Bread of the Month: Spooning up an ideal side

spoonb01I have no idea how I came to be here so long that I had not only never made nor eaten spoonbread. Coming from a household that was decidedly Southern, despite their geographic location, it seems odd that this delightfully moist cousin of cornbread never graced our holiday or potluck tables.

If it did, I would have remembered. Having made a dish of spoonbread recently, I know that something this tasty would have lingered in my memory banks and made its way into my kitchen long before now.

I think I may have run across the perfect side for the holidays! Consider a dish that is like a bread, but moistly condensed and flavorful like a dressing and — if you made the sweet potato spoonbread I did — can also be considered the “potato.” It satisfies three categories in a single pan!

spoonb01Apparently, others have caught on about the allure of spoonbread. There are tons of recipes out there. Many are corny (cornmeal is the common base), some are sweet, some are savory. I was looking for a savory recipe, and it occurred to me how good sweet potatoes might be for a spoonbread. I found both savory and sweet potato in Southern Living’s recipe.

Sweet potatoes are great year-round, but they just cry out to be a part of things this time of year (along with sage, whose flavor is a delightful addition to an array of fall dishes). With so many colors of sweet potatoes and yams on the store shelves at the moment, I became aware of my own confusion — and that of many — on the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. Apparently, there are big differences. spoonb03The most common and prevalent creature available, that with reddish thin skin and glowing orange flesh, is a sweet potato, which is often called a yam (like the ones in a can). Sweet potatoes can come in a range of colors, with dark or light skin and everything from cream to near-crimson flesh. Yams, on the other hand, have thicker skins and can have a range of interior colors, even purple! Yams MUST be cooked or they are toxic. For a cute little quiz on the topic, go here.

As for sweet potatoes , you can’t get much healthier. They are loaded with fiber, Vitamins A and C and a number of minerals, providing more nutrition than your average potato. Despite the “sweet” moniker, they are ideal for those with glycemic issues, as their fiber and nutrient content keeps them from raising blood sugars too much and too quickly. They are ideal on their own for a meal — sometimes I’ll cook one in its jacket and pile salsa on top. Dinner is served! But they are also great in breads and pies. How could a sweet potato spoonbread be anything other than good?

spoonb04I cooked two good-sized sweet potatoes for the bread recipe, hoping to give them ample time to cool down before they were needed. Having made them before, I knew the sweet potato holds its heat for a good long while.

Beyond cooking the sweet potato, the next bit of cooking for this recipe involves making a cornmeal mush component for the bread. Seasonings (including thyme, cayenne and black pepper) and salt and milk are heated to simmering, then cornmeal is whisked in. Once this has thickened sufficiently, butter is stirred in and all is allowed to cool.

spoonb05The sweet potato, cornmeal mush and egg yolks are combined in a large bowl. Then, egg whites separated from the yolks are beaten to soft peaks….wait a minute. Now I get why this dish may have been kept from attending more holiday gatherings. I do believe the egg-white-beating-then-folding-into-things stage of recipes can be daunting. It’s a necessary step in certain cakes, desserts and soufflés to lighten the texture, but I also thinks it scares away some cooks (or perhaps those leery of dirtying another bowl) hopeful for a shortcut to deliciousness. Be not afraid. Yes, you must separate the egg (fairly easy to do). Yes, for the best volume, you should allow the egg whites to come to room temperature. Yes, it requires a separate, very clean bowl and some minutes with a mixer to get the egg whites to turn to the proper foamy white. Take the plunge! Take the time, then fold your egg whitesspoonb06 into your dense sweet potato/corn mush mixture and come up with a light, lovely batter! Glowing golden orange, the batter is smoothed into a heavy, buttered (and heavily buttered) dish for baking.

Eaten warm, the taste of this dense yet feathery dish, was not exactly in any category, but many of them at once. I got the salty hit of corn, the sweet of the sweet potato, the lingering depth of the thyme. It was decadently moist yet held its own. It was a wonderful accompaniment to the turkey breast dinner I made (a teasing for Thanksgiving), then again the next morning, eaten with butter and a tiny bit of honey for breakfast. The sweet potato element adds a boost of health needed as we embark into season’s eatings. The old Southern tradition of it makes it a heartwarming addition to any table, anywhere.spoon08

Sweet Potato Spoonbread
From Southern Living magazine (www.southernliving.com)
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of ground red pepper
1 cup plain yellow cornmeal
6 tablespoons butter
3 medium-size sweet potatoes, baked, peeled, and mashed
5 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°. Bring first 5 ingredients to a simmer in a 3-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Whisk cornmeal into milk mixture in a slow, steady stream. Cook, whisking constantly, 2 to 3 minutes or until mixture thickens and pulls away from bottom of pan. Remove from heat, and stir in butter. Cool 10 minutes.
spoonb07Place potatoes in a large bowl; stir in cornmeal mixture. Stir in egg yolks and baking powder, stirring until well blended.
Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form; fold into potato mixture. Spoon batter into a well-buttered 3-qt. baking dish.
Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown and puffy. (Edges will be firm and center will still be slightly soft.) Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack before serving

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