Planet Organic, one of the specialty organic stores in town. It's an interesting place to go for unique and hard to find ingredients such as cocoa nibs or agave syrup, but also for inspiration, not to mention all of the top-notch organic produce. One thing I happened upon last trip was some Blue Cornmeal. Hmmm... interesting. The package says it is interchangeable with yellow cornmeal - so I thought I'd pick up a package and see how it fared in a simple cornbread, perhaps even do a side-by-side taste comparison. Well, this morning, after a full week of serious baking and blogging withdrawal, I decided to break out the mixing bowls and whip up some cornbread for a morning snack.
In every aspect of the recipe, it certainly acts and feels and looks like just regular cornmeal, aside from the pale grey-ish blue colour of course. I made a batch of yellow cornbread at the same time, so all the other ingredients, the bake temperature and time are all the same for both batches. Interestingly enough, the blue cornbread rose a bit higher than the yellow during baking, but the golden brown crust looks less than appealing on blue bread (blue and brown are not always good together... at least not in food). The finished products did have a couple of noticeable differences; interestingly enough, the blue cornbread rose higher than the yellow, and although the taste is only very slightly different between the two, the blue cornbread had a noticeably different texture. It was almost crunchier, as if the cornmeal itself was a coarser grind than the regular yellow stuff.
So, as usual, I sent off a plate of goodies to hubby's office, as well as my office, to see what the tasters thought. The results were almost completely opposite to what I expected. Since I work in the petroleum industry, I encounter a lot of people who sometimes balk at new and unusual things. Hubby, on the other hand, works with a very eclectic bunch of pretty artistic and creative folks, and just about all of them will try something once. Well, even the visitors from Houston that were at my office didn't seem at all phased by blue cornbread (perhaps it's because of the TexMex thing, blue corn's not all that strange to them), and seemed to like it just fine. Hubby reported back that the blue cornbread went last, and several people commented on being a tad put off by the colour. Sure, there are very few naturally blue foods in our world (and no, I don't think blueberries count - just squish one and tell me what colour you see), so apparently this particular shade conjures up images of funky mold on bread... not exactly the response a chef wants when people see their food.
As for the Orange Agave Butter, it was a smash hit. Compound butters are incredibly easy to make, yet it seems we rarely see them - one exception would be at Normand's restaurant. For years, we have been dining at this fantastic French restaurant, and every time we've gone, our basket of bread has been accompanied by a different compound butter - in fact, I don't think we've ever been served the same butter twice. Last week, we had a basil-roasted red pepper butter that had a nice little kick of heat to it, but I remember one Valentine's dinner when they featured a cinnamon butter. Flavoured butters add a lot of personality and sophistication to a meal, almost immediately elevating the whole meal from 'good' to 'gourmet', with so very little effort. Simply take some room-temperature unsalted butter, and add it a generous helping of herbs, spices or seasonings and mix. Voilà! I had a couple of oranges tempting me from their bowl on the counter, so I grabbed my microplane zester and grated the orange clean, until I was left with a naked, pithy orange and a bowl full of fragrant zest, perfuming the entire kitchen. I mixed in a nice big piece of butter and added a few drops of agave nectar for sweetness (agave with cornbread seemed to be an obvious pairing). Wrap that in plastic and put it in the fridge so the flavours can fully marry with the butter - a couple of hours or even overnight. Spread that on some nice warm cornbread and you will be rewarded with a wonderfully citrus-y treat that will have you searching for different food to spread it on (like toast, or scones, or muffins, or hot cross buns, or...).
So now the only question is; what am I going to do with the rest of that bag of blue cornmeal?
Cornbread (adapted from Cook's Illustrated The Best Recipe)
1 Cup ( g) cornmeal
1 Cup (142g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 Cup (160 ml) buttermilk
2/3 Cup (160 ml) milk
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted, plus extra softened butter for greasing the pan
Preheat oven to 425°F and place rack in the centre position. Grease a 9x9 baking pan and set aside.
Stir cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients.
Crack the eggs into the well, and gently stir with a wooden spoon, then add in the buttermilk and milk. Quickly stir together the wet and dry ingredients until almost combined, then mix in the melted butter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is golden brown, lightly cracked and the edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer the cornbread to a cooling rack, and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
Orange Agave Butter
4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/8 tsp agave nectar
Mix all ingredients together until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-24 hours before using.