There are certain packaged foods that are simply the Platonic ideal of their kind, never to be bested by homemade versions: Oreos, Heinz ketchup, and Coca-Cola being my top three. Is the taste of these foodstuffs so perfectly irreplaceable because they are actually perfectly formulated? Or is it just that we are so used to those flavors that nothing else will quite do? If I had grown up eating Newman-O’s and Hunt’s ketchup, and drinking Pepsi, would I now be just as insistent on those brands as the apotheosis of sandwich cookies, tomato-based condiments, and corn-syrupy carbonated beverages?
I have one more to add to the list, but this one I feel guilty about: JIFFY Corn Muffin Mix. I felt way more guilty about it until my recent realization that EVERYONE loves Jiffy, or at least everyone who wasn’t born and/or raised in the South (and here, “everyone” mostly means my Gossip-Girl-dinner-party-club and Deb at Smitten Kitchen, which is a large and varied enough sample size for me).
Still, while I have no need for homemade Oreos, ketchup (Heinz or otherwise), or Coke, I would actually like to make cornbread from scratch. I’ve made it a couple times in the last year, always with recipes from Southern cookbooks and always in a cast-iron skillet. And it always came out great, but as an entirely different species of cornbread than I am used to — crunchy on the outside, very bready, and extremely savory. What I want is soft, cakey, and sweet. There, I said it. All Southerners can now crucify me.
So I was delighted to find that Deb — and Dorie Greenspan, the original source of this recipe — feel the same way. They promised a sweet, cakey muffin that would make me forget the Jiffy box, and while nothing may ever get me to forget Jiffy, these muffins came close enough that I don’t have to wear a big scarlet “J” on my forehead.
The one thing that always bothers me about corn muffins is that, as golden as they may be, they’re a bit too uniform. These have a nice textural contrast from the fresh corn kernels galore stuffed in, but I still wanted to mix up the color a bit. Also, as much as I love me a sweet muffin, I don’t mind a touch of savory in my morning, and I also don’t mind if the sweet-savory is all in one (all the better!). So, on a bit of inspiration, I bought a nice-looking bunch of basil, chopped it up pretty roughly, and mixed it in with the corn.
Perfection, best served with Frog Hollow peach preserves and a cup of tea. And without cardboard packaging or an R&D lab in sight.
Fresh Corn and Basil Muffins, to Rival Jiffy
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12 regular-sized muffins or 48 miniature ones
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
– 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
– 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
– 1 cup buttermilk
– 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
– 3 tablespoons corn oil
– 1 large egg
– 1 large egg yolk
– 1 cup corn kernels (add up to 1/3 cup more if you’d like) – fresh, frozen or canned (in which case they should be drained and patted dry)
– 1 cup basil, roughly chopped
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Fit the molds with paper muffin cups (you can also spray, but the paper muffin cups make clean-up/transport a whole heckofalot easier).
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg, if you’re using it. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, oil, egg and yolk together until well blended.
3. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough – the batter will be lumpy, and that’s just the way it should be.
4. Stir in the corn kernels and basil. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.
5. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes (12 minutes for minis), or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean (if you have to err one way or the other, these should be undercooked, otherwise they’ll get dry and crumbly). Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.