pressure cooker on you again.) It’s always exciting. I put out chopped raw onions, a little cruet of olive oil, some feta, fresh herbs, hot sauce, flaky sea salt—and everyone gets to top their own beans. Could there be a more delightful dinner? (Don’t answer that.)
But if company is coming, I occasionally lose my nerve around the serving of Just Beans in a Bowl! I do. And in those cases, corn bread is the card up my bean-loving sleeve. Corn bread is a crowd pleaser—pleasing crowds of children and grown-ups alike. Plus, it’s basically a thirty-minute round-trip excursion: into the oven by the time the oven preheats, then baked in another 15.
A warm slab of sweet, grainy cornbread with a melting pat of butter? I mean, come on. Even if dinner is a kind of soup that you don’t like, the corn bread will work its good-natured magic on your meal mood, and you will find yourself saying, “I didn’t think the turnips and the parsnips would taste that good together? But it’s not even terrible.” While cheerful corn crumbs spray from your pleasant expression.
This corn bread is yet another example of how, for me, roughing up a white-flour recipe into a whole-grain recipe is win-win. It’s not at all an oh, well, it’s like chewing a cardboard-flavored wedge of particleboard but at least it’s healthy situation. Instead, it’s a nutty, deeply-flavored, tender-crumbed wonder, with a just-shy-of-custardy middle (you could bake this trait out of it, if you like) and a whiff of browned butter. Cheap, easy, wholesome, delicious.
This is a loose adaptation of Joy of Cooking’s Northern Corn Bread recipe. The spelt is me, of course, and, also of course, I am using the maximum recommended allowances of butter and sugar. They call for ½ milk and ½ buttermilk, but I love the flavor you get from using all buttermilk—also the tender, almost custardy crumb of the baked cornbread. Leftovers, toasted and buttered, are sublime.
1 ¼ cups cornmeal (IF you can get freshly ground cornmeal, you will be ruined for life)
¾ cups whole spelt flour THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE (Okay, you could actually use white flour, but why would you?)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup sugar (feel free to use less)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
Heat the oven to 425 and put a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet in to heat. (Alternately, grease a 9- by 9-inch baking pan or dish, or the equivalent.)
Whisk together the dry ingredients.
Whisk together the buttermilk and eggs.
Fling a knob of butter (1 tablespoon, let’s say) into the pan that’s heating. If you’re using a greased pan, don’t do anything.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, start folding, then dump in the butter and fold together until the dries just disappear.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, which should be coated with browning, sizzling butter, and bake until it’s browned and seems springy, or at least not squidgy when you press the top (or stick a toothpick into it). Start checking it at 15 minutes, which is when I usually take mine out, even though the recipe says 20-25. Maybe this is because of preheating the pan, which is not in the recipe. A cold pan will doubtless take a bit longer.