Cornbread Cake Wreck

The pantry clean out continues. I came across a whole bag of yellow cornmeal, a frozen bag of Hatch chilis, and some buttermilk left over from devil’s food cake of last week. And that 3 pound tub of sour cream from Costco that seemed like a good idea at the time. So clearly cornbread was in order!

After scouring the internet, I found an interesting recipe with more steps than usual and decided to give it a shot. (Secret Ingredient blog.) Being off from school for holiday, it’s not like there’s much else better to do right now. Unless you count raking leaves and washing laundry. So, complicated cornbread.

Despite the multi-step assembly and addition of my tweaks to use up even more pantry items, the batter came together quickly enough.

Mixing Cornbread BatterIt rose quickly once in the oven, climbing about half an inch and pulling away from the sides of the pan. And it was equally appealing to the senses coming out of the oven, gracefully pulling away from the pan, tanned from its vacation in the heat and its sweet and fragrant steam wafting from its surface. As I pulled it out, I imagined spreading a big hunk of the crisp brown crust with creamy yellow sweet cream salted butter:

Hatch Chili CornbreadUntil I attempted to de-pan it. Forget about butter. All hell broke loose. Even though the top crust had formed solidly and the sides had browned oh-so-nicely to the point that I feared they would burn any second, when I flipped the pan over to let it cool, its guts fell out. In a great big sopping heap. Wet buttermilk soaked cornmeal chunks all over the counter (see background). I scraped what I could back into the pan, and shoved that whole hot mess back into the oven. Fortunately the wound healed, but that thing developed a messy battle scar.

Despite its final appearance, it did taste good once it was ready to be eaten: the crumb was moist, flavorful, and airy from the buttermilk and sour cream, and the crispness of the edges contrasted nicely against the soupy-ness of the chili I made to go with it. My husband tried to claim all the crunchy pieces and I briefly considered making this again in one of those brownie pans that bake only sides and corners.

So now deciphering the puzzle of what went wrong. I deviated several times from the initial recipe, and I guess I didn’t compensate enough for these adjustments. (Warning: technical discussion to follow!) For instance, I’m trying to stay away from refined sugars, so I swapped granulated sugar out for honey. Which brings additional moisture to the recipe, although I did like the flavor. Then I added .25 onion sautĂ©ed in olive oil (more moisture), 2 Hatch chilis (more moisture), and .25 cup frozen corn (more moisture). I tossed this in 1 tablespoon of flour before adding the veggies to the batter thinking this would a) absorb some of the excess moisture, and b) help keep all these savory bits from floating to the top or bottom of the batter as is done with chocolate chips in cookie dough. So while the veggies were well interspersed in my batter, I probably could have increased the flour by at least another 2-3 tablespoons. Especially since the honey alone added about 2 tablespoons liquid right there. I also double-panned my pie plates, thinking that since the initial recipe calls for a heavy pre-heated pan that I don’t have, two stacked pans would help insulate the food from too much heat on the bottom and keep the sides from cooking too fast. Maybe this did actually help and there was just still too much moisture in the batter. And/or maybe I should have cooked this at a slightly lower temperature to keep the center top crust from cooking too fast while the inside was still raw. At any rate, I’ll have to keep playing with it. So revised recipe will be forthcoming! In the meantime, if you have any other thoughts about what could have gone wrong, I’d love to hear about it!

Happy cooking!


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