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Friday, July 24, 2009

Foodie Friday - Cornbread Throwdown (BBA Challenge #10)

This week’s bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was cornbread. Now this… this is my kind of bread. No window “pain” test to pass. Just mix and go. And I was very interested to try Mr. Reinhart’s cornbread recipe since I found a recipe several years ago that my family and I really like in one of my trusty Cook’s Illustrated issues (January/February 2005).

Several weeks ago I read another post that compared a BBA recipe to one out of Cook’s (I would give a link here if I remembered who it was, but I don’t), and I think that is what gave me the inspiration to have a ”Cornbread Throwdown” (to borrow from Bobby Flay) between the two cornbread recipes.

My hypothesis was that the BBA cornbread would be the winner because it is topped with bacon and in our household it pretty well holds true that “If eating and cooking with bacon is wrong, we don’t want to be right.”

As you can see the basic ingredients for each are the same except for the bacon in the BBA cornbread (left) and the sharp cheddar cheese in the Cook’s cornbread (right).

One of the main differences between the two, though, is that the BBA recipe technically takes two days to make as you are to soak coarse cornmeal (polenta) in buttermilk overnight. The Cook’s recipe uses regular fine ground cornmeal and there is no soaking before hand. So one of the main questions in my mind was, “Is this bread worth taking two days to make?”

Confession: I forgot to put mine in to soak the night before, but I did it first thing in the morning and didn’t make it until that evening. It still soaked for about 7 hours, though.

I also need to note here that while both recipes call for a cake pan of some kind, I cooked both in my cast iron skillet because in my OH so humble opinion, there is absolutely NO other way to cook cornbread. I guess that’s my southern coming out, huh?

The BBA cornbread was first. The completed batter seemed fairly thin to me, like a cake batter. At 350ºF in the oven, it was will pretty well still liquid at the 30 minute mark that the recipe indicated. I know that my oven must be off a little because everything I bake takes a little longer than recipes indicate. But one thing that was handy was having the internal temperature of doneness. That let me know how far away from done we were. It ended up taking a total of around 40 minutes to bake in my oven.

The Cook’s batter was much thicker and lumpier, like a muffin batter. It cooks at 400ºF and took right at 25 minutes.

We had dinner and tried each with our meal. The verdict?

There you have it. The one with the cheese = we like the Cook’s Illustrated recipe best.

What was the difference?

For me, the BBA recipe was wetter and denser than the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. Later as I looked back, I realized that the BBA recipe called for twice as much buttermilk while not calling for a proportionately higher amount of flour/cornmeal.

The BBA recipe also added twice as much sugar plus honey. That makes for some sweet cornbread. I have always enjoyed sweet cornbread, but on this particular day, the more savory taste of the Cook's version with the cheese on top suited our tastes better.

Another difference that I recognized between the recipes was that the BBA recipe has you add 2 ½ cups of whole kernel corn right into the batter. The Cook’s recipe calls for ¾ cup (I usually go with closer to 1 cup) and it is just slightly processed in the food processor to break it up a bit. The whole kernels of the BBA recipe seemed to sink to the bottom and I wasn’t crazy about the disruption in the bread’s texture with the whole kernels. I preferred the broken up corn of the Cook’s recipe.

I have heard others say this, but there was a slightly strange taste initially with the BBA recipe. I’m not sure if, like others have thought, that it was the baking powder or what, but certainly, 1 ½ TABLEspoons of baking powder seemed like an awful lot to me. Could it have been a misprint? Should it be 1 ½ TEAspoons?

Overall Impressions:

Soaking the coarse cornmeal (polenta) was not a big deal and didn’t add any additional complexity to this recipe. It’s a fairly simple recipe and the bacon is a nice touch.

Would I make it again? At this point, no. Although, my man suggested I put some bacon in the Cook’s recipe.

In this post: Cheddar Cornbread


misterrios said...

Yeah, 1,5 Tablespoons of baking powder seemed like a lot, but I probably didn't notice because this came immediately after me adding 1,5 Tablespoons of Baking Soda and thinking it was a lot, then trying to madly salvage the recipe. I do love how the BBA corbread browns (even without bacon like mine) but the cheese would definitely win me over. Nice to see everyone's "benchmark recipes" though. Mine is from the New Joy of Cooking.

Genny said...

Loved looking at these pictures...I'm already hungry right now and they made me more hungry! lol

Happy Friday!

Frieda said...

Loved your judges panel! They are so great to support you in your cornbread throwdown!

The BBA bread (minus corn kernels) batter was thin, so I added more flour (almost 1/2 c.) till I got the consistency of a muffin batter. There was no way I could 'press' bacon on top of thin batter! I would also cut about 1/2 the sugar, too.

görel said...

I can't even remember if I used teaspoons or tablespoons? I must have used teaspoons, otherwise I would have got very suspicious.

Good idea though to do benchmark baking! I'm happy with one take though with this bread, it didn't become a favourite for us non-Americans, but I'll consider it for other recipes.

Kim said...

Loved the idea of a cornbread throw down :-) LOVE cornbread! I've tried a lot of recipes over the years, but found a standard one I really like and add stuff as I feel like -- corn, cheese (have tried all different kinds), green chilies, diced onions, diced peppers... depends on what I'm serving it with as to what goes in :-) Will have to try the bacon! And I TOTALLY AGREE about using a cast iron skillet. It's the only way to make it.

Here in Argentina we've had Sopa Paraguaya a couple of times, supposedly the only "solid" soup in the world. But it's really just cornbread soaked in broth and with a ton of sauteed onions and other good stuff. I haven't tried making it myself yet, but do want to try!

Anonymous said...

I (heart) cornbread & found this post very informative. Thanks Donna - well done!

Lori Anne

Kristen said...

Too cute - you have some great judges on hand there!

Stephanie said...

A cornbread throw down, how fun! We love cornbread and stick to making it in a cast iron pan too. And I am not southern, so don't know why i do it that way :) I add a can of creamed corn to mine and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before adding the leavening. It makes it moist and yummy! Your recipes are making me want cornbread!