Cornbread with an open mind

Just one afternoon, as I was planning a Southern food for friends coming more than for dinner, I understood I experienced neglected to make the cornbread. But due to the fact I keep all the elements on hand at all moments, I understood I would not have a difficulty quickly baking a spherical. Nonetheless, as I searched through my pantry, I observed that I experienced no cornmeal remaining, but in its place on the shelf, a lone bag of masa harina. “Corn for corn,” I assumed and decided to use it to make my cornbread.

The recipe — my grandmother’s, which I have manufactured a great number of instances in my everyday living — made with masa harina generated a cornbread that was distinctly unique from what I was made use of to but was similarly tasty. It experienced a significantly additional pronounced corn flavor and was softer. It was one particular of those modest experiments that turned out to be a significantly bigger offer in hindsight — the happenstance of its creation opened my thoughts to what cornbread could be.

Masa harina in cornbread is not new, but it’s however not as common as I imagine it must be. But to have an understanding of the ingredient’s brilliance in this application, we initial should determine what it is and is not. Generally, the cornmeal you and I purchase in grocery outlets is produced with dried corn that is ground to varying degrees of coarseness. It is commonly produced with dent corn, a assortment of “field corn” that is coated in a hard starch exterior covering a tender starch centre. (Polenta, a coarse floor cornmeal, is built with flint corn, which is generally tricky starch through.)

Masa harina, nevertheless, is made by 1st soaking the corn kernels in an alkaline remedy like slaked lime or lye, which dissolves the tricky outer shell and leaves driving the gentle starch heart. This centre is then floor good and dried to deliver the masa harina. The soaking stage can make the corn a lot more quickly digestible but it also has the additional benefit of building the corn flavor extra, effectively, corny.

Masa harina’s softer and finer texture is specifically why it’s suited for creating doughs for tortillas and tamales. But it also serves to make an even more tender Southern-fashion cornbread when used in spot of coarse cornmeal. That I was applying locally developed heirloom masa harina — from Masienda, positioned in West Los Angeles — absolutely did not damage it generated this kind of a amazing, head-changing flavor.

At the identical time as this revelation, my spouse and I were being battling — as is our perennial predilection — around no matter if to increase sugar to cornbread. I grew up in a home that did not use it, and our cornbread was flatter and experienced a crunchy base. My husband or wife, however, grew up with Jiffy cornbread blend and, hence, prefers a sweeter, cakier texture.

If you are from the South, you may know that the sweet-vs .-unsweet cornbread discussion is drawn practically completely alongside racial traces. In her award-winning 2017 Charlotte Observer report “Why does sugar in cornbread divide races in the South?,” writer Kathleen Purvis writes:

“Until early in the 20th century, Southern cornmeal was created with sweeter white corn and it was water-ground. When industrial milling arrived alongside, that transformed. The steel-roller mills employed yellow corn that was harvested just before it was ripe, so it experienced a lot less sugar. They eradicated the germ so [the corn] kept lengthier, but it experienced significantly less corn taste. And they floor it finer. You had to incorporate a little flour to aid it rise and sugar to increase flavor.”

Purvis goes on to posit that since this new yellow cornmeal was cheaper than that manufactured with white corn, “Black cooks who had small money may have improved their cornbread to match the cornmeal they could afford to pay for.”

On the reverse conclusion of the spectrum, when making use of masa harina in its place of cornmeal in my cornbread, I recognized a distinctive corn-sweetness that I experienced never ever tasted in common American cornmeal in advance of — and I required extra of it. So, I indulged my partner’s wishes and extra a spoonful of sugar to my future batch of cornbread, then a next spoonful the next time, and on and on until I landed at the ideal amount of money for my recipe.

The sweetness made the cornbread flavor corn-ier, just like the masa harina. And so what started as a joyful accident made a cross-cultural bread that provided me a likelihood to find out from it the more I labored on it. In my usually-jaded mind when it arrives to cooking, it was refreshing to have my formerly held notions of my most nostalgic foods get damaged aside and created again up even improved than right before.

Get the recipe:

Time45 minutes

YieldsServes 8