Monday, November 9, 2015

Sweet Potato Cornbread

Much of the food that we favor is less a choice based on personal tastes than the result of exposure to certain types of food in our youth. There are exceptions, of course. We are genetically primed to like sweet and savory foods because they tend to be the types of food that helped us survive. However, some cultures have a much better taste for bitter food or less instantly palatable fare. This is usually because of exposure to those foods during their upbringing.

I lived in Japan for a long time and many of the natives took pride in how healthy their diet was, but the truth is that they didn't choose their diet. History and types of available food chose it for them. What we choose to eat is rarely a reflection of character or individual choice. The Japanese certainly are not alone in a sense of superiority based on diet. They just tend to have more healthy food in their traditional diet so they have more to base their feelings on.

My upbringing, as I mentioned in this blog intro, was full of very conservative menus of poorly cooked food. I had to teach myself to diversify and that is part of why I'm doing this blog and trying the New York Times recipes. I will say that I love anything made with cornmeal now, but I did not grow up with food using this ingredient. My only exposure to cornbread was the rare purchase by my mother of a box of "Jiffy" corn muffin mix and the even rarer preparation of said mixes. More often than not, they languished in the cupboard until worms took up occupancy. I remember open those little blue and white boxes in expectation and then recoiling in horror from the creatures stirring in the dusty innards.

Though I still have a nostalgic desire to make Jiffy corn muffins, and I know there are no small number of folks who love that mix, I found the last time that I made them that they failed to satisfy. Since then, I've just made my own corn muffins from scratch.

When I found the New York Times recipe for sweet potato cornbread,  I figured this was going to be two great tastes that could very well taste great together. I followed the ingredients list and quantities fairly faithfully, though I cut it in half and only made six muffins and I added a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract because I feel you can never go wrong with vanilla.

I took a shortcut on the preparation both in terms of how I made the sweet potato and mixed the wet ingredients. My usual way of making a sweet potato is to scrub it, stab it four or so times with a knife, wrap it in a paper towel, soak the paper towel with water, and then microwave it for about five minutes (flipping it halfway through). Depending on the size of the potato, it may need more time, but I just check it for tenderness and then let it sit for at least five minutes to cool and finish cooking.

Instead of mashing the potato normally, I cut it into slices while still quite warm, and threw it into the blender attachment of a Magic Bullet, added milk, oil, and vanilla and then pureed that. After the milk cooled the potato, I added the egg and blended it until it was very smooth. I think this works well and is less troublesome with no negative impact on the resulting cornbread.

My muffins ended up looking like this:

The inside of the muffin was tender and fairly moist, especially for a cornmeal-based baked item. The tops and bottoms got darker than I would have liked and next time I would reduce the cooking time from 20 minutes to 15 minutes. The batter from this was very thick and I know that this was not due to any errors on my part with measuring as I used weight rather than volume for the potato and all dry ingredients. I used a measuring cup for the milk and had no control over the egg, but any variation in wet ingredients due to egg size could not have made any difference in batter thickness.

I think the batter turned out as it should, but the picture on the New York Times site of these muffins is simply a different recipe. Given the color of the pictured muffins (very yellow) in the linked recipe and the smooth tops, I think someone was lazy about getting a picture of the product of this recipe because my muffins were very orange and the batter too thick to produce smooth tops. This isn't a big deal, but it is misleading.

These are not especially sweet muffins and should be regarded more as a different type of bread rather than as a sweet. There is just enough sugar in them to make them tender, but not enough to make them sweet. They are best consumed warmed up with some butter or perhaps even some jam in a complementary flavor (e.g., apricot). I will definitely make these again, but will likely modify the cooking time and possibly even the temperature. 

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