Miranda Kohout may be a Midwesterner—she hails from Chicago—but when it comes to cornbread, she stands with us Southerners: She likes it sweet.
“Cornbread needs a little bit of sweetness,” she told us when we first asked for her opinion on this most divisive of cornbread controversies. “The sugar brings out the flavor of the corn.” With that, we knew we’d found The One who could tackle this challenge.
The first step toward creating an Arkansas cornbread concoction? Finding the perfect local products, Miranda says. She didn’t have to look too far to narrow down her main ingredient: cornmeal from War Eagle Mill in Benton County, east of Rogers, which the pastry chef says “has a wonderful flavor, and a toothsome texture that’s perfect for cornbread.” Also on her shopping list: Ozark Brewing Company’s Cream Stout and Jonagold apples from A&A Orchards in Green Forest.
Beer and apples? We were skeptical, too. But when you think of cornbread in the South, Miranda explains, you think of an afternoon barbecue. (Read: beer.) And as for apples? They’re one of the best things about being a pastry chef in Arkansas, she says.
Step 2 for Miranda was researching cornbread-related traditions around these parts. “I read that it’s a thing in the South to take day-old cornbread and soak it in buttermilk to have for breakfast,” she says. And since “panna cotta is basically milk Jell-O,” she says, she started to compose the dish in her head: cornbread madeleines served over buttermilk panna cotta with smoked apples, crème fraîche ice cream, beer caramel and cheddar streusel.
Ingenuity. We’d say that’s an Arkansas thing.
¼ cup War Eagle Cornmeal
¼ cup fine-ground cornmeal, such as Aunt Jemima or Argo
½ cup sugar
½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
¼ cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons melted butter
Whisk dry ingredients together. Combine buttermilk, crème fraîche, egg, oil and whisk thoroughly. While whisking, stream in hot butter. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix. (The batter can be baked right away, but the cornbread will have a nicer texture if the batter is allowed to rest, at room temperature, for at least 30 minutes.) Pipe or scoop into buttered and floured madeleine molds. Bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes, turning halfway through. Cornbread is done when golden brown, and if it springs back up when touched lightly in the middle.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons water
½ cup cream
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
Sprinkle powdered gelatin over water in a small dish and set aside. Bring cream, lemon zest, sugar and salt to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in gelatin mixture.
Strain into buttermilk. Pour into mold(s) or bowls and allow to chill 2 to 3 hours.
1 cup sugar
¼ cup Ozark Brewing Company Cream Stout
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
½ cup cream
¼ teaspoon salt
Cook beer and sugar to a medium caramel over medium-high heat, while stirring constantly. (Note: Mixture is quite foamy; be sure to use a pot with plenty of room.) Once foam dissipates, start to watch for color. When caramel has turned a medium-dark brown (around 325 degrees, immediately add butter and whisk to incorporate. Mixture will foam up again—be careful! Add cream and salt and allow mixture to simmer, while whisking, for 2-3 more minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.
Creme Fraiche Ice Cream
2 cups crème fraîche*
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup milk
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 large egg yolks
Combine crème fraîche and lemon zest in a bowl, and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, sugar, egg yolks and salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens. The temperature of the mixture will be 170 degrees when it is done. Strain cooked mixture into a clean bowl and chill in an ice bath. When the mixture is cold, whisk in crème fraîche. Freeze mixture according to your maker’s directions.
*Crème fraîche can be hard to find in stores. To make your own, combine 2 cups of cream with 2 tablespoons of buttermilk in a glass, quart-size canning jar. Cover loosely and allow to stand at room temperature until the mixture is thick, 24-48 hours. Once the mixture has thickened to your liking, store in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup War Eagle cornmeal
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
1 stick butter (room-temperature, cut into small cubes)
4 ounces Edgewood Creamery Sharp Cheddar, cut into small cubes
Combine dry ingredients in mixer bowl. Toss butter cubes in dry ingredients to coat thoroughly. Mix on low speed just until mixture starts to come together. Fold in cheese by hand, and mix with your fingertips until small clumps start to form. Spread streusel on a baking pan, and freeze for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees, stirring every 5 minutes, until streusel is golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Peel apples, cut in half, and place cut-side down on a rack in smoker. Smoke apples for 20 minutes at 200 degrees. Allow to cool and slice, avoiding core and seeds. Toss cooled apple slices in beer caramel, thinning caramel with a little beer if it is too thick.
Miranda’s notes on plating and assembly:
“If I were to serve this dessert at home, I would divide the panna cotta into small, shallow dishes, and arrange the other elements on top of the cooled panna cotta. Or I might create a layered dessert in small canning jars, serving the cornbread crumbled instead of in larger pieces, with a small scoop of streusel-sprinkled ice cream on top. A garnish of fresh thyme leaves is optional, but it adds a pretty ‘pop’ of green, and a lovely subtle flavor.”