On Saturday I woke in a cold sweat having dreamed that I’d gotten one of the ratios completely wrong. This kind of thing happens when you send something permanent out into the book world. Even The Times couldn’t take my mind off it, so that morning, instead of fixing the garage roof or putting a tile backspash behind the kitchen sink or even replacing light bulbs I found myself making lemon-lime sponge cake, banana bread (because we had three black bananas in the fruit bowl) and cornbread because I wanted to retest a ratio variation.
One of the great all-purpose baseline ratios I discovered is for quickbread batter—and these can include any number of finished dishes. Bake the batter in a loaf pan for a loaf, in a muffin tin for muffins, pour it on a griddle and you have a pancake, use it to bind fruit or vegetable and you have wonderful fritters. The backbone of all these items is: equal parts liquid and flour and half as much egg. They also usually contain butter for richness, sugar for sweetness, 1 part each depending on what you're doing with it (for instance you don’t need the butter if you’re making fritters—you cook fritters in fat, they don’t need more). You also need some leavening—I prefer baking powder, about a teaspoon for every 5 ounces or cup of flour. And a good pinch of salt.
Armed with this ratio 2 parts flour : 2 parts liquid : 1 part egg : 1 part butter and a little bit of technique, I made a cornbread simply by substituting cornmeal for ¾s of the flour. The amounts were based on large eggs (which are 2 ounces) and butter (4 ounces per stick). I threw in fresh corn and some diced jalapeno for sweetness and heat. I don’t like really sweet cornbread so I cut the sugar in half (for sweet muffins I include 1 part sugar). Et voila, improvising using a ratio.
The next morning, I fried a slice in bacon fat—so good. The day after that, realizing I wanted to write about it, I fried some in butter and asked donna to take the snapshot above. What’s so great about cornbread is its versatility. Great for breakfast with sweet butter, or with bacon, great for dinner with a bowl of chili. The ratio is the backbone—the variations are up to you.
2 ounces flour (about ⅓ cup*)
6 ounces cornmeal (a heaping cup*)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3-fingered pinch of salt (a teaspoon if you must)
2 ounces sugar (about 4½ tablespoons*)
8 ounces milk
2 large eggs
4 ounces butter, melted but cool
3 - 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
1 ½ cups fresh corn
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Combine the milk and eggs and whisk to combine, add the butter, whisking. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, stirring till all ingredients are well incorporated, stir in the jalapenos and corn. Pour batter into a buttered or oiled loaf pan (or vessel of your choice, such as a cast iron skillet) and bake till the interior is no longer wet, about 30 minutes.
(*consider adding “buy a scale” to your to do list)