Spoonbread is a light, fluffy-but-somehow-gloriously-substantial, custardy concoction most often made with nothing more than cornmeal, eggs, milk. It is, quite simply, the dreamiest of cornmeal-based dishes. It’s not as delicate as a soufflé but it’s nowhere near as hearty and heavy as cornbread or corn pudding, which is what it often gets unjustly confused with; there’s no comparison. You could call it a bit of a culinary unicorn—a lot of people who liked the pretty picture had heard of it, but many of them had never actually eaten it.
A lot of recipes for spoonbread call for baking powder but my version uses stiffly beaten egg whites for lift. I have found that relying on baking powder gave me very iffy and inconsistent results: I often ended up with a dense cornbread layer on bottom with custard on top. You want these two things thoroughly incorporated, and egg whites do that beautifully.
Miraculously, to make the plain version of this recipe, all you have to do is leave out the cheese and chives, add mix an extra half teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of sugar into the cornmeal-salt mixture. —EmilyNunn
1 9-inch (or comparably-sized) dish
1 1/3 cups
cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill Medium; you can use fine as well)
Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a large soufflé dish or 3-quart oval pan, or another similarly sized dish (I have also used a 9-inch square and a springform). In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal and salt with a fork.
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Slowly stir in the cornmeal mixture, whisking until it begins to thicken. Cook for about 3 minutes—continuing to whisk!!—then remove from heat. Stir in the butter.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. In a larger bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Once the cornmeal mixture has cooled a bit, stir in the egg yolks. Stir in cheese and chives. Next, gently fold in the egg whites. (If you don’t know how to do this correctly, it’s worth it to go on Youtube and learn.) It makes a difference.
Pour the mixture into the soufflé dish and bake for 40 minutes. The middle should be soft, but not loose and definitely not liquid. Serve immediately with lots of butter. This is good leftover, but nothing beats it hot.