There are two schools of spoonbread. You can always make a moister, wetter, cornbread leavened with baking powder and call it good. Or you can make old-school spoonbread leavened with egg whites.
The second kind of spoonbread lives somewhere at the intersection between a pudding, a cornbread, and a souffle. And if you’re going to whip some egg whites anyway, you might as well go all the way and make it like this, with a ridiculous number of eggs and only the barest amount of cornmeal. This is Luxe Spoonbread: it bakes up into a lofty, puffy, crisp-crusted, custardy-centered mass, with a suave jiggle and big sweet corn flavor. It sighs when you break into it (with a spoon, natch). It has the most beautiful interior—bits of corn suspended in a solid-foam-like matrix of egg white and milk-plumped cornmeal. It is an excellent base for soup, or stew, or alongside a roast, or with maple syrup and sausage in the morning. Spoonbread, man.
Note: This spoonbread calls for a lot of eggs. If you’re not feeling quite so flush (or don’t feel like eating a week’s worth of cholesterol in one meal), use as few as three eggs and add a couple tablespoons of extra milk instead.
Traditional spoonbread is very plain. You can gussy it up with fresh corn, chopped chiles, scallions, cooked and crumbled bacon, a little shredded cheese, herbs, whatever you like.
Preheat the oven to 450F. Butter a 12” skillet or a 3 quart baking dish.
Gather enough solid add-ins to total about two cups. I am using raw sweet corn cut off the cobs and some chopped, roasted green chile.
Bring the solids to a boil in a saucepan with
- 2 cups of whole milk with an extra splash of cream (just a tablespoon or so)
- 1.5 tbsp of butter
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
Simmer for four or five minutes, stirring constantly, or until the mass has thickened a little. Cool for ten minutes, stirring once in a while to release heat. Separate
- five large room-temperature eggs
carefully. Beat the whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form.
When the cornmeal mixture has cooled a little, whisk in the egg yolks as well as any more delicate add-ins you want to use (like fresh herbs or cheese).
Plop about a third of the whites on top and whisk them in to lighten the mixture.
Then fold in the rest of the whites gently but thoroughly.
Spread the batter in your greased pan and set on a baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Turn the heat down to 400F and cook for thirty minutes, or until the top is browned and puffed. The whole custard should be set, though it may jiggle very slightly in the center.
Treat this as you would a souffle—try not to open the oven door while it cooks or subject it to thumps. The spoonbread will fall as it cools, so serve it quickly, hopefully with a little pat of butter on each serving.
Ideas: Make this with rosemary and some strong, sheepy Romano for a different take on polenta. Or with a little sage and some smoked oysters for a kind of extramural stuffing to eat with turkey. Dried figs and herbs for an unusual warm dessert—serve with a scoop of ricotta and a drizzle of honey. Anything you can think of, you can make work with spoonbread. Yum.