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Culinary Class: Spoonbread

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The South’s Soufflé

The region’s answer to a French staple

Written by Lia Grabowski | Photos by Jonathan Boncek

A fluffy pudding with a crackly crust infused with sweet corn flavor, spoonbread tastes like a hybrid of cornbread from the American South and an eggy French soufflé. The comforting dish is a variation on Native American owendaw; the first published recipe is thought to be in Sarah Rutledge’s 1847 The Carolina Housewife, where it was called owendaw corn bread (the name we know it as today didn’t appear until decades later). Nowadays, there’s even a weekend-long festival dedicated to it in Berea, Kentucky. Similar to a savory pudding, spoonbread was likely named for its serving style; the spongy bread has to be scooped with a spoon, rather than sliced like traditional cornbread. A few tips for successful spoonbread: It can be made with or without whipped egg whites—which cause the rise and fall when it leaves the oven—but the extra step is worth it for an airy texture. Be sure your bowl is completely clean before adding egg whites, as any fat can keep them from taking on air. Give the bowl a white vinegar rinse to be sure. The same principle goes for egg yolk—if separating goes awry, set that batch aside for an omelet and start over. It’s easier to separate the whites and yolks of cold eggs, but warmer egg whites take up more volume and will whip up easier: Crack them straight from the fridge, but let the whites come to room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before they go into the mixer. A brush of heavy cream before the batter goes into the oven will amp up the crackly top crust—omit that step if you’re all about the soft consistency. Spoonbread can be as versatile as cornbread: add chorizo, green chiles, and cheddar cheese for a savory side, or drizzle with honey straight from the oven to finish a meal on a sweet note.