Clam chowder and cornbread: recreating Boston

I would happily describe myself as a slightly over-enthusiastic cook and baker.  This week, unfortunately, I have no-one to keep my feet on the ground when it comes to my own capabilities as my other half is away for the week.  On Sunday, I therefore attempted to make clam chowder, cornbread and corn (admittedly not the most difficult element of the dish) in under an hour.  As you can probably guess, I didn’t quite manage it.  I did however learn a lot about the naming conventions for cornmeal in the US and the UK.

When in the kitchen, I work to the principle that cooking is art and baking is a science.  This basically means that I have precise recipes for all my baked goods but nothing for my more savoury endeavours.  Using the Union Oyster House Cookbook as inspiration, I can tell you that my clam chowder included tinned clams (I should have used fresh but I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to prepare them without destroying them or my hands), chopped bacon, onions, potatoes, single cream and fish stock but I’m unable to tell you how much of each!

Clam chowder and fresh corn

The corn was decidedly simpler but still imprecise.  Placed in a pot of boiling water and left to cook for the last ten minutes of the clam chowder’s cooking time, I then added a good knob of salted butter.  It was no wear near as vibrant, sweet or flavoursome as the corn we tried in Minnesota but it was at least British-grown.

Fresh British corn

For my cornbread however, I have an exact recipe, the notes for which started well before the baking.  Cornbread is one of the original American recipes and, despite its obvious sweetness, it provides the perfect accompaniment to many savoury dishes.  I still can’t smell cornbread without thinking of clam chowder and as I write this, I’m devouring tomato soup with a hunk of cornbread.

Cornbread

Cornbread

Makes approx 24 portions

Ingredients
170g butter
450g caster sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
3 eggs
240ml vegetable oil
480ml milk
170g maize meal/coarse ground polenta* (see “Buying cornmeal in the UK” below)
410g plain flour

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan oven 170°C).
  2. Cream together the butter, sugar, salt and baking powder until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Add the vegetable oil and maize meal/polenta and beat until combined.
  5. Stir in the flour.  Add the milk and mix until smooth.
  6. Pour the mixture into two greased 9” (23cm) cake tins or one 9” x 13” (23cm x 33cm) tin.  If using the two 9” tins, bake the cakes for around 35-40 minutes.  If using the single 9” x 13” tin, bake for 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool before cutting into portions.

Cornbread can be served with a variety of dishes but also tastes amazing while still warm topped with butter.  Enjoy!

*Buying cornmeal in the UK

The cornbread recipe from the Union Oyster House Cookbook calls for cornmeal but finding cornmeal in Edinburgh proved to be an exercise in translation.

American cornflour (or finely ground cornmeal) is finely ground maize meal or maize flour in the UK. American medium or coarse ground cornmeal is also referred to as maize meal and maize flour or medium or coarse ground polenta.  And just to make things really confusing, American cornstarch is actually cornflour in the UK.

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