After testing a half dozen different corn muffin recipes, I found myself noticing quite a difference between Northern corn muffin recipes and Southern corn muffin recipes. No muffin was particularly bad, nor amazingly wonderful. But the real distinction was the amount of corn meal and texture, and the savory or sweetness in the flavor, which was definitely noticeable by region.
I decided if I was going to make a corn muffin, I wanted the best qualities of each regions take on the muffin. I didn’t love the overly sweet of a Northern region muffin, but I did like the texture. From the Southern version, I liked the savory flavors but did not like the dry crumbly texture. What I was looking for was a slightly sweet muffin, with a balanced corn flavor, that was moist and tender in texture that would let me add in some jalapeno, corn and cheese that was so prevalent in the Southern style muffins. A perfect savory, sweet blend to conquer the great corn divide.
To start the process I knew I needed a solid basic quick bread batter that would allow me to incorporate additional ingredients at a later time. A few of my variables were buttermilk or milk, which provided a better flavor? Do I want to add sour cream or yogurt, is there a taste or texture benefit? White or yellow cornmeal, does one result in a sweeter muffin flavor?
Off I went to test the variables. The first was to determine if I liked the tangy flavor from the buttermilk or just the flavor from the milk. After testing, I decided there was a time and a place for the tangy flavor, but this basic muffin wasn’t it. Whole milk was my final decision. I still wanted just a little bit more richness to the flavor but also needed to keep the texture at a moist and tender state, and decided sour cream was an easy add in. Once that was combined with the milk and butter, it helped in keeping with the original goal of moist and tender.
The final test was to determine if yellow or white corn meal would be used. The yellow corn meal provided just the right amount of sweetness without it being overpowering. The white cornmeal produced a corny flavor that was going to need a lot of sugar to get the right balance of savory and sweet.
With the basics in place, now came the add ins. Corn had so many options. Cream style corn, whole corn kernels, I could also puree the corn. The only downside I had to all these options was the amount of dirty dishes I created. Once I went back to my original goal of a nice sweet savory muffin, I decided that this muffin could be eaten anytime of the day. It could easily work with breakfast as a toast substitute, or dinner with a hearty soup or chili. With that in mind, simplicity was the direction that I went for. Frozen corn worked great, or if you are lucky enough to have fresh in season corn, cut it straight off the cob and use in the recipe.
This then led to the jalapeno selections. I tested the recipe with fresh jalapenos, pickled jalapenos, and even just jalapeno juice from the bottle. I roasted the jalapenos to see if a better flavor was driven from the process.
After all these tests, I again went back to keeping it simple. I didn’t like the idea of getting up in the morning to roast my jalapenos before I could even begin to make a muffin. The fresh jalapenos provided a beautiful color in the muffin and a little textural contrast. But I also learned that not all fresh jalapenos are created equally. Some were spicy and some were not. The real heat is found in the pith, not so much in the flesh. The bottled jalapenos definitely provided the most consistent spice punch, but didn’t provide the beautiful green colors from the fresh jalapenos, and the texture was a little mushy.
The only thing left to tackle was the decision of cheese. Did I want cheese just inside the muffin, or was there a benefit to also topping the muffin with it. And I thought, hey it’s cheese, there is always a benefit to topping the muffin with it. A little bit of shredded parmesan added some really beautiful color to the top of the muffin. I shredded the cheese with a microplane for the top instead of a box grater. What I discovered was that the smaller shredded cheese provided a beautiful browning on the top of the muffin that wasn’t as present with larger box grated pieces. And there is something about the look of the browning that lets me know that muffin has something savory going on. The parmesan also worked well with the sharp cheddar flavor inside the muffin.
Finally I had created the muffin I set out to make. Both my Northern friends and my Southern friends could agree that this was a great blending of the two.
Not too sweet, but a nice savory flavor. A wonderful moist texture, not too cakey or too dry. They liked that they could change peppers. They didn’t just have to go with a jalapeno. If it was a little too spicy for them, they could switch and go with an anaheim or more spice they could use the serrano pepper instead and still get the beautiful color and texture. They could use either frozen or fresh corn depending on season and availability. I also added a little bit of cilantro, but they could change to scallions if they wanted. It was a flexible, easy to make muffin that could be enjoyed anytime of the day with a large variety of foods. The great corn divide no longer existed.
The Great Corn Divide
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
- 1 cup yellow corn meal (4 3/8 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese shredded (4 ounces)
- 1 1/4 cup whole corn kernels
- 2 small jalapeno finely diced seeds removed (1 1/2 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
- 1 1/4 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and cooled
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese finely grated (3/4 ounce)
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat over to 400°. Grease 12-cup muffin tin.
- Whisk flour, corn meal, baking powder, salt, sugar, and chili powder together in large bowl. Stir in cheddar, corn jalapeno and cilantro, breaking up any clumps, until coated with flour. In separate bowl, whisk milk, sour cream, honey, melted butter and egg together until smooth.
- Gently fold milk mixture into flour mixture with rubber spatula until just combined. Batter will be heavy and thick; do not over mix.
- Using greased 1/3 cup measure, portion batter into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle Parmesan over top of muffins. Bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. 20-22 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let muffins cool slightly in pan before removing. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- 1 Stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 fresh jalapeño, finely chopped, including seeds.
- Stir together, butter, jalapeño and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve with muffins