It wasn’t any old Jiffy mix calling to me from beyond the periphery of cognition. It was cornbread you eat as an event by itself, not a mere side dish to a grander spread; cornbread that stole the show.

Without a second thought or further consultation, propelled by sheer passion and blissful ignorance, I tore into the cabinets to assemble my team. Cornmeal, coconut milk, olive oil, and sugar; all guilty by association. Any born and bred southerner could see in an instant where this is going by now, but in the heat of the moment, this uninformed Yankee hadn’t a care in the world.

Encrusted with a crunchy crumb topping and pock-marked with juicy red berries, still hot from the kiss of the oven, it was a sight to behold. Exactly what I had always wanted out of a cornbread without being able to fully verbalize the details, it exceeded expectations in a single bite. Though considerably more decadent than perhaps originally intended, one could hardly hold such delicious extravagance against it.

Hardly an hour passed before I settled in with a glossy food magazine that by some ironic twist of fate focused in on cornbread. Unscrupulously, the author decried the sugared excesses of modern cornbread recipes, claiming that true cornbread should remain entirely austere; unsweetened, unembellished, little more than baked corn puree. Strongly worded with equal parts revulsion and horror, I immediately understood the error of my ways.

Cake. This is corn cake. Are we clear? A mighty fine corn cake at that, but under no circumstances should it be categorized as cornbread. Can I plead innocence if we reconsider the end goal? Don’t call it a side dish and don’t invite it to dinner. Honestly, it won’t be offended! Rather, save it for a midday snack with a glass of iced tea, after the main meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or heck, save yourself a wedge for a rich breakfast treat in the morning.

Truth be told, this crime occurred so long ago that my original corn cake was prepared with red currants, found during a very brief seasonal window, and I was too ashamed to admit my wrongdoing at the time. Thankfully, I can attest that this treat won’t suffer the least bit if you swap them for ripe raspberries, or omit the fruit addition entirely. It’s highly flexible and fairly infallible, even if you prepared it as individual cupcakes. Just remember that this is a cake, through and through, and you’ll be golden.

Cornbread Crumb Cake

Crumb Topping:

1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Cornbread Cake:

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Fresh Red Currants or Raspberries (Optional)
1 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees lightly grease an 8-inch round baking pan; set aside.

Begin by making the crumb topping first. Combine the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil all over and use a fork to mix, forming chunky, coarse crumbs. It may seem dry at first but don’t be tempted to add more liquid; slowly but surely, it will come together, and there’s no need to stress if it remains fairly loose. Set aside.

Moving on to the main cake, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, both types of cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, stirring to thoroughly combine. Add in the currants or raspberries if using and toss to coat. This will help prevent them from simply sinking to the bottom during the baking process.

Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, olive oil, apple sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Once smooth, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and use a wide spatula to gently incorporate, being careful not to crush the berries or over-mix the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few errant lumps in the matrix.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and sprinkle evenly with the crumb topping.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes before slicing and serving, if you can bear the wait. It’s also fabulous at room temperature and can (theoretically) keep for 3 – 4 days if kept wrapped or sealed in an air-tight container.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

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Ay, Chihuahua!

Inspiration is often found in the most unusual places. In the case of my new favorite cornbread formula, it came in the form of a four-legged, two pound pup known throughout the entire bay area as Strummer. This darling little dog truly has a fan club, famous both for her size and sweet, loving nature that could melt even the iciest of hearts. When this pup speaks, the world listens. To deny her anything would constitute an act of unthinkable cruelty.

Thus, as a notoriously picky eater, the temptation to spoil the old gal with human foods is a constant temptation. While her dietetic, all-natural, “premium” canned slop sits in her bowl, slowly crusting over, the urge to push all remotely viable foods her way becomes absolutely maddening. I know very well what dogs should and should not eat, but ever since I learned that tortilla chips are one of her favorite treats, well… Let’s just say I always just happen to have a bag on hand when she comes to visit.

On her most recent sleepover, Strummer and her brother were having a raucous good time, play fighting with each other and rearranging all of the blankets and towels within their reach, when the tiny princess grew suddenly despondent. Hours passed while she hid beneath a tangle of pillows, that bowl of healthy food remaining completely untouched. There was nothing that could convince her to eat.

And so, I was forced to break out my secret weapon. I couldn’t let my beloved Strummer go hungry, after all! The trouble is that now in her golden years as a senior dog, her teeth aren’t quite what they used to be, nor as numerous, truth be told. Scheming up a way to feed my finicky house guest, it was that strange source of inspiration that led to the creation of tortilla chip cornbread.

No cornmeal need apply. The chips themselves provide a surprisingly full-flavored toasted corn taste throughout, making the formula perfect for those days when the pantry isn’t entirely accommodating. Designed for mass appeal, humans can enjoy these treats just as heartily as the canines we love, should they be so lucky to steal away a few bites. Such a simple formula may look suspect at first glance, but the results speak for themselves. Their soft, moist crumb can rival the very best baked goods, no matter the intended audience. Just try to share a few morsels with all of your friends- even those who can only woof quietly in approval.

Tortilla Chip Corn Muffins

4 Ounces Yellow Tortilla Chips, Finely Ground*
1 Cup White Whole Wheat or All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Coconut Oil, Melted
1 1/4 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

*If you’re making these to share with your four-legged friends, I would recommend seeking out low- or no-salt chips. For humans, I happen to love the super-salty chips and think they really make these muffins pop!

Preheat you oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a medium muffin pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the ground tortilla chips, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix well to distribute all of the dry ingredients throughout. Separately, whisk together the non-dairy milk, yogurt, sugar, melted coconut oil and vinegar until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the larger bowl of dry goods and stir gently, until just combined. Don’t worry if there are a few small lumps remaining.

Fill the prepared muffin tins with batter, about 3/4 of the way to the top, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. They will be lightly golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the muffins should come out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature. The muffins can also be made in advance and stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

Makes 8 – 10 Muffins

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