21 May 2008

One of my Holy Grails

I once knew someone who made it her life mission to make the perfect apple pie. She recorded the minutiae of her quest in a log--every apple type was graded on texture, taste, firmness, colour when cooked. She spent ages trying to come up with the perfect combination of fruit, sugars and spices. I think she recorded various pastries, but in the end settled on a family recipe. As far as I know, she's still searching for that perfect-to-her pie.

I have similar quests: finding decent shop-bought goodies -- chili pepper sauces, hot chocolate mixes, vanilla extracts; restaurant fare worth the price -- eggs Benedict, steak, Caesar salad, or creating something that pleases my palate -- cream cheese icing, creamy and fruity ice creams, hamburgers.

I never look for "perfection" as by their very nature, such Diogenes-worthy quests are Mercurial, subjective and prone to lead me round the bend. No, I simply want something that I can happily and reliably find (in shops) or put together with a degree of effort that's in keeping with the dish.

One of these Grails is cornbread.

When I was little, My Dear Little Mummy made a cornbread that I still remember. It was soft and sweet with a not-too grainy texture. A few years ago I asked her how to make it. She couldn't remember. It may have been from a clipping or one of her books (I've not found it) or it could have been one of her many made up concoctions that can't be duplicated.

Every few months I pick up the gauntlet and search for and try a new recipe. Most have been sadly disappointing--too dry, too heavy, too sour, too scungy.

I found one that was on the right track (it was a bit too wet and too sweet and had a slightly wrong aftertaste)--of all places it was the kind my office cafeteria makes when they serve chilli. I went so far as to ask for the recipe, knowing they'd given other recipes out: silence. Dead silence. That's when I decided they must have been making it from a box...

Two months ago I trawled the web and found this recipe. I rarely go into a recipe with a drudgery-induced "Recipe trial 187: well, it can't be worse than the others" mentality--that, in itself, is a recipe for disappointment.

But I now blush to say I was rather blasé about it.

It's sweet and soft and definitely not gritty...and it comes together in no time whatsoever. Um...I think I no longer have to search for a cornbread recipe that makes me happy. Very happy.

I first made it to go with ribs I made for the exbf's birthday in March, and I've since made it twice more. This latest time as muffins, with the addition of several forkfuls of pickled pepper rings, chopped. I'll probably keep playing with it--Monterey Jack cheese, basil, sun dried tomatoes...I'm going have fun with this one


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glamah16 said...

Maybe I need to go on the search for the Holy Grail of cornbread. Its always been a dish I could take or leave. Most time the overly sweet grittiness was a turn off.I m glad you found one that satisfies.

K and S said...

like you, I am searching for "the scone" recipe :) love your tower!

Anonymous said...

If I were closer I would volunteer to be your guinea pig! My hubby is skeptical about corn bread, but I think I'll spring this on him soon. Thanks for the recipe.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I'm still searching for the perfect pair of jeans -- a quest I began, I think, in high school! So I can imagine that the search for the perfect cornbread could take a lifetime. If you need a companion/taster on the journey, I'm happy to volunteer.

Delora said...

The best mix I've ever tried was by a brand called Penguin. You can purchase a large box at the US Costco stores. Their product is what I aspire to when making my own, as it is both light and sweet. Mine always seem to turn out dense.

To K&S - Try this recipe out for scones. It's not perfect (they always seem to spread out instead of up for me - next time I want to try baking them in a muffin tin to control the spread), but the flavor and texture is amazing. I make these at least twice a month.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my, Jasmine, you sound like my husband! I've got to tell you that one of my favorite cornbread recipes came from his mother - it's so rich and buttery that we call it "corn cake." And one of the ingredients, besides a lot of butter? Don't cringe, but it's Bisquick! Agh!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Cornbread does this to people. I have my cornbread recipe but I can always try another. Happy baking to us both

Anonymous said...

Cornbread is one of those things that I find people either love or could take or leave. It isn't exactly polarizing (I've never met a cornbread hater) but it definitely has a select fan base.

My mom falls into the fan camp and she loves the light muffiny cornbreads you get in Florida and Georgia restaurants.

I'm on the other take it or leave it side of the equation. When I worked at Pronto Restaurant which was a Toronto hot spot in the 80's and 90's I made cornbread everyday for their bread basket. OUr recipe was dense and moist but in my opinion, too filling for a restaurant that served such big portions.

And my point is? Glad you found your perfect cornbread. It's a cluttered cornbread landscape out there and I'm sure the search was long difficult.

BTW, K&S, Cooks illustrated did a great scone story with very good recipes late last year.

jasmine said...

Hello all

I'd not thought of cornbread as a "two groups" thing as most people I know simply like it. That said, when I served it to the exbf, he said that he never really liked it before as it was too gritty for him.

Oh well...I'm just happy I found a recipe to play with.