Spoonbread is a wonderfully old-fashioned dish that should not be relegated to the tables of old-fashioned cooks.
It’s a perfect holiday side; a pudding-esque interpretation of grits; a softer version of cornbread; perfection alongside a roast of any kind. It’s got the slightest hint of sweetness thanks to the maple syrup (and, you know, the sweet potatoes), but remains firmly a savory side dish. You could add a bit of nutmeg, cinnamon and/or more cloves for more autumnal flavour, but I happen to like the way the sweet potatoes’ natural flavour carries this dish, so I leave it largely unseasoned, with just a touch of cayenne and cloves.
I can’t think of a lovelier Thanksgiving side dish. It’s a winner alongside a roasted turkey. But don’t stop there. This would turn a roast chicken into a feast, with just a green salad to round things off. Maybe even a rotisserie chicken. Who says you have to make the whole meal? You are busy, I know.
When the spoonbread first comes out of the oven, it will be lovely and puffed. It will settle fairly quickly, and that’s OK ‚Äî it’s not mean to be served like a souffl√©, where time is of the essence. If you can get it to the table straight from the oven when it is at its most majestic, great, but really by the time you serve it up it will have settled into its delicious self anyway.
SWEET POTATO SPOONBREAD
Start to finish: 2 hours
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 sweet potatoes
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch cayenne pepper
3/4 cup finely ground cornmeal
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease a rectangular or oval 2-quart casserole.
Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and bake them for about 50 to 55 minutes, until they are very soft. Remove them from the oven and let them sit on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.
While the potatoes are cooling, combine the milk, maple syrup, salt, pepper, cloves and cayenne in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Sprinkle in the cornmeal slowly, whisking all the while, until the cornmeal is all added. Continue to whisk over the heat until the mixture has thickened, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Cool for about 10 minutes.
Peel off the skins and place the potatoes in a bowl. Mash them with a potato masher until fairly smooth (or use a ricer or a fork if that’s what you have). Stir the remaining 3 tablespoons of the butter and the mashed sweet potatoes into the cornmeal mixture. Stir in the baking powder and then the egg yolks.
In a bowl, using a whisk or electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they just form stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the sweet-potato-cornmeal mixture, just until barely incorporated.
Gently transfer the batter into the prepared dish and bake for 25 to 35 minutes (depending on how deep the dish is) until puffed and golden brown. The middle will still have the slightest jiggle when you wiggle the pan. Serve hot.