This week’s bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was cornbread. Now this… this is my kind of bread. No window “pain” test to pass. Just mix and go. And I was very interested to try Mr. Reinhart’s cornbread recipe since I found a recipe several years ago that my family and I really like in one of my trusty Cook’s Illustrated issues (January/February 2005).
Several weeks ago I read another post that compared a BBA recipe to one out of Cook’s (I would give a link here if I remembered who it was, but I don’t), and I think that is what gave me the inspiration to have a ”Cornbread Throwdown” (to borrow from Bobby Flay) between the two cornbread recipes.
My hypothesis was that the BBA cornbread would be the winner because it is topped with bacon and in our household it pretty well holds true that “If eating and cooking with bacon is wrong, we don’t want to be right.”
As you can see the basic ingredients for each are the same except for the bacon in the BBA cornbread (left) and the sharp cheddar cheese in the Cook’s cornbread (right).
One of the main differences between the two, though, is that the BBA recipe technically takes two days to make as you are to soak coarse cornmeal (polenta) in buttermilk overnight. The Cook’s recipe uses regular fine ground cornmeal and there is no soaking before hand. So one of the main questions in my mind was, “Is this bread worth taking two days to make?”
Confession: I forgot to put mine in to soak the night before, but I did it first thing in the morning and didn’t make it until that evening. It still soaked for about 7 hours, though.
I also need to note here that while both recipes call for a cake pan of some kind, I cooked both in my cast iron skillet because in my OH so humble opinion, there is absolutely NO other way to cook cornbread. I guess that’s my southern coming out, huh?
The BBA cornbread was first. The completed batter seemed fairly thin to me, like a cake batter. At 350ºF in the oven, it was will pretty well still liquid at the 30 minute mark that the recipe indicated. I know that my oven must be off a little because everything I bake takes a little longer than recipes indicate. But one thing that was handy was having the internal temperature of doneness. That let me know how far away from done we were. It ended up taking a total of around 40 minutes to bake in my oven.
The Cook’s batter was much thicker and lumpier, like a muffin batter. It cooks at 400ºF and took right at 25 minutes.
We had dinner and tried each with our meal. The verdict?
There you have it. The one with the cheese = we like the Cook’s Illustrated recipe best.
What was the difference?
For me, the BBA recipe was wetter and denser than the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. Later as I looked back, I realized that the BBA recipe called for twice as much buttermilk while not calling for a proportionately higher amount of flour/cornmeal.
The BBA recipe also added twice as much sugar plus honey. That makes for some sweet cornbread. I have always enjoyed sweet cornbread, but on this particular day, the more savory taste of the Cook's version with the cheese on top suited our tastes better.
Another difference that I recognized between the recipes was that the BBA recipe has you add 2 ½ cups of whole kernel corn right into the batter. The Cook’s recipe calls for ¾ cup (I usually go with closer to 1 cup) and it is just slightly processed in the food processor to break it up a bit. The whole kernels of the BBA recipe seemed to sink to the bottom and I wasn’t crazy about the disruption in the bread’s texture with the whole kernels. I preferred the broken up corn of the Cook’s recipe.
I have heard others say this, but there was a slightly strange taste initially with the BBA recipe. I’m not sure if, like others have thought, that it was the baking powder or what, but certainly, 1 ½ TABLEspoons of baking powder seemed like an awful lot to me. Could it have been a misprint? Should it be 1 ½ TEAspoons?
Soaking the coarse cornmeal (polenta) was not a big deal and didn’t add any additional complexity to this recipe. It’s a fairly simple recipe and the bacon is a nice touch.
Would I make it again? At this point, no. Although, my man suggested I put some bacon in the Cook’s recipe.
In this post: Cheddar Cornbread