Cornbread. Could there be anything more American? This national classic made me ponder whether the French eat anything close to cornbread, as I found cornmeal nonexistent in Paris’s markets.
I’ve heard it exists in some of the smaller, international grocery stores there, but it’s definitely not a staple item in their markets’ baking aisles. The French just don’t seem to have the fascination with corn that Americans do. That said, after a bit of some research, I found out that cornbread, known as pain de mais, does exist in France, but in the very southwestern Basque region.
Back when Christopher Columbus was around, he brought back the concept of cornbread from his travels to the Americas and this introduction was made in Spain and Southwestern France.
While you can find pain de mais and other sweet cornmeal variations in the bakeries of Southwestern France, classic American cornbread tends to be my favorite way to enjoy cornmeal.
While it’s called a bread, American cornbread resembles cake more than any kind of bread. It’s tender and light, and usually errs on the side of being sweet.
Some types of cornbread are very sweet, but I enjoy sweetening some of the batter with honey rather than just all granulated sugar as I find the honey adds a delicate sweetness and warmth to the cornbread that goes so well with the textured cornmeal.
I love pairing my cornbread with homemade preserves or compotes; I feel like it’s a very French thing to do. So to compliment my own version of pain de mais, I made this plum compote. The compote just adds a little something special to the cornbread, providing varying flavor and texture.
Honestly, I love any excuse to make cornbread, but I find it especially comforting in the fall. It is obviously a well-known food in American Thanksgiving spreads; it’s always one of the first foods gone at my holiday dinners. It’s not difficult to understand why, though.
In my opinion, a perfect cornbread is tender and moist on the inside with a slightly crisp exterior, and has an enjoyable sweetness that isn’t overwhelming.
Whether you’re pairing the bread with your turkey, or you just decide to whip some up for breakfast, you’ll quickly understand why this bread became such a favorite here and enthusiastically shared abroad.
Pain de Mais (cornbread)
Sweet and tender cornbread, perfect as a side for holiday meals.
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter plus more for greasing pan
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup + 1 tbsp cornmeal
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 6-inch cake pan with softened butter.
Melt the butter and warm the milk in a medium saucepan together over medium low heat. Add the honey and stir to combine. Remove from the heat.
Add the sugar and egg, and whisk to combine. Then add the cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt to the saucepan. Whisk until the batter is combined and smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for approximately 15 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.