While travelling through America and staying with friends, I encountered Cornbread, which is something we simply don’t have in the UK. It is rather calorific, but I love taking a wedge or as a corn muffin for one of those American long journeys. While in Chicago about five years ago, I nearly ate one too many, having booked into a hotel directly opposite Whole Foods. An amazing food hall of delights, with cornbread!
So inspired by my fabulous American friend Mary Ann, who found me an authentic 1950’s cornbread recipe from her Southern Cook Book, I thought it was worth a shot at trying to bake some here in the UK. Back then they were referred to hoe or ash cakes or corn tash. Typically, the corn bread was wrapped in cabbage leaves and baked in hot ashes (southern).
But, before I could get baking, I needed to answer several questions. Firstly what and where do I find cornmeal, as I’ve never seen it in the supermarkets, secondly what is half and half? The internet is a wonderful thing and after some digging, I found some answers, although that in itself required some further research.
Let’s start with what cornmeal actually is. What Americans call coarse cornmeal, the UK calls Polenta or semolina. Do not use this, as it will be VERY dry and you’ll feel like you’re chewing on grit. Finely ground cornmeal is known to Americans as just cornmeal, whereas the UK refer to it as maize flour (which is actually referred to as corn flour in the US), but our corn flour is a starch agent for thickening, which is referred to as corn starch across the pond and is used for baking, far more than in the UK.
I hope you are still following me! In short, for cornbread recipes, buy fine yellow corn meal and you cannot go wrong.
The other illusive item here in the UK is the half and half milk (half buttermilk and half cream), which is in abundance in the US, but not the confused with the UK term for mild ale and bitter mix.
My initial thoughts were to use semi-skimmed milk, but Mary Ann tells me half and half is sweeter milk than what we have. I decided to use buttermilk, as it’s a thicker consistency to milk. I didn’t find it necessary to up the sweetness of the recipe to account for a half and half substitute. Cornbread is definitely sweet enough for my taste.
Finally the cooking temperatures. The recipe didn’t give a temperature, other than a less than helpful line about cooking until they’re done. Hmm, taking into account the average temperature of cornbread recipes I looked up, it seems 350F. 180C/170C Fan/Gas 4. I treated the bread as a cake, but 20-25 minutes wasn’t long enough and as the top started to brown, I covered with parchment and the knife was clean after 40-45 minutes.
My adapted recipe is below.
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