Custard-Filled Cornbread

If I could give each of you one cookbook, it would be The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham. I’ve written about it before, 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 by Marion Cuningham)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup heavy cream

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.

45 comments to “Custard-Filled Cornbread”

  1. Wow. This recipe looks so cool. That crust on the top looks absolutely amazing. How did you end up getting that effect – maybe more magic?

  2. The cornbread looks unbelievably good! I can’t wait to try the recipe. Just in the last couple of years I’ve really been digging breakfast. Now that I work from home, I set the table and make a proper breakfast almost daily for myself and my husband. We seem to have the best conversation over breakfast (sometimes he’s late for work), and I enjoy it even more than a dinner date. Great post!

  3. Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book has been favorite of mine forever. When I was poor, I used to check it out from the library as many times in a row as they would allow, sort of adpoted it as my own. Now i can say i have my very own signed copy. It is and has always been my most favorite book. One of the things I love are the well-placed quotes sprinkled throughout. Every recipe is solid and comforting. This is my “if my house was on fire and I could only take one cookbook” book.

  4. I love this book and I love this recipe. I made this cornbread for my mom when I was in L.A. over the holidays and she too was blown away by the pure magic of it and has been spreading the gospel to all of her friends. I don’t care about the science either but would prefer to imagine magic elves creating the soft custardy center.

  5. You got me at custard-filled, Tim. I love, love, love cornbread, and custardy things make my knees weak. Everyone has spoken so highly of this Cunningham book…I’ll have to put it on my list. I have to admit that a couple of my recent cookbook purchases do not exactly champion home cooking…but what can I say, I like elaborate projects.
    About the cornbread: I’m guessing that it’s something I’ll want to invite friends over for and eat right away? In other words, what are the leftovers like?

  6. Ah…The Breakfast Book. One of my most stained, dog-eared, crinkly paged cookbooks. Kind of old fashioned, but never out of style recipes that all work. I too like the quips and quotes provided, especially the one entitled “Breakfast Table Civility and Deportment”. We have a breakfast-for-dinner night each week as well and I’ve used the recipes that take a little more time since I have a tendency to be a bit “foggy” and hurried most mornings. Thanks for bringing attention to this wonderful cookbook.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to an author and a book. I cannot wait to make this over the coming weekend—thanks for the rec : )

  8. Isn’t this recipe the best?! I made Molly W.’s recipe (inspired by Cunningham’s) back in May, and again and again since. I agree: it feels like magic.

    p.s. – I had planned to make those sticky pecan bites a few weeks back, but then I didn’t. I’ll report back when I do.

  9. Yay! I am so glad to see all of the Marion Cunningham fans out there.
    Jess- yes, let me know if you make those pecan bites, I almost made them again this weekend. I’m addicted.

  10. I love the look of this recipe. I can just imagine it tastes divine and thank you for sharing the book with us. I think it sounds like it has been used time & again….. always a good sign!

  11. Oh my. This is absolutely divine. I’ve never seen or had anything like this before. What a showstopper.

  12. This recipe seems to be a variation on a pudding cake, which I absolutely love. But the idea of a cornbread pudding cake, especially with your beautiful pictures to illustrate it, is absolutely heavenly. I’ll have to try this when company comes in a couple of weeks. And your post reminds me that I have to pull out my old copy of Marion Cunningham’s The Supper Cookbook– another great one– it’s been way too long! Thanks for the inspiration.

  13. Susan Lindberg says:

    January 16th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    I too have had this book for many years. It is a wonder. Every New Year’s Day, I make Featherbed Eggs for brunch. The friends who always come insist on them. I have no problem with that!

  14. Oh I have this same magic spell… uh…recipe, only from the Joy of Cooking where its called Cornmeal Custard Topped spoonbread . I will have to look into The Breakfast Book. Who wouldn’t want a blanky of a book about breakfast? I figured out how to make this gluten-free last winter!

  15. Ah you’ve got me sold. I have written down her book on my “to check out” list, but that does it! I’m going to buy it, looks right up my alley. Thanks for sharing. And what a good looking custard-cornbread!

  16. This looks great! And I just ordered a copy of the book (and one for a friend)! Love breakfast – my favorite meal. Can’t wait to make this and all the other things I found in it. Love your comment about recipes in published books that don’t work. I don’t buy cookbooks any more (have plenty of tried and trues), but I am finding this comment to be exasperatingly true of the recipes published in the food section of my big city paper too. Guess that’s because they don’t have a test kitchen there anymore.

  17. I love that book! I’ve yet to blog something from it, but man, you hit the nail on the head with what you wrote about it. And you know what – I’ve totally missed that recipe! And now, all I want is custard filled cornbread because it sounds a-mazing! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  18. I gave this book to my husband for his birthday. I love this recipe as well as the ginger muffins. The raised waffles are delicious, as is everything else we have tried!

  19. It really is the most lovely cookbook, I agree. Love your blog!

  20. what a great idea! the maple syrup is works great with cornbread

  21. I was already sold from the title of this post. It is amazing. You are right about the home cooks vs restaurant fare. Many people who love to cook are hooked by tv shows and they’d always go for the latest craze and the Michelin starred recipes – and I am putting my hands up on this one. I love a book full of good pictures as much as any other foodie, but my favourites are all books without pictures, books I’ve cooked over for years and years, and I still find inspirational.

  22. This recipe is great and this book is amazing. Don’t miss the recipe for Raised Waffles! They are full of flavor from a yeast-raised batter, and super easy because you mix most of the ingredients the night before and leave them on the counter until morning. Then all you have to do in the morning is beat in the eggs and some baking soda and you’re ready to go.

  23. Thanks for the book recommendation – i am always on the look out for new recipes and cookbooks and really appreciate bloggers telling me about them!
    I agree that most of the times coloured photographs are great but then i do like the line drawings as well.
    Love your blog! Happy baking :-).

  24. Tim- I ordered myself a copy of this a few weeks ago based on your suggestion, and I have been reading it in bed for the past few nights, making myself really hungry, trying to decide where to start! Perhaps with this cornbread? Everything looks and sounds amazing, and you are so right about it being a “blankey” of a cookbook :)

  25. I’ll have to get this book from the sounds of all the comments….this looks absolutely delicious!

  26. Just made this recipe and have already emailed it to all my foodie family members. It’s absolutely amazing! Haven’t been a big fan of cornbread until I tasted this little gem. I only baked it for 45 minutes though, and it came out perfect. Have also ordered Marion’s cookbook. Can’t wait to explore it!

  27. I just put this in the oven and I was wondering as I stirred up the batter whether I could use buttermilk instead of using the white vinegar and plain milk. Next time I think I’ll try it since I usually have buttermilk in the house, but not regular milk as we drink 1%.

  28. breakfast is by far my favourite meal and with this recipe alone you have convinced me to buy Cunningham’s book!

    baking at home is magical. a while ago i decided that i am going to try to stop eating (or eat less of) baked goods at cafes and restaurants as it feels like i am outsourcing the pleasure of baking.

  29. That looks delicious!

  30. Thank you for being so awesome and sharing this recipe.

  31. I just made this and it is quite nice. I found that with a 22cm pan it overflowed. I found the butter just separated out and left an oily residue on top, so I think I’d reduce it next time, and maybe substitute with olive oil. The custard on mine was on top, not in the middle, so that I thought it hadn’t worked and hadn’t set. But the cornbread was fully cooked (probably overcooked) at the bottom. I don’t have a sweet tooth but found this really does require quite a bit of maple syrup, and I found it best served with fruit. I think I will try it for guests next week, served with a big bowl of sliced stone fruit, and maybe some bacon on the side. I think I’ll try it in a bigger dish too, to stop the overflow and to see if I can get the custard in the middle rather than the top, although it probably doesn’t matter that much where it is. It also definitely needs to sit for a few minutes before serving so the custard thickens up. I wonder if maybe the cream I used makes a difference (in Australia we don’t have “heavy” cream) as I just used regular cream (the type you can whip, with no thickeners etc). Thanks for the recipe.

  32. Hey Katie, it sounds like you had a bunch of trouble. I can’t imagine why it overflowed in a 22cm pan, unless the sides were quite short. My pan was a 9-inch circle with 2-inch sides. There also should not be an oily residue on top, that has never happened to me in the many times I’ve made this. It is a very small amount of butter. I am guessing that the fact that your pan overflowed caused all of the problems. You cream sounds correct, I used the same that I would use for whipped cream. Better luck next time, but I am glad you liked the flavour!

  33. The custard does sound like magic. Vive la breakfast! :)

  34. I have had this Marion Cunningham book for years – have not made this recipe, but am on my way to the bookcase to get the book right now. I adore this book and buy a copy anytime I see it at a thriftstore or elsewhere and gift someone. The Supper Book gets a workout at our house also. thank you

  35. I tried this today. It is one of the best things to come out of my oven. Magic indeed!!!

  36. This was phenomenal!! I am so glad I tried it!

  37. I bought The Breakfast Book off your recommendation because I needed a little bit of filler in my Amazon basket for free shipping, and I’m absolutely thrilled with it! I just read it for fun when I’m bored.

    I’ve made the Lemon Yogurt Muffins (which were amazing), and I made this cornbread for my family this morning. There were no complaints from a very complain-y family, which was in itself magic.

  38. this looks soo good!

  39. i made this a few days ago and it was delicious. i didn’t have maple syrup but i used honey and raspberry jam. it’s great in both ways as i’m sure it is with maple syrup.

  40. You are right, Marion Cunningham is awesome. I had this recipe on my list of things to make and this post was the kick in the pants to get me to try it. It was wonderful out of the oven and not bad reheated. That’s for the recipe reminder!

  41. I have been something of an evangelist for this recipe since I first found it here – we usually eat slices with cold chicken and pear butter, or with fried eggs and melted pepper jack cheese. My 9″ pan is too short-sided, so I put the extra batter in a 6 well muffin tin with a Tbsp or two of cream in each well, it works nicely and has the same cooking time.
    Thanks so much :)

  42. Thanks for the update, Amanda. Sounds like a good solution to a short-sided pan.

  43. This recipe sounds great. I am in need of comfort food after a fun night out. And the bonus is, it’s Gluten Free! Yay. You’ve made this Little Chef very happy. I’m sure I’ll be even happier when I’ve eaten it. Thanks for the inspiration.

  44. This has become my go-to potluck recipe and everyone always loves it! My boyfriend and I ate the whole thing in half a day the first time I made this. It is so good.

  45. Hi Natasha- so glad you like it!

What do you think?