This is some special cornbread. Crispy and puffy, chewy but light. Lightly sweet, and (like me) faintly nutty. Look at that crust along the edge, the gentle rise toward the … more
This is some special cornbread. Crispy and puffy, chewy but light. Lightly sweet, and (like me) faintly nutty.
Look at that crust along the edge, the gentle rise toward the center.
But you shoulda seen the in-between. It was quite the awkward adolescent. Just look. And the only reason it wasn’t even messier is because I have made many types of gluten-free cornbread in the last 7 years – first unsuccessfully, and then successfully. But still. But still it takes trial and error.
You’ve given me a penny for my gluten-free recipe development thoughts. It’s not possible for me to explain how I even start where I do. Where that first go-round comes from. Why this much flour to that much cornmeal, why milk instead of water, why butter rather than oil.
Instead, I will show you my starting point — how I diagnosed what went wrong the first time, and how I set about to fix it. Lucky for me, the second time was the charm today – only because I’ve been around the block more than a few times. But if we do this for a while, make it a blog series, I bet you’ll be able to convert that old family favorite cake or quickbread, so you can enjoy it once again, safely gluten-free.
First, let’s brown some butter. If you’ve never done that, the idea is simple: isolate the milk solids and give them a very gentle toasting at the bottom of the pan. It all happens pretty quickly. I like to start with a cold pan, add the butter and then turn the heat to medium low.
Once all the butter has melted, you whisk and whisk. And it begins to froth like this. Keep stirring.
Then the froth recedes, and it bubbles. These big, shiny bubbles. It’s separating. Keep whisking. Now, I never have any luck waiting until I see actual brown bits on the bottom of the pan. When I try to wait for that, it burns. As soon as you start to see a brownish cast coming from the corners of the pan, take it off the heat immediately. Whisk and wait to see if the butter is lightly browned. If not, put it back for a moment and whisk. Try again.
It should look like this — amber-colored. And it will have a sweet, lightly nutty aroma. Different than butter. Keep smelling for something different than butter. Let it cool a bit. We’ve got work to do.
Turn on the oven & place a 10 inch seasoned dry cast iron skillet in the oven as it heats.
Whisk together the dry ingredients.
I use a kitchen scale. This is my scale.
Your ingredients should all be at room temperature. If you forget to bring eggs to room temperature, just let the egg float around in a warm water bath for a few minutes. It will bring your egg up to temperature.
Then add the wet ingredients, including the brown butter, to the dry, and blend.
Remove the hot skillet from the oven, and place two tablespoons of butter in it to melt. Tilt the skillet a bit to evenly distribute the butter, then pour the batter into the pan. Shake it a bit. Some of the brown butter may not have been fully absorbed by the batter. It’s fine.
The edges will begin to cook immediately in the screaming hot skillet. That’s good. That’s very, very good.
Put it in the oven until Piggy says 18 minutes have gone by. Peek at it nervously without opening the oven door, if you must. But it’s going to be fine.
Take it out when it looks remotely like this. Allow it to cool slightly. Slice and serve warm. I served my family a dinner of a thick slice of cornbread with roasted and salted broccoli and baked sweet Italian sausage. There wasn’t a crumb left.
That’s the “after.” Now the “before.” The first time around, I used less buttermilk, less baking powder and less brown butter, the oven was set 25 degrees F hotter and I melted the two tablespoons of butter directly in the skillet while it was heating. The batter was too thick (I had to spread it out)…
… and the product was too dense and flat and even kinda dry. Still tasty, but the mouth feel wasn’t right.
Here’s where it gets pretty wonky. If you’d sooner stick your fingers in your ears and shout the Star Spangled Banner than learn about GF recipe development, kindly skip ahead to the printable recipe.
Here’s how I rescued the recipe, and made it sing.
I added more browned butter (since the process of browning butter reduces it, so the browned butter has less liquid than it did before), another 1/4 teaspoon baking powder (I knew I wanted to stay under 2 teaspoons total for the chemical leaveners – and I didn’t want to increase baking soda because too much baking soda will leave a very bad aftertaste — and baking soda is only there to balance the pH of the acid in the honey and the buttermilk), more milk (I started with 1/3 cup more, and figured I’d add more by the tablespoon if the batter wasn’t pourable and fragrant, but it was) and some honey (the first batch needed some sweetness with depth, and granulated sugar alone was too neutral).
Keep in mind that, although you won’t experience the batter in the same way you will the finished cornbread, the batter should still smell and taste pleasant. If it doesn’t, the problems will only be magnified in the final product. I taste everything when it’s raw. And smell it, and feel it. I need all my senses to develop recipes. I also lowered the oven temperature because the outside baked too fast in the first batch. The bottom and sides began to darken long before the top had a chance to brown.
The result was so beautiful, I knew right away. As soon as I poured the batter in the hot skillet. I knew. Like the way you know about a good melon.
I can’t shortcut all the baking experience I have, but I can peel back the curtain a bit. I tried. I hope you are still awake. If not …
WAKEY WAKEY. It’s time to bake…
- 1 cup (170g) coarsely-ground yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup (140g) all-purpose gluten-free flour (I use Better Batter)
- ½ teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if using Better Batter)
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons (8g) sugar
- 2 teaspoons (14g) honey
- 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
- 1⅓ cups buttermilk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned and cooled
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place a 10 inch seasoned cast iron skillet in the oven as it heats.
- In a large bowl, place the cornmeal, flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar, and whisk to combine well. Add the honey, egg, buttermilk and brown butter, mixing to combine after each addition. The batter should be pourable and smooth, except that some of the brown butter may sit on top of the batter, and that's fine.
- Remove the skillet from the oven, and place 2 tablespoons butter in the skillet. Allow the butter to melt, which should happen after just a few moments. After the butter has melted, pick up the skillet with potholders and turn it gently until the entire bottom of the skillet is coated. Put the skillet down and carefully pour the batter into the center of the skillet. Shake the skillet gently to even out the batter. The outside of the batter will begin to cook almost immediately.
- Return the skillet to the hot oven and bake for about 18 minutes, or until the cornbread has just begun to brown nicely.
- Allow to cool briefly. Slice and serve warm.
P.S. If you haven’t yet, please pick up a copy of Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Quick & Easy! I can’t keep the blog going without your support.