Monday, November 07, 2005

Cornsticks


There is no sensible reason to own cornstick pans. They're heavy, they take up space, and you can only use them for one thing. I suppose that someone with a hyperactive imagination could posit a set of circumstances where you would use them for something else, but if we, for once, stay within the realm of what is practical, you can only use them to make cornsticks. I happen to think that cornsticks are wondrous things, but if I'm to be honest, I have to admit that if you preheat your well-seasoned cast iron skillet properly, you get nearly identical results by making cornbread.

Nonetheless, when I found my cornstick pans, I had been looking for a set (they tend to come in pairs: seven sticks to a pan, so that you can make fourteen sticks at a time; I have no idea why; perhaps it has something to do with the width of Roman chariots) for some time, and I was unreasonably pleased when I found a pair in a local consignment store. I was unreasonably pleased even though what I found were not the beautiful black cast-iron cornstick pans showing individual kernels of corn (the holy grail of the cornstick universe), but a set of aluminum pans that produce the appropriate half-ear shape for cornsticks but which suggest rows, rather than individual kernels, of corn. The aluminum is very heavy, though, and the pans produce perfect cornsticks, so I feel very fortunate to have the ones I have, and I have lugged them around with me through my last four moves.

If cornbread (which I adore, and which I have adored for as long as I can remember: my mother made it frequently) has a weakness, it's its tendency to leave a trail of crumbs wherever it goes. (There is a Hansel and Gretel joke to be made here, but one can only make so many Hansel and Gretel jokes [I think the usual limit is zero], so I will wait for the inevitable December treatise on gingerbread houses to exceed my quota.) You will say that the crumbs are, at the very worst, only a mild drawback, and you will be correct, but cornsticks solve the problem entirely. Also, they're fun, and the kids love them.

Cornstick molds, be they cast iron or aluminum, must be seasoned before you attempt to make cornsticks in them. Turn your oven to 300 degrees, put oil on a paper towel, and rub them all over, leaving them lightly coated with oil. You can use shortening if you prefer. Put the pans in the oven and let them sit for half an hour. Bring them out, let them cool most of the way, rub them with some more oil, put them back in the oven, and let them stay there for a couple more hours. You should only need to season them once, but if you haven't used yours in a while, as I hadn't when I made the cornsticks last night, then you may want to re-season them, just because. And, of course, if your well-meaning-but-horribly-misguided partner decides to go and wash them because he doesn't know any better, then you'll have to re-re-season them, as I did this evening.

A few of my readers will likely be scandalized by what I'm about to say, but preheating the cornstick molds before you put the batter in them is not necessary. (There are people who will tell you that preheating the pan [yes, these are the same anarchists who use a lightweight 8x8 aluminum pan rather than a cast iron skillet for the task] for cornbread is also not necessary, but these people are insane, though mostly harmless -- unless they try to make you eat their cornbread, in which case you should run away; if they pursue you, pelt them with pieces of their own cornbread, which will discourage them both from chasing you and from making bad cornbread in the future.) Preheating the cornstick pans is something that you'll want to do, but if you insist on doing it, you can't grease the molds with butter without having some burning going on. Also, the oil (or whatever you use) will tend to run down the sides and pool in the depressions so that you'll end up with cornsticks that look funny on the bottom (which becomes the top when you turn them out) and stick on the top (which would become the bottom if only you were able to turn the cornsticks out of the mold instead of having them stick there, glaring at you accusingly). Instead, use cornstick pans at room temperature and brush them with melted butter. You should brush them lightly and use several coats so that you get good coverage with no pooling. I know that instruction sounds fussy, but there are only fourteen sticks in the pan, and the whole process takes almost no time at all. The recipe I used last night said that each pan (i.e., seven sticks) should get a tablespoon of melted butter, but you will not use anywhere near that much. If you use a whole tablespoon for both pans, you will be ahead of the game.

Basic Cornsticks

Melted butter

1.5 cups cornmeal
0.5 cups all purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1.5 cups buttermilk
2 whole eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush your cornstick molds with the melted butter.

Combine the solid ingredients in a bowl. Mix them around a bit with a fork.

Whisk together the liquid ingredients.

Pour the liquids onto the solids. Stir just until smooth and then stop. Overmix at your peril.

Spoon the batter into the molds so that they are nearly full. Put them in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. When they're done, take them out of the oven and let sit for a few minutes, then invert onto racks or directly into a basket lined with a kitchen towel. Serve promptly.


You may note, though you may have been too polite to say, that the cornsticks in the picture at the top of the post are a tad on the pale side. Somehow, when I was fussing with a bunch of other things in the general area of the kitchen, I turned the oven way up, so that when I realized that I had set the timer to 25 minutes and then forgotten to turn it on (I was rather [more] distracted [than usual] last night) and decided to take a peek in the oven, the temperature had somehow gotten to 425, and I ended up not cooking the cornsticks for as long as I would have liked. They still tasted very good, but they would have been darker and crisper with a longer baking period.

If you don't have any buttermilk in the refrigerator, you can take one tablespoon less than a cup and a half of milk and add a tablespoon of vinegar to it. Stir it and let it sit for a bit.

My cornsticks last night were not entirely basic: I added a bit of finely grated Monterey Jack cheese. This turned out to be a mistake though it did not hurt the cornsticks in any way. It was more of a lost opportunity. What I really wanted was some very sharp cheddar, but I didn't have any, so I went with the Jack, which added little or nothing. Cornsticks are a great thing to have fun with. I am not so much a fan of adding things to cornbread, but with cornsticks, you can have at it. Cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, whole kernels of corn, finely diced jalapenos, hot sauce, chopped roasted red pepper, ground cumin, ground chili peppers, and just about anything else that tastes good with corn. The batter in this recipe has a great deal of structural integrity, so you can easily add half a cup of one or more items (think twice about adding half a cup of ground cumin, though) without compromising your cornsticks. Since the recipe already makes slightly too much for two pans, however, you'll end up with more batter left over if you add things. I am confident that you can find a way to deal with the surplus batter.

Cornsticks, as with any quick bread, do not keep especially well. You can freeze them after they've cooled, if you like, but it's best to make them when they'll all be eaten. If you do have leftovers, they do very well at the bottom of a bowl of soup or chili.

4 Comments:

Blogger Judie Crookston said...

I did not know that one could speak or write in such depth about cornsticks. However, for some strange reason, I found myself searching blogs for cornstick information. It boggles the mind. There are infinite questions and infinite answers about the simplest things.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Sangroncito said...

Oh my those look good!

6:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truely enjoyed your writing as my husband looked on me with utter amazement when I returned from 3 hours of driving to and from Old Time Pottery, beaming with joy and pride only rivaled by the birth of our son, with my cornstick pan (individual kernals and all). Glad I'm not alone and thanks for the recipe.
Mel -Marylander in Indiana Land (a place void of cornsticks and scrapple regardless of claimed Amish population).

9:18 AM  
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