Sunday, January 18, 2009

Go To Recipes: Aunt Elfred's Magical Cornbread

It has been a long journey, for me -- finding a cornbread recipe that meets my rigid demands. It has been a long and hard search, fraught with peril, disappointments, lowered expectations, and more.

I didn't think my demands were that high. I want my corn muffins or bread to be slightly sweet (I do fall on the sweet side of the debate -- but I don't want it to be corn cake). I want it to be grainy, but maintain its integrity when you break it apart. I want the muffin to be crispy and toothsome on the crust, but that crust has to be thin and the inside should be high and fluffy.

I want it to be golden yellow. I don't want it to be wet and dense. I just want my corn muffin to be a big, yellow, grainy cloud.

I've tried many recipes over time, but none met my expectations. I finally gave up making my own, and just relied on ::head lowered:: an instant mix by Marie Callender's. In the restaurant, the bread is light and fluffy, so I began using cans of MC mix a long time ago. This add-water-only recipe was quick and fast. I wouldn't say it was great (it's actually too sweet) but it was the best of the mixes, I thought. Something happened recently, though. I bought a very large bag of the mix from Costco (previously I'd be using the smaller cans of mix from the grocery store) and I've made it several times, including very recently, and each time I found it was heavy, short, and dense. Nothing like I've been used to. I wondered if the mix was just old and ulimately I just assumed the formula had changed or cheapened and it wasn't going to the bread I ever remembered.

Fortunately, within days, I stumbled across a recipe on a blog called LunaCafe (don't get your hopes up -- it isn't a restaurant that I can see, darn it all) for cornbread where the blogger described it perfectly.


Does she understand this delicate balance required between bread and cake, muffin and biscuit? Dare I hope?

I gave LunaCafe's recipe for Aunt Elfred's Magical Cornbread a try, and, it was a complete success. My search is over. I say that with emphasis, so much so, that I've created a category called "Go To Recipes" to house those recipes which end the game for any others.

This recipe has an interesting distinction -- oil and sugar are whisked together into a paste into which eggs, milk and cornmeal are then added.

After the wet ingredients and corn meal are mixed, its added to the dry ingredients...

... and mixed just until it holds together. No longer.

LunaCafe uses a popover pan for high, proud muffins, but I'm quite fond of this squared off muffin pan, because they make perfectly sized muffins which fit in my bento box lunch container, and the shape makes for an interesting sandwich base.

This recipe also serves double duty for me. It ended my search for the perfect recipe, but, it qualifies for the BYOB (Bake Your Own Bread) Challenge I recently joined (more on that in my next post). While not a yeast-raised bread, it neverthless qualifies because it puts me back in the kitchen with a whisk and an array of ingredients which ordinarily would come out of a pre-made pouch of mix. That pouch Marie Callender's mix? Yeah, I threw it out, without one second of angst.

See the recipe here, and trust me on this. You'll love it. I followed it faithfully, but skipped the additions the first time out. Perhaps in the future I may add them (peppers, or onion, or more), but for me, a good corn muffin recipe can stand on its own without embellishment. This passes the test.


  1. Hey, Kate, Susan of LunaCafe here. :-) Thanks so much for trying Aunt Elfred's Cornbread and getting the word out. I love your square muffin pan, very cool. Our search stories are so similar. I tested cornbread recipes for years before happening on Aunt Elfred's version. Love your site!

  2. There are some foods that always remind me of my grandmother and cornbread is one. She made it every morning in an old cast iron skillet.

    I will definitely be trying this one.

  3. I made this tonight for the first time and it was delicious. Thanks for the recipe.