These are my great grandma's cornmeal muffins. Well, y'know, like the title of the post says. And since she was from upstate New York, I seriously hope you aren't expecting a savory, dry, or crumbly cornbread. Oh no. These muffins are cakey and sweet, with just the right amount of grit and natural sweetness from the cornmeal. I remember making pans of this cornbread whenever my dad would make chili - it's the perfect accompaniment. It's also the perfect breakfast, since it's not too sweet and has a nice heartiness to it.
Funny thing is, the way I wrote this recipe? Definitely not how it was given to me. Oh no. Just like her white bread recipe, she had one last ingredient in the list with no measurement given. You just add that ingredient "until it feels right." So that's how I started out baking. Adding flour until the bread dough felt right, adding milk until this cornbread batter was "very wet." Baking by feel, by instinct. I find it crazy, especially since so many people find baking to be such an exact science.
But that's not how my mom bakes either. When we make pie crust, she measures the flour, but then just tosses in a couple pinches of salt and some hefty spoonfuls of shortening. Once that's all cut in, little splashes of ice water go in, "until it looks right." It took me forever to feel that comfortable with pie crust. And then the filling - we'd peel apples on our back porch while she told stories of doing the exact same thing with her grandmother. We'd compete to see who could peel the whole apple without letting the strand of peel break (please tell me you do the same!). I was always impressed that she'd give me the lone peeler and use a paring knife instead. It was a moment of pride when I did the same thing with my fiance - handing him the peeler, I peeled apples with a paring knife. Chopped up apples went into a great big metal bowl and my mom would toss in a couple handfuls of flour, sugar, and whatever spices sounded good that day. Mounded into the pie crust, dotted with butter (or not, we were always forgetting that step), and covered with more crust. Milk wash, cinnamon sugar, vents cut, and into the oven it went.
No matter how much flour we put in, or sugar, or spices, those apple pies always turned out. Yes, sometimes they were runny, but who cares when you can drown your slice in vanilla ice cream? I never bothered with that though. Apple pie in all its forms is wonderful. It's the same way with these muffins. Bake them as muffins, bake them in a round cake pan, or a square pan. Have them for breakfast, warm right out of the oven. Sneak them as a snack, mid-afternoon. And you can't go wrong with wedges of it balanced on top of big bowls of chili.
It's times like this that make me glad I grew up baking. For the past few weeks, I had a craving for cornmeal muffins, but it wasn't until the fiance looked at me with exasperation and said "Just bake your own!" that I remembered I had a notecard with the recipe. Mixing it up, I did you guys a favor - I actually measured the amount of milk I put in. Because, well, you didn't grown up mixing this batter with a spoon while your mom splashed milk until it was just right. One cup of milk makes for a bit of a stiffer batter, so you could probably go to 1 1/4 cups without a problem. Just do me a favor, eh? See what it looks like, and next time - don't measure. Just go for it. It's liberating.
2 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 - 1 1/4 cups milk
Preheat oven to 375*F.
Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl, cream together the sugar and shortening until it is pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in alternately with the milk (3 additions of flour, two of milk - always end with the dry ingredients). Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake about 15 minutes.