The first year I lived in Albuquerque I was working as an Americorps volunteer on a very small stipend, and therefore in need of some supplemental income to make ends meet. All throughout university I had learned that one of the best side jobs you could ever have was working in the food industry- either at a café, restaurant or brewery, as most jobs not only came with cash to pay the bills, but the extra added bonus of either a meal covered whilst on the job or extras to take home, that would have otherwise been thrown away at the end of the night.There were two places that I worked that first year, in addition to my primary job – the first was called Desert Willow; a quirky little house-turned cafe and gallery that had originally been the owner’s grandmother’s home. I worked there most Saturday mornings and always ended the day taking home extra pastries that I would pop into the toaster oven of my kitchen-less studio apartment, slather with butter, and eat for breakfast the following few days. To me, they were nearly as good as fresh. The kitchen was tiny, yet everything we served was homemade. Sadly the cafe closed about eight months after I started working there, but it was one of the highlights of my first year in New Mexico. It was always filled with the most interesting people, mostly artists and musicians, looking to linger over their smothered breakfast burritos before carrying on with their day.
I also worked a few evenings a week at a sadly now-defunct brewery called Chama River Brewing Company, where I hosted and provided bread service for all of the tables. There were always at least three choices of loaves of bread on offer, of which I carried around in a basket a-la little red riding hood, wielding a set of tongs and serving endless supplies to anyone who wanted. It was here I discovered Chile Cheese Cornbread.
Made with Hatch chiles, cornmeal, kernels of sweetcorn and copious amounts of cheese, butter and sour cream, I would oftentimes stand in the kitchen and shovel corn muffins into my mouth before making my bread girl rounds, most often having come straight from my Americorps job and walking right into dinner service. I was permanently covered in cornmeal crumbs down the front of my shirt and have no doubt customers were clearly aware I was sampling the goods in the back. Thankfully no one seemed to mind too much. This recipe comes as close to my memory of those corn muffins as I’ve found.
1cup (250g) cornmeal (if you can’t find cornmeal masa harina or polenta in a real bind works as an ok sub)
1cup(250g) plain white flour
1tspbaking soda or bicarb
1/4cup(50g) unrefined sugar Golden caster, brown coconut sugar etc. Refined is fine unrefined isn't available
1/2 cup(125g) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup(125ml) sour cream or crème fraîche
2eggs, room temperature
1 1/2cups(375ml) whole milk or buttermilk if available
1/2cup medium heat Hatch green chiles, (or 1 tin if fresh is unavailable) diced
1cup(250g) sweetcorn kernels, fresh or frozen/tinned if not in season
1cup(250g) grated cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F. Grease or line a 9×9 inch or 23cm baking dish with parchment paper (larger if a drier texture is desired).
Then, in a large bowl mix together the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda or bicarb. In a separate large bowl, beat the softened butter and sugar until smooth. Then add the sour cream or crème fraîche and eggs – one at a time- to the butter/sugar mixture until smooth and well combined.
Slowly into the wet mixture, stir in 1/3 cup milk or buttermilk, then 1/3 of the dry ingredients. Continue to mix, alternating between milk and flours until all of both have been added thoroughly combined Lastly stir in as much green chile as you like (feel free to use more than my recipe suggests for more heat), corn kernels, and grated cheese.
Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until the top, is golden brown, the center is firm to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let cool for about 10-15 minutes before removing from tin and serving. Resist temptation! Removing it any sooner and you run the risk of the bread completely falling apart.
I have intentionally toned down the heat for my young children (we’re working up to it slowly). If it were just me eating this I’d add more heat… so take that into account when deciding how much you want.
This recipe also creates a very moist and cake-like cornbread. If you want yours a bit drier to use for scooping up beans or soup or what have you, simply use a slightly bigger baking pan so the heat will reach and absorb more of the moisture from the batter.