Spoon bread is a classically Southern dish that you probably won’t find just anywhere. The best way to describe it is to say that it is a hybrid of polenta, cornbread and a souffle – and that only partially describes it. A good spoon bread should be light, have an at least slightly custardy center and a crisp top. And it should be soft/tender enough that you can eat it easily with a spoon.
Spoon bread, which is sometimes written as spoonbread, starts with a thick base of milk cooked with cornmeal until thickened. This base always has some additional ingredients for seasoning. Basics would be butter, salt and pepper, but you can add in almost anything, from chopped up pieces of ham to grated cheese to minced herbs. The base is cooled down and then has egg whites folded into it before being baked in the oven.
My spoon bread is a very simple recipe and is quite plain on its own. I combine all the base ingredients in a saucepan before heating it, although there are many recipes that direct you to stream in the cornmeal once your liquid has already been heated. I find that this latter method can be tricky and, if done improperly, can leave you with a very lumpy cornmeal mush. Mixing everything before you turn on the heat and then stirring it frequently ensures even, easy cooking and still allows the recipe to turn out well.
The bread does get a good butter flavor from both the buttermilk and the butter in the cornmeal base, but it is best when served with butter to top off a warm piece. It is very tender, and while it is a bit more substantial than some almost souffle-like spoonbreads I’ve had, it is far moister and lighter than your average cornbread. I think that it works with just about any meal and can certainly be a stand-in for regular cornbread with chili or soup, especially if you cook it for a few extra minutes to firm it up more. There is no flour and no gluten in this recipe, so it is also a great choice to serve if you or your guests are gluten intolerant.
Buttermilk Spoon Bread
1 1/2 cups milk (low fat is fine)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1 tbsp sugar
Preheat oven to 375F. Grease and flour an 8-inch square casserole dish (I used a 10-inch round dish, which had the same volume).
Combine milk, buttermilk and cornmeal in a medium saucepan and bring almost to a boil, stirring regularly. Once it has reached a simmer, turn heat down and cook for another minute or two, until mixture is thickened. Stir in butter and salt, then transfer to a bowl to cool down to near room temperature. once it has cooled, whisk in egg yolks.
In a medium bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks, gradually beating in sugar. Fold into cornmeal base, working in two or three additions. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until spoon bread is set, but still slightly jiggly, and the top is golden brown.
Serve warm. Spoon bread may sink as it cools.