Friday, February 20, 2009

Dinner tonight: finally, a happy ending!

Tonight we had 'use what you have' meatloaf, which turned out quite well, and this, which I was trying for the first time. I had been re-reading Mollie Katzen's Brocolli Forest, (incidentally, that link is for the NEW Enchanted Brocolli Forest; I have the OLD one, no photos, handlettered...) which has quite a few souffles in it, and was curious about spoonbread. But I was scared off by her recipe, with it's 6 separated eggs and the allowing of time for things to come to room temperature...since I already had meatloaf in the oven.

Well, Easy Basics to the rescue, as always. (This is the best cookbook I own, and it is a crime, a CRIME that it is out of print.) (Although I feel less guilty about posting the recipe, since you can't buy the book.)

It's perfectly lovely. It fits in my souffle pan. It is a bit 'washing-up intensive', using multiple bowls and pans, and it does require one kitchen technique that I am still far from mastering. And it's still great.


Preheat the oven to 375, and find your soufflé dish. (Mine was behind the stack of loaf pans. I mention this at the beginning so that you do not find yourself, as I did, wondering what you’re supposed to pour this stuff – THIS stuff here, in the pan in my HAND – into.)

Butter the soufflé dish.

Mix in a bowl ¾ cup cornmeal and 1 cup milk. Let it stand for 3-5 minutes.

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat another 1 ¼ cup milk until just boiling. Add the contents of the bowl – cornmeal and cold milk – to the hot milk and cook it until it thickens, anywhere from 2-5 minutes. Cornmeal is unpredictable, I have found recently.

Remove the pan with the thickened cornmeal mixture from the heat. Stir in ¼ cup sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, and a stick of butter cut into 8 pieces. Stir until the butter melts.

Now let that sit and cool a little, while you separate 3 eggs.

Beat the whites of those 3 eggs until they are stiff (able to stand up my themselves) but not dry.

Take the yolks of those 3 eggs and beat them, one at a time, into the cornmeal mixture.

Okay, here’s the tricky part. This is the part where you FOLD the fluffy whites into the slippery, heavy cornmeal stuff. Easy Basics recommends transferring a big glob of whites into the saucepan and folding those in, then, once that mixture is all incorporated and pretty even, dropping all that on top of the rest of the whites (into the bowl of the stand mixer, in my case) to finish the folding.

Folding has always confounded me. You’re supposed to be gentle, so you don’t whomp all the air out of the egg whites; at the same time, you’re supposed to get it fully mixed, eliminating any big clumps of egg. These two goals seem mutually exclusive. Guess I’ll never get that Cordon Bleu certification. Use a stiff, heat-resistant silicone spatula to lift the batter over the puffs of egg, turn the bowl as you fold, scrape down the sides and the whole bottom. Don’t do it for too long.

Here’s the good news – mine looked totally bad, with big white dunes of egg visible after I transferred it to the soufflé dish. I thought I had messed it up totally.

Not so! It was completely delicious. And puffy like a soufflé, but the cornmeal gives it some structure so it doesn’t fall.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the middle firms up a little (the cookbook said ‘until it doesn’t jiggle’, but mine jiggled somewhat and it was perfect.

This was so light and SO delicious I could have fainted. Serve immediately by huge spoonfuls.

Now THIS is a successful starch.

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