Chloe-Rose Crabtree's Jalapeño Sourdough Cornbread
When discard is the mother of invention. An introductory essay and recipe for jalapeño sourdough cornbread by Chloe-Rose Crabtree.
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Welcome to Vittles Recipes! In this new weekly slot, our roster of six rotating columnists will share their recipes and wisdom with you. This week’s columnist is Chloe-Rose Crabtree. You can read our archive of cookery writing here.
When Discard is the Mother of Invention
An introductory essay and a recipe for jalapeño sourdough cornbread by Chloe-Rose Crabtree. Photographs by Sally Hang.
I’ve always found inspiration in kitchen waste. As a young baker I’d scrounge through the kitchen looking for ingredients on the turn that I could transform through baking. Not wanting to ask for a ride to the store (in LA you really do have to drive everywhere) or for money to buy ingredients, I had to get creative. Almost-slimy courgettes or blackened bananas became cakey bread, past-date yogurt was mixed into muffin batter, and wilted herbs were made into pestos. And so when I started making sourdough, the discarded starter, or ‘discard’ – the bit of starter that is thrown out if it isn’t used to make bread during each feeding – became a new site of experimentation. (Read more on how to make, feed and discard starter, here.)
At first, there were a lot of crackers and, later, crumpets of varying success. I still make sourdough pancakes from time to time, but as more of a treat. There were a few flops, like the time I made kimchijeon and tried to convince my husband that the probiotic effects made it worth eating despite the gummy texture – neither of us lasted more than a few bites. I even mixed some discard into the water I gave to my houseplants, which was great for the plants but attracted gnats.
Inspiration for this recipe came from the leftover ingredients in my home kitchen: rapidly wrinkling jalapeños, the second half of a pint of buttermilk, the last quarter of a bag of cornmeal – and my starter ready to be fed its next dose of flour and water. The result was a fluffy, spicy-sweet cornbread that I promptly put on the menu at Bake Street where I work, where another kind of ‘discard’ was saved from the bin and added to the mix: candied jalapeños, a by-product of hot honey production.
Most discard sourdough recipes will state that a starter of any ripeness will work (instructions on how to achieve perfect ripeness here). This may be technically true, but doesn’t always yield the best results. After a few test runs of this cornbread, I realised the fluffiness I achieved from my first batch was because my starter was fully active. After trying other sourdough discard recipes, I have found a ripe starter is generally best. I test ‘ripeness’ by dropping a spoonful of starter into some cold water – if it floats, then it is active. If you’re working with an inactive stater, the cornbread will come out denser and will dry out more quickly, but it will still be delicious.
This isn’t a quick recipe and the steps in it are intentional. The jalapeño butter is made a day ahead so that the peppers can fully infuse into the butter. Starter is mixed with the flour, sugar, cornmeal and eggs and left to rest so it is activated before baking. Buttermilk is added after the initial mix is allowed to rest because enzymes in the milk could kill the wild yeast in the sourdough starter. Bicarbonate and baking powder are also added later because the acidity in the starter will activate them too soon before baking.
That being said, there is room to adapt this recipe to your tastes and time constraints. Other chilli infusions can be made, but for spicier chillies, like Scotch bonnets or habaneros, I suggest infusing the butter with the whole chilli, which you should remove before adding the butter to the batter. If you prefer less spice, you can substitute roughly 100g of corn kernels for the chillies when making your butter infusion. Can’t be bothered to make a butter infusion? Substitute with 140g melted butter and add 1 tsp of salt to the bicarb and baking powder. If you’re short on time, chuck it all in a bowl, mix it together until it is homogeneous and bake as directed – your bread will be more crumbly but you will still have hot cornbread, and that is never a bad thing.
While I’ve made this a jalapeño cornbread, without the jalapeno butter, it is a very good base recipe to play around with. Sprinkle in that spice blend hiding in the corner of your cabinet, grate the sliver of cheese in your fridge that isn’t quite enough for a toastie over the top of the batter, infuse the butter with wilted herbs in the crisper drawer. The possibilities are endless.
Jalapeño sourdough cornbread
Makes one 8” (20cm) round loaf or 8–12 muffins
Time 40 mins plus at least 2 hrs 30 mins infusing and cooling