August 03, 2015

Southern Spoon Bread

It has been a long time since I last made Southern Spoon Bread, which is an egregious oversight. This is one of the few recipes that I still have from my teen years, handwritten on a 3x5" index card, from when I realized that I should make my own copies of all of my favourite recipes. After making it today, I'm reminded how much I like it, and what an interesting option it can make to round out a dinner. Or a breakfast. Or a snack.

Southern Spoon Bread is a kind of cornbread, or a kind of baked polenta, or maybe a kind of soufflé; maybe it's all of these things.

It is leavened solely with beaten egg*, which gives it a moist, wobbly, delicate texture when it first comes out of the oven, as well as a soufflé's tendency to deflate almost immediately. Made without wheat flour, it is naturally gluten free (check your own cornmeal supply to verify, of course, if that's a concern), and it is so tender and soft that you need a big spoon to serve it up -- it won't hold its structural integrity well enough to slice in a more conventional manner.

Southern Spoon Bread

Serves 4 - 6

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 3/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons butter
1 cup milk
2 eggs, separated, whites beaten to soft peaks

Preheat your oven (rack in the middle slot) to 375 F / 180 C. Butter a 2 quart capacity shallow baking dish - I used a 7x11" Pyrex dish.

Separate your eggs, putting the whites into a large-enough bowl that you can use a whisk or mixer to beat them until they are soft peaks, and setting the yolks aside into a separate small bowl.

In a medium saucepan or cooking pot, heat the water over medium heat until just simmering. Add the cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking constantly, until smooth. Add the salt and continue to whisk and cook until the mixture becomes stiff and thick. Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter and roughly half of the milk, and continue to whisk until smooth.

Add the remaining milk to the egg yolks, and whisk until smooth, and then add the yolk/milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture, and whisk it in until the mixture is completely smooth and everything is integrated.

Add the beaten egg whites to the cornmeal mixture, and fold the mixture gently with a wide spatula until the egg whites are thoroughly incorporated without any clumps. Bake, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes, or until puffed up and golden on top.

Serve immediately, spooning the bread onto individual plates.

If you have any leftover spoon bread, once it cools and sets more firmly you can slice it and fry it up in a skillet. You can serve it for breakfast (with or without syrup) or dinner alongside your main course.

*My original recipe is hardcore Southern-style, and does not call for the eggs to be separated, simply beaten well. If you choose this method, you might want to bump your oven temperature up to 400 F/200 C to ensure it puffs up nicely.

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