We make corn bread about once a month, and we just recently learned a technique that’s supposed to make corn bread, nearly any corn bread, better. We knew we had to test it out in our own Scratchin’ It Test Kitchen and have it reviewed by our crack staff in the cornbread division.
We found this idea (along with a cornbread recipe) in Peter Reinhart’s book, The Baker’s Apprentice, and we have no idea why we didn’t think of this before now. Well, we did, just not for cornbread. Soak coarse cornmeal in buttermilk overnight. It might not seem like much, but we use the soaking idea for making our easy wheat bread when we grind our own flour, and it definitely works for that.
The soaking does two things. It hydrates the grain, obviously, but, more importantly, it allows enzymes and microbes to start breaking apart the starches, creating all kinds of complex flavors. Complex flavors are what you’re looking for, as they make your cornbread taste great.
So, to use this technique, measure out your buttermilk and add coarse (polenta grind) cornmeal according to your recipe. In our case, we use this cornbread recipe, so we mix a cup of buttermilk with 3/4 cup of polenta. Cover and let it sit out overnight. Don’t worry, it won’t go bad. The next day, simply mix in the rest of the ingredients and bake. And, of course, you can use your favorite recipe instead of ours.
The change is subtle, but we think it’s noticeable, making for a cornier-tasting cornbread, and, using polenta instead of fine corn meal makes for a better texture. We do note that the cornbread was slightly more crumbly than we’ve had in the past, but, for better flavor, we’ll take crumbly any day. Of course, this is such a simple change to the recipe; five stars.