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Food: Spoonbread a treat not to be missed

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

Interesting things happen when you clean out the freezer. In anticipation of getting a new fridge and beginning anew, I started cooking from the freezer, inspecting packages and checking dates, tossing the unrecognizable and so much bread that the birds and squirrels ate for days. (What is it about bread? The two of us don’t consume that much but when I want a sandwich and there’s no bread, I go out and get another loaf only to freeze the remaining and promptly forget about it. Guess what my New Year’s resolution is.)

Among the treasures: Christmas coffeecake, pierogi, sausage, pork shoulder and bags of frozen fruits and vegetables. The coffeecake was a welcome Sunday morning treat, the pierogi and sausage a comfy supper, the fruits went into smoothies, the peas and corn were perfect for a shepherd’s pie and the pork shoulder headed to the slow cooker for pulled pork. Then I found yet another unopened bag of corn. Sigh. I considered cornbread but then spoon bread came to mind.

The first time I ever tried spoonbread was from my grandmother and I found it so delicious that my mother took the hint and served it often – usually with roast chicken or ham, but I could eat a bowl of it with lots of melted butter. I know that the Jiffy Mix spoonbread casserole is a Thanksgiving favorite but I promise that it’s no comparison to real spoonbread from scratch. So soft that it’s eaten with a spoon, it’s a creamy corn mixture that’s combined with eggs and beaten egg whites so it gets puffy and has a tender airiness to it that is bursting with flavor; it’s more like a cornbread souffle. Use as a savory side (sprinkled with Parmesan or minced chives) or a sweet treat when a bit of sugar is added to the mix and served drizzled with honey and lots of butter. And please, don’t wait for Thanksgiving to try it.

Kate Lawson is a retired Detroit News food writer. Reach her at katecook@comcast.net.

Sweet Corn Spoonbread

Make in a casserole or individual ramekins. Recipe adapted from Cook’s Country.

1 cup cornmeal

2 3/4 cups whole milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups corn kernels (from fresh cobs, or frozen, thawed and patted dry)

2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 large eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 1 1/2-quart souffle dish or 8-inch-square baking dish. Whisk cornmeal and 3/4 cup milk in bowl until combined; set aside.

Melt butter in large pot over medium-high heat. Cook corn until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in remaining milk, sugar, salt, and cayenne and bring to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let mixture steep 15 minutes.

Transfer warm corn mixture to blender or use a hand blender and puree until smooth. Return corn mixture to pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and add cornmeal mixture, whisking constantly, until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes; transfer to large bowl and cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Once mixture is cool, whisk in egg yolks until combined.

With electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Whisk one-third of whites into corn mixture, then gently fold in remaining whites until combined. Scrape mixture into prepared dish and transfer to oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until spoonbread is golden brown and risen above rim of dish, about 45 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

To make individual spoonbreads, prepare recipe as directed and divide batter among 6 greased 7-ounce ramekins. Arrange ramekins on rimmed baking sheet and bake as directed, reducing cooking time to 30 to 35 minutes.