While Christmas is the main holiday draw here in Australia, in the US it takes a back seat to Thanksgiving. It kinda makes sense. It’s non-denominational, so even the Jews, Muslims, Hari Krishnas, atheists, animists, Jedis, Satanists, druids and witches can participate, along with the Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Quakers and Mormons. And while people sometimes go on vacation during the holiday season, just about everyone goes home for Thanksgiving to be with family.
So even though I’ve been away from home for 10 years now, I still get those tugs of the heartstrings when Thanksgiving comes around. I yearn for family and the familiar. That’s why, even though I think of myself as much as a new Australian as I do a lapsed American these days, I suddenly have a craving for American football (call it gridiron, but no-one in the US does), turkey, pumpkin pie and other expat Yanks.
In years past I’ve put on some massive Turkey Day spreads at home, but I wanted something easy this year, so I followed up last year’s idea and hooked up with the Sydney Expat American Meetup Group via Meetup.com for a potluck dinner on Bronte Beach. The brief was simple: bring a dish to share, making whatever you want to cook or – for the time-poor – buy.
I knew there would be plenty of turkey, apple pie, pumpkin pie and mashed potato, so I decided to whip up a longtime favourite that has never failed me. One of my oldest cookbooks is Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, by the famed New Orleans chef and very large individual who almost single-handedly brought Cajun and Creole food to a national, and then global, audience. That any of us can recognise jambalaya, etouffee and shrimp (prawn) Creole is largely thanks to his efforts. And for me, his sweet, buttery, Cajun-style cornbread is the definitive version.
This recipe is as easy as can be – all the work is in measuring the quantities and separately combining the wet and dry ingredients, then bringing them all together without overworking the mix. I bake mine in a glass Pyrex baking dish, and find that greasing it with Canola oil spray works much better than butter, since it doesn’t burn as easily at the edges. While the recipe calls for 55 minutes, I put the convection fan on and start watching the bread at about the 35-minute mark, pulling it out early just as the crust and edges darken without burning. It usually takes between 40 and 45 minutes.
Here’s the original recipe, which I’ve adapted only slightly for metric measurements and Australian terminology. And while the sugar is optional, it’s not the same without it, so unless you’re insulin-challenged, I suggest you go full throttle and enjoy that sweet-as flavour:
Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Cornbread
Makes 1 loaf
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups polenta (“cornmeal” in the US)
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup cornflour
5 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 1/3 cups milk (preferably full-fat)
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 small egg, beaten
In a large bowl, combine the flour, polenta, sugar, cornflour, baking powder and salt; mix well, breaking up any lumps. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, butter and egg and add to the dry ingredients; blend just until mixed and large lumps are dissolved. Do not overbeat.
Pour mixture into a greased 20cm-square baking pan and bake for 175C until golden brown, about 55 minutes [Again, I find it takes less time in my oven. Note: I actually use a 34cm x 24cm x 5cm glass dish for a thinner, rectangular cornbread. For Thanksgiving, I doubled the recipe for a bread that, after it rose, filled the entire dish. I then cut it and put it in a vintage cake tin so I could fit it in my Vespa's top box.] Remove from pan and serve immediately.