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Custard-Filled Cornbread

If I could give each of you one cookbook, it would be The Breakfast Book [1] by Marion Cunningham. I’ve written about it before [2], but it seemed worth revisiting, especially after enjoying this custard-filled cornbread over the weekend.

I’m honestly not sure how, or when, the book came into my life. It was years ago, and likely by chance. It isn’t a showy book. It is the size of a novel and contains no photographs, just a few simple line drawings (which now read as a little nostalgic and sad) and a collection of recipes that I will return to again and again.

In the introduction to the book, Cunningham talks about the importance of breakfast as a gathering time. She laments the fact that we are too busy to come together for meals—and this was before we were all tied to our electronics! It is a point that is made often, most of us share some of her concerns. She addresses the problem beautifully by providing a collection of recipes that you want to share with people.

Cunningham is a fierce advocate for home cooks. She recognized early on that the increasing attention paid to restaurants, celebrity chefs and food trends did not necessarily translate to people cooking at home. If anything, we continue to get further and further from our kitchens. Blogs, cooking television and magazines all allow us to observe cooking and food without necessarily participating (at least not in the making). We’re voyeurs. I sometimes wonder what Cunningham thinks of the current moment?

One thing is sure, home cooks are still not given the respect they deserve. If the number of recipes published in cookbooks that do not work is any indication, nobody expects us to use cookbooks for cooking. Too many cookbooks are full of recipes that few people would ever cook in their home kitchen or require ingredients that are impossible to find for people living outside of a major metropolitan area. We are supposed to use the books for inspiration? It is a defense the fashion industry uses fairly often. Cunningham’s books are so rad because they work, are accessible, and they are written for us, the home cooks. No defense needed.

When winter comes around, I find myself pulling this book off of the shelf and keeping it close at hand. It has been sitting on my bedside table since we got back from Los Angeles. I have been reading a bit every night, reading parts for the third or fourth times. I find it immensely comforting, a real blankey of a book.

I made this cornbread last weekend. It is such a perfectly magical recipe that I hope you all give it a try. This is the type of recipe that makes us bakers feel like magical witches. A simple cornbread batter is poured into a hot pan and then you defiantly pour a cup of heavy cream into the center of the  pan. Somehow (please don’t ruin it by explaining the science to me!), a layer of custard forms in the middle of the cake. MAGIC. A warm slice of this cake covered in maple syrup is about as good as it gets.

Make this soon and share it with friends. Gather for breakfast (nut brunch, breakfast!) and thank Marion Cunningham for being so awesome.

***I used a stone-ground (medium grind) cornmeal this time, which works, but sometimes the large bits of meal settle into the bottom of the cake. Truly not a problem, I just don’t want you to worry about it—so don’t!

Custard-Filled Cornbread (The Breakfast Book [1] by Marion Cuningham)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square (or 9-inch round) cake pan that is about 2-inches deep. Put the buttered dish or pan in the oven and let it get hot while you mix the batter.

Put the eggs in a mixing bowl and add the melted butter. Beat until the mixture is well blended. Add the sugar, salt, milk, and vinegar and beat well. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, mix just until the batter is smooth and no lumps remain.

Pour the batter into the heated dish, then pour the cream into the center of the batter—don’t stir. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm with maple syrup.