Hearts and Madeleines on Fire for Parmesan & Black Pepper Cornbread

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Every once in a while you eat something at a restaurant that just intrigues you, keeps with you, and makes you think "I must learn how to make this." It may not be the most revolutionary food or the most innovative, but something about it gives it a unique something. Like a book that you always remember every detail about, the characters, the way you felt when you experienced it, the weight of the book as you held it in your hand - every aspect of the dish just engraves itself into your memory.

For me, that was a cornbread I had at Tre. It was a simple dish, the bread they served before the dinner came. A course (do we call the bread a course?) that is usually inconsequential and given to keep the patron busy as they look over the menu. Still this was different.

The cornbread was laden with cheese and sugar and cooked in a madeleine tray. Their little scalloped edges and undulating texture amused me. The flavor was to die for albeit rather sugary. Yet the concept stayed with me and I told my dining companions right then and there: "I am so going to make these when I get home." And I did. But - and if I may be so bold - better.

I went to work in my kitchen. The first batch was a little light on the cheese and salt, the second came out perfect. However, the good part of the story is in the first.

You see the problem with most madeleine trays is they are thin as a wafer and very hard to get out of the oven without them slipping from your hands or squishing them all as your grab the tray. As such they tray can easily slip away from you and fall to the floor. Or in my case, flip over and toss every piece of cornbread into the floor of the oven.

It is also amazing just how fucking fast a cornbread madeleine will burst into flames when it touches a 400 degree electric coil. Let alone six or seven madeleines touching a 400 degree electric coil. How I was able to repetitiously scream "Shit!" with tommy gun speed and attempt to blow them out (successfully, I might add) at the same time I'm unaware. All I knew was somehow I had put out the fires and now my entire apartment was redolent with the odor of burnt food where it was once graced with the sweet smell of cornbread. And let me tell you that the former lasts much, much longer and is frustratingly more difficult to get out of your apartment than the latter.

I then grabbed the tongs and crammed the newly briquetted tea cakes down the garbage disposal. Sadly it was only after the fact that I realized that I should have taken a picture of the blackened cornbread or, even better, taken pictures of them on fire. Oh, us crazy bloggers. Putting our safety at risk for a few more page hits and an awesome photo. It's like when we chronicle our food poisoning over Twitter. I've seen one or two people do, updating me on every lovely little detail of stomach sickness. Really, that we don't have a higher mortality rate is surprising. I can picture it now: "D-List Food Blogger Dies After Attempting to Photograph Self in Mandolin Mishap."

However, let's not focus too much on the combustion but rather the consumption of these quirky little cornbreads. When they aren't lit aflame they're absolutely divine. Nothing like that crazy ass sweet cornbread that tastes like cake. This cornbread is savory, salted with good amounts of finely grated cheese and given a little of the right kind of heat from generous amounts of freshly cracked black pepper. Perfect with a spot of sweet apricot jam, a smear of butter, or maybe with a drizzle of honey so long it seems to seep into every crack until it's soaked through and the bread sticks to your fingers encouraging them to be licked clean. I can't find a way to eat them that simply isn't appealing.
Parmesan & Black Pepper Cornbread
(makes 3 dozen madeleines or one 8 inch square pan)

1 cup of cornmeal
1 cup of flour
1/4 cup of granualted sugar
3/4 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
heaping 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan
many good grinds of fresh pepper
1 cup of buttermilk
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
(butter or bacon grease for greasing pan)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease the madeleine pan with butter (or bacon grease!) well, being sure to get into every crevice. Do the same with the baking pan if using.

2. Mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, Parmesan, and black pepper together in a bowl. In another bowl mix together the buttermilk, oil, and egg.

3. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Place a tablespoon of the batter into each slot of the madeleine tray. Bake for 10-12 minutes or lightly browned around the edges. Turn tray over and allow them to cool on wire rack. If using an 8X8 pan bake for 20-25 minutes.
A special note: The winner of the cookbook contest, winning a copy of Pichet Ong's The Sweet Spot is (still trying to get into contact with, please stand by).


  1. Maybe you could put the madeline pan in/on something more sturdy? 9x13 or a cookie sheet, preferably with a rim? Just an idea...

  2. They sound wonderful Garrett!Classic combination of flavors that is sure to win anytime!
    I just made lemon-olive oil madeleine batter. I say batter because the end result won't be madeleines :)

  3. I just bought a madeleine pan from a 2nd hand store and haven't used it yet. I'm going to make these esp. if they are better than the restaurant version you tried. Thanks for the recipe.

  4. While I'm sorry your madeleines immolated themselves, it did make for a good story! I'm looking forward to making these but now I'll definitely take precautions, lol.

  5. What a genius idea! I may have to buy a madeleine pan after all...I will keep in mind your cautionary tale.

  6. Whenever I bake something annoyingly difficult to pick up with oven mitts, I put it on a sheet pan with a silicone liner. Then it won't slide around when you take out the tray.

  7. Is the post a vague reference to a Cut Copy song? If so well played.

  8. Have you tried aluminum-free baking powder yet? If you have any sensitivity to the regular baking powder(that yucky taste in the back of your throat that I particularly notice with biscuits, scones and cornbread), you'll really be pleased with the switch. They have Rumford brand at Nugget.(I love that store)

  9. Wonderfully humorous post and I loved the recipe idea. Thank you for the inspiration! I made my own gluten-free cornbread madeleines at my blog in your honor- although sadly, without a funny story to accompany. (Where's the raging flames when you need them???)

    All my best,


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