Cranberry Kumquat Cornbread
Alright, after all the recent pumpkin recipes (and, yes, there is still more to come…hopefully there are no collective groans to be heard out there, unless they are hungry bellies voicing anticipation), it’s perhaps time for a palette cleanser. I had hoped to actually pull off a savory dish of some sorts for you, but as it turns out, my mind is consumed with baking these days. I attribute this constant craving for sugar and butter to the dull gray of winter and a fundamental instinct to put on pounds and hibernate. Damn you, Mother Nature!
But really, I should keep my curses to a minimum as being obsessed with the oven and flour in a season of limited local ingredients leads to wonderful concoctions that I might not otherwise try. Case and point: Cranberry Kumquat Cornbread. I have to confess, I didn’t dream this one up on my own for a change. I had dear reliable Martha’s help and the scrumptious pictures in one of the fall issues of her magazine to get the mental cogs turning.
Time for a word about the star ingredients of this loaf: the cranberries are still from the stash in my freezer that I horded away when cranberries were easily had from the local bogs in New Jersey back in the autumn. The kumquats are a different story. Rarely are kumquats local fare when you come from a climate that experiences deep freeze winters. Jewels of the sub-tropics and tropics, kumquats are one of my favorite citrus treats. Fortunately for me, my present position at a large public garden with a greenhouse dedicated to fruit production allows me a chance to indulge my kumquat cravings with local sensibility. The fragrance of both the blossoms and the fruit on the trees is intoxicating; I make a point to pass by them every day.
For those unfamiliar with kumquats, they look like very small oranges and come into season usually around Christmas and last for a couple months. Sometimes there is a second flush of fruit later in the year if you’re lucky. In any case, there are many different cultivars and each has a varying ratio of sweet and sour. You see, to eat a kumquat, you must eat the whole fruit, rind/peel and all! The rind is actually the sweet part of a kumquat and is very tender compared to other citrus. The flesh and juice of the kumquat is typically very sour. I equate it to the fruit version of a piece of “sour patch kid” candy. You need to be careful of seeds though when swallowing a kumquat whole (though some varieties don’t have any). Eat one carefully before you eat a whole handful in a hurry.
The wonderful thing about kumquats is that they are relatively compact plants/trees and they make for good house plants if you have a sunny south-facing window and some patience when it comes to hand-pollinating. I think it’s worth the effort as I absolutely adore cooking with kumquats; they’re so distinctive. Adding them to this recipe for the cornbread further accentuates the juxtaposition between the sweet buttery dense texture of the bread and the powerful burst of tart juicy flavor from the fruit on top. Really, it’s just lovely. The one sad part though is that the carnberries stain the kumquat red so you can’t tell what is what once it’s all said and done. I had hoped for a speckling of orange and red flecks.
I liked the bread very well as it was. But I thought after eating a few slices that it could be improved upon by layering the fruit a bit more in the loaf. So, I’ve adapted the recipe below to indicate this, and I wanted to be sure to mention it here because the photos obviously only show the fruit on top (per the original recipe I was following). Don’t be confused if yours looks different after using the recipe below.
Cranberry Kumquat Cornbread
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
4 T. (half a stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 C. raw sugar
2 C. fresh or frozen cranberries
1 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 C. fine yellow cornmeal
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. fresh orange zest
1/2 C. granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 C.) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T. milk
1/2 t. freshly grated ginger
Rinse the kumquats well, dry, and mince with a sharp knife or in a food processor. Melt 4 tablespoons (1/2 a stick) of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the raw sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the cranberries and kumquats and cook until the cranberries begin to pop, about two minutes. Pour *half* of the cranberry mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 5 x 9 inch loaf pan, spreading the mixture evenly. Set the rest aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ground cloves. Set aside.
Beat the remaining 1 1/2 sticks of softened butter until fluffy. Add the granulated sugar and mix on high until incorporated into the butter, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and milk and beat well. Reduce the speed of the mixer and slowly add the flour mixture, beating just until combined. Batter gets fairly thick so you may need to finish it by hand. Mix in the ginger and fresh orange zest.
Do your best to carefully pour/plop *half* of the batter into the loaf pan, trying not to displace the cranberry mixture on the bottom too much. Use a spatula to smooth the top. Now pour the remaining cranberry mixture over the batter in the pan, spreading evenly. Finish by placing the rest of the batter in the pan and once again carefully smoothing.
Place pan in preheated oven and bake it for about 45 minutes. Check it at 35 minutes though to be sure the edges aren’t burning too much. If the edges are burning, lower the heat to 325 F and continue to bake until it springs back when gently pressed or when a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let loaf cool for 10-15 minutes and then run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen. Invert pan on a serving dish or cutting board. Let cool completely before serving. Store, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, in the fridge for up to a week.
(makes 1 large loaf)