When was the last time you saw a plain corn muffin out in the wild? Not a blueberry corn muffin. Not cornbread. Not fancy Italian polenta cake. I mean a simple, golden-domed corn muffin, like the ones my grandmother used to bake from a box mix, except preferably made from scratch.
You may not have noticed their absence, but I have, ever since I started craving them obsessively during the long months of my pregnancy, when I’d get them from diners, toasted dark with extra butter.
But then again, you may have been distracted by the more flamboyant allure of kouign-amanns, Cronuts and babka.
While they may not be fashionable, in my mind, a truly great corn muffin, with its crunchy top and crumbly texture, is the best kind of muffin. But for most of us, the only way to get one is to bake it at home.
Luckily, they’re particularly easy and straightforward to make. There is no long list of nuts and add-ins to assemble, no fruit to caramelise. Just mix together a few dry ingredients, fold them into the wet ones and pop it all into the oven. It’s under an hour from craving to snacking, and you’ll even get to eat them warm.
This recipe is about as over-the-top rich as corn muffins go. Made with plenty of melted butter and sour cream, they have a moist interior that’s tender and delicate. Not too sweet, there’s just enough sugar to separate them from cornbread, but without veering into cake territory.
The best part may be the pleasingly gritty texture, a result of the coarse, or stone-ground, cornmeal. Unlike the powdery stuff on most supermarket shelves, coarse cornmeal has an earthy flavour and a nubby texture that adds to the overall crunch. If you can’t find coarse cornmeal, regular polenta will also work. Just avoid instant polenta, which can make the muffins too dense and bricklike.
Corn muffins always freeze well, and will defrost on your counter in only 30 minutes or so. Then just halve them, slide them under the broiler and toast them up. They may not be flashy or trendy, but when those crisp, browned edges meet a smear of softened butter, there’s no better confection to savour with your morning coffee. And you can eat them while still in your pyjamas, without even leaving the house.
Yield: 12 muffins
Total time: 40 minutes
1 cup/255 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), melted and cooled, plus more for greasing the pan
2 cups/240 grams coarse or stone-ground cornmeal
1 1/2 cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
2/3 cup/165 grams granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup/240 millilitres sour cream or whole-milk Greek yoghurt
1/2 cup/120 millilitres whole milk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
Demerara sugar, as needed
Softened butter, for serving
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees, and generously butter the cups and tops of a muffin tin. (The muffins will overflow, and those crisp edges are delicious.)
2. In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter, sour cream, milk and eggs. Fold butter mixture into dry ingredients, then scoop batter into muffin tin (it will be very full). Sprinkle each muffin top with Demerara sugar.
4. Bake until golden on the edges, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from muffin tin and cool to room temperature. Serve with even more butter.