For Aussie Thanksgiving, The Ultimate Cornbread

Cornbread

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.

Thanksgiving at Bronte Beach

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.

Cornbread

Before


Cornbread crumbs

After

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6 responses to this post.

  1. During the NY trip I previously spoke about, I did some rigorous research (well in advance actually; I did a daily lunch to dinner plan for a whole month…I’m nutty like that) and discovered an exceptional authentic Mexican eatery. Truth is, it’s located within a Mexican grocery, is pleasaingly gaudy like hell and you travel towards the back where there’s a mini canteen. Sweep your eyes over the menu board as they don’t speak much English (you know you’re getting the real deal now) and point, tongues wagging. The place is somewhat a hidden secret, I do believe. I highly recommend it:
    Tehuitzingo Deli Grocery
    695 10th Ave (between 47St & 48th St)
    New York, NY 10036

    Reply

  2. Hahaha very true that about Paul (thanks for the mini insightful review btw). I am quite intrigued by the more authentic, age-old recipes so I think the book may suit me fine although you’ve scared me just a little with such talk of excessive fat – which takes a fair bit for someone like me (meat loving, lard loving, all-rounded glutton really). Amazon research, here I come.

    I appreciate and value home cooking of all cuisines moreso than the sort you eat out generally speaking. Not to say that restaurant food is bad at all (dining out is a favourite past time of mine) but there’s a certain quality to the homemade cookery that’s more honest to me. I love Mexican; hard-pressed finding a proper one in Australia unfortunately so I actually traveled all the way to NYC to seek one out (obviously that wasn’t the sole reason but it sure played a part haha).

    Reply

    • I actually loves some of those fatty dishes, but it’s definitely the kind of cooking you do one a quarter – definitely not every week or else you’ll look like him. It’s also very brown food, and shows the need for New Orleans cuisine to bring in a bit more freshness. But the city is all about decadence, from alcohol to parades to food, so it’s counter-intuitive to talk about New Orleans and moderation/balance in the same sentence.

      Even good Mexican in the US is hard to come by. Well, anything in New York or LA will taste fantastic compared to the slop we serve here, but trying to find authentic Mexican using fresh ingredients is near impossible. That’s why I have to do a blog post soon about La Casita Mexicana in LA’s southeast, which blew me away and is the rare real-deal Mexican restaurant. Even the Mexicans in LA usually tend to American their food, but here they were focusing on regionality and seasonality, and growing their own Mexican produce in backyard gardens. It was that seldom, amazing, eating epiphany.

      Reply

  3. Your cornbread looks fabulous and may just be enough to persuade me in purchasing that particular cookbook – I’ve actually had my eye on it for awhile now but have always been uncertain as to whether it’s the best choice for a Southern book. Hmm…

    Speaking of Southern food, are there any restaurants in Sydney that serve the authentic stuff? I’ve heard of a few restaurants but most reviews I’ve read seem to fluctuate from “what the bloody hell is this?!” to “…scrumptious, heavenly unforgiving glutton food”.

    Reply

    • It’s a fantastic book for cooking what are now classic Creole and Cajun dishes, especially ones like the shrimp (prawn) Creole and crawfish (substitute yabbies, bugs, prawns, etc) etouffe. Some of the meat dishes, however, can get fatty and lardy to the point of insanity. You quickly make the connection as to why Paul Prudhomme is so massive on his cookbook cover. This is also strictly Louisiana/New Orleans cooking, so if you want more pan-Southern food, there are heaps of other, and more contemporary, cookbooks on the subject that will cover everything from collared greens to fried green tomatoes, wet and dry ribs, chicken-fried steak, etc.

      As with nearly all North American food, including Mexican, the only decent place to enjoy this kind of food is by making it at home. The one exception that I’ve heard about in Sydney is South restaurant in Mosman – I haven’t been yet, but it’s high on the hitlist.

      Reply

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