Sunshine and Tropics…On A Plate

Posted on April 11, 2011

Last week’s zaleti reminded me how much I love cornmeal.  After the success of the cookies, I threw some stone ground cornmeal into the week’s bread dough to amp up an already toothsome multigrain blend (sunflower, flax, poppy and sesame seeds; wheat and rye flakes; millet) with some more gritty crunch.  I love cornmeal’s grittiness.

I also love its sunny yellow color.

Sunshine matters to me in these early days of spring – days lacking flowers and fresh produce and even leaf buds, but not lacking in overcast skies and rain.  So when I wanted a muffin to tuck into this week’s lunch bags, a week that promises a fair amount of drizzle, I once again reached for the bright yellow paper sack in my fridge.

Corn muffins can be tricky to get right, though.  I’ve had versions that taste as appealing as compressed blocks of sawdust, and others that might pass for sweet and fluffy cupcakes.  A good corn muffin is all about balance: enough ground grain body to satisfy the palate but with moistness instead of dense dryness; some sweetness to develop the nutty taste of the corn but not so much sugar that the corn is masked.

I wasn’t sure I had that balanced recipe.

Until I remembered a really good corn bread I had made for chili night a few weeks back.  Called Rich and Nutty Brown Butter Corn Bread with Fresh Corn, the recipe came from New York Times food writer Melissa Clark’s book, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite.  Along with the chicken chili, the corn bread had been devoured.  Could the skillet-baked loaf, I wondered, be made into muffins with success?  I couldn’t resist finding out.

When I re-read Clark’s intro to the recipe, I noticed that she had experimented with all manner of additions to the corn bread, turning into the batter at various times cheese, herbs, roasted or jalapeno peppers, onions…and coconut.

Coconut, eh?  Cornmeal’s sunshine looks together with coconut’s tropical profile?  The combination sounded like muffin material to me.  I did a little experimenting of my own.

What resulted was this delicious and  cheery muffin, perfect as a mid-morning snack on any gloomy morning.  Excuse me while I go have mine.

Sunshine and Tropics Muffins

This barely sweet muffin gets most of its sweetness from the whole corn kernels and shredded coconut, with a little boost from minimal amounts of white sugar and a tablespoon of maple syrup.

Using full fat sour cream or whole milk yoghurt guarantees moistness, as does the coconut (well, the melted browned butter doesn’t hurt either).

The recipe adapted from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite yielded 11 muffins when scooped into paper liners using a #20 Zeroll ice cream scoop.  Make them slightly smaller and you’ll probably get an even dozen.

  • 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (I used frozen)
  • 1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 1/4 cups sour cream or whole milk strained (Greek style) yoghurt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with muffin papers.

Melt 4 Tbsp. butter in a medium (9-inch) skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the corn and maple syrup and saute, stirring, until the corn is tender (5-10 minutes).  Remove from the heat.

Sift together in a large bowl the flour,cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.  Add in the coconut and toss with your fingers to combine well.  In another medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, egg, sugar and baking soda.  Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Fold the butter-corn mixture into this batter.

Return the skillet to the burner and melt the remaining 4 Tbsp. butter.  Cook the butter over medium high heat until it just starts to turn pale gold (2 minutes). Do not let it get overbrowned.  Remove the pan from the heat.

(Note: If you’d like corn bread instead of muffins, simply stop here and turn the batter – with or without the coconut – into the buttery skillet, smooth the top of the batter, and set it in the oven to bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cut into wedges and serve.)

For muffins, scrape the melted butter into a smaller vessel (such as glass measuring cup with spout).  Pour approximately 2 tsp. melted butter into the bottom of each muffin paper.  Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, measure batter into each paper liner on top of the melted butter.  Sprinkle the tops of the muffin with additional coconut.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the muffin center comes out clean.

Allow muffins to cool for a few minutes in the pan.  Remove muffins to a cooling rack and serve warm or cooled.

©2011  Jane A. Ward