It’s Autumn in Minnesota, we’re getting ever closer to Halloween and Thanksgiving, everyone is becoming unnaturally obsessed with ‘pumpkin spice’-flavored things, and my sister gathered us together last weekend for a family dinner of grilled pork and potatoes. So what better ‘dessert’ accompaniment for me to make than Basque Pumpkin Cornbread!? Yes, that is apparently a thing, as I found out while searching through the mountain of ‘classic French desserts’ I still had left on my Buzzfeed checklist.
Though, thankfully, my personal embarrassment for not knowing a lick about this particular item was short lived. It didn’t take me long to realize that, apparently, ‘French pumpkin cornbread’ is quite the ‘obscure’ recipe. There is ONE recipe for it online… one. I mean one can find other pages with it, but the recipe used is exactly the same; some blatantly display the fact it came from Lemons and Anchovies, the link which Buzzfeed itself uses (not that they have any other option). Any other recipes that try variations aren’t even relating themselves to the French recipe, or outright state they’re taking it and putting ‘American twists’ towards the bread, bringing it back to a classic US cornbread with pumpkin flavoring. But if you really want to understand just how random, for lack of a better term, this recipe is to French culture… I couldn’t even find any hint of it in my Larousse Gastronomique, THE definitive encyclopedia to French food, terms, recipes, culinary history, etc. And I checked EVERY term that would connect with it, even looking for its French name: ‘Meture au Potiron Basquais.’ Though I only found that in one blog post, of which could have been that particular author trying to make a name through his own direct translation. I would not be surprised if there was no other actual term given to this recipe by the French themselves, besides simply saying what it was not in English.
So that was an interesting thing to go through and realize as I attempted to search for other recipes which to compare to. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have history; for it DID get introduced to the southern part of the country at one point in time, it simply hasn’t had the luck to reach the fame and intrigue as their many other breads and pastries. The idea is that its creation developed after Christopher Columbus returned and introduced ingredients like Corn to the new world; of course starting in Spain and then spreading to Southern France first before the rest of the continent. Those in the shared Spanish-French Basque region turned the grain into a bread much like back in the Americas where they came from. Of course they had to put their own addition to it, mixing with rich seasonal squash while incorporating whipped egg whites, definitely a French introduction, as its sole leavening inclusion. Minimalistic by today’s recipes, but at that point an exceptional addition! Now it’s seeing if I can translate some of this exceptionalness into something that works today.
Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner
So, I’ve gotta use an actual pumpkin with this one, just for the fun. Which, if you are yet unaware, does NOT mean one of those giant monsters we love to get for carving. Those are NOT food! They taste like crap, back away and save those for Halloween! One has to ensure that their store, which most Whole Foods and decent grocery stores should have, stocks the specific cooking varieties in the produce section. These are smaller squashes, their size and development made to concentrate their natural flavors and sugars. You know, so they taste good.
This solo recipe seems to only use the canned version, but assuming this IS something that was made semi-frequently in the past, it’d be with an actual pumpkin. And I want an excuse to roast a whole one! Though… as I found out, and you can see in my semi-recipe for ‘Roasted Pumpkin’ below, came out rather stringy, like spaghetti squash. So not quite that mashable; attempts at ricing and putting in my mini-processor failed. Should have just boiled the pumpkin instead, but I always prefer the flavor of roasting and thought it would result like a butternut. It’s an easy fix though, solved by re-heating the roasted pumpkin with the milk and blending, where it purees simply.
But it sucks because I originally planned to use a particular technique I learned with my bread-making adventures, whereby one makes a ‘soaker’ by combining cornmeal and water/liquid overnight. This helps to make sure the very dry and crunchy meal actually softens and yields a more tender final result; something I REALLY wanted to make sure happened this time as I was using a stoneground, ‘medium grind’ cornmeal; one I expect is likely bigger than the kind of cornmeal originally used in the recipe.
If taking the recipe like I did, using an actual pumpkin and roughly ground, delicious cornmeal vs the canned pumpkin ‘jello’ and a mass of processed maize flour, as I found out you’ll likely want to re-adjust certain proportions and procedures. You’ll see how I found this out later. Nevertheless, I’ve listed some notes in the recipe on the side if this is the case for your own adventures.
The ‘original’ recipe also called for Rum, which I chose not to use because… okay, I won’t like, I forgot the darn rum. Which I myself didn’t care about at first as it seemed like just a random addition; rum isn’t really much of a French ingredient except on that one Island. It made more sense to consider using an Armagnac, fruit brandy or something. Then I realized… Christopher Columbus, durnit. Of course there would be a connection to rum, it’s a dish that originated from overseas travel! Maybe rum wasn’t QUITE as vital to their crews in those very beginning days of runs between the Americas, but I can’t say it wouldn’t have been used in the dish now as a fun new ingredient. Sooooooo my bad.
‘Meture au Potiron Basquais’
1 cup Milk (+ ¼-½ when dealing w/ fresh pumpkin)
¼ cup Sugar
½ tsp Salt
1 cup Pumpkin Puree (1 ½ – 2 Fresh Roasted, Recipe Follows)
2 cups Cornmeal (if stoneground, medium grind, maybe a little less)
¼ cup/½ stick Butter
3 Eggs, Separated
- Turn oven to 375F
- Warm up Milk, Sugar, and Salt in sauce pot; if using actual Pumpkin, add in and bring to a simmer
- Blend until pumpkin is smooth, or whisk milk into puree
- Add Cornmeal, whisking in until smooth, ideally in stockpot to keep warm and encourage moisture absorption/softening
- Move to bowl, let cool a little, and stir in Butter so it gently melts
- Mix in Egg Yolks, making sure batter is only warm at the most
- Whip Whites until foamed, fluffy, and formed Stiff Peaks
- Fold into the batter, using 1/3 at a time, making sure it’s evenly distributed but minimally handled
- Thoroughly butter bottom and sides of cake pan or springform mold
- Pour into pan, transfer to oven, and bake 50-60 minutes, until set in the middle
- Remove, slide knife around sides, and carefully unmold from pan and onto cooling rack
- Let cool 10 minutes, cut into wedges and enjoy! Perhaps with some whipped cream or toasted meringue fluff
1 Sugar Pie, or other sweet baking, Pumpkin
2-3 Tb Olive Oil
- Heat oven to 350F
- Carefully cut Pumpkin in half, scooping out all the seeds and ‘squash guts’
- Thoroughly rub oil over the top and inside of the pumpkin, placing it on a foil-lined tray cut-side-down
- Roast 1½ – 2 hours, or until a knife cuts in smooth and easily
- Remove, let briefly cool and scoop out inner flesh while still warm. Reserve for use
Let’s start off with what went wrong. I couldn’t really taste any of the pumpkin, a side effect of using the fresh stuff vs the rather ‘concentrated’ canned paste, so I’d need to use much more next time if sticking to it. It also had that drier, crumbly cornbread-like texture; wasn’t horrible, but not that great for a dessert. Should have cooked it less, ideally found a way to have soaked that cornmeal like I planned, and/or used some more milk/less cornmeal in the final mix. But despite those tweaks, as cornbreads go it was still a rather nice bite, especially for such a simple recipe developed from what would have been made in old America with just corn and water. By the way, do I think the rum would have helped? Flavor wise it would have been a nice addition, though I might personally enjoy soaking it into the cake AFTER baking, get that nice texture and ideal unctuous aroma.
Now obviously a lot of this result was due to how I myself ended up making it today, but still it makes me even wonder why this is in the dessert section at all. Already one debates if it actually has the clout to be on the list of French dishes, let alone on this side of the selection. The rum and a softer crumb would have eaked it closer yes, but still it tastes more like something that should be enjoyed as a Thanksgiving side dish as opposed to end-of-the-meal indulgence. My meringue didn’t help that much, though it was tasty! I swear almost nothing feels better to me in cooking than when a meringue turns out perfectly.
Now this is interesting as, I’ve already mentioned, this isn’t really much of a dessert; even if made well, still feels like a side, like a regular corn or other form of bread. So it’s hard to think of a ‘dessert alcohol pairing’ to go along with it, especially sweet items and anything from France. Truthfully I can’t think of anything that would be ‘classic’ to go alongside it.
But if I take it from a different direction, looking not where it is NOW but where it originally came from, the answer makes itself a little more known. I mean, why should a sweet corn ‘bread’ not be paired with that very well known, sweet-ish corn distillate? Yes, Bourbon, I believe, is the answer here. A little snifter glass of a good 9+ year bottle to sip and enjoy alongside the rich, corny baked item. It’s just a mouthful of southern US/American goodness.
Sticking along that route, we could take advantage of those so-favorite Thanksgiving-esque flavor combos, and bring some more sweetness into it, and go with a bottle of Pecan/Pecan-Pie Moonshine/Corn Whiskey. Slightly sweet, whiskey-ish, and with that nice brown sugar-pecan notes that are so reminiscent of baking spices and the we so nostalgically would enjoy alongside pumpkin and baked corn stuff. Just make sure you get a GOOD bottle, from a smaller and preferable non-nationwide, distillery and not the mass-produced moonshines; I myself got turned onto this one that our family friends from Missouri keep bringing up.