Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Writer’s Breakfast: Secret Ingredient Cornbread Squares from Cleo Coyle

On most mornings, my breakfast table
is also my writer's work table.

So the comments on this blog have made it ginormously clear: some of you like your cornbread sweet and some of you think it makes about as much sense as adding garlic to fudge. :)

Certainly, if you’re baking up cornbread as a side dish for a hearty lunch or dinner, then jalapeños and corn kernels are delicious additions and putting sugar in such a mix would be oh-so wrong. But…

For me, well...cornbread is a breakfast food, especially here in New York City, where a toasted corn muffin has been a classic morning deli order for decades. That's why my cornbread is on the sweet side, and I treat it more like a coffee-break cake. 

If you’re no fan of dry, grainy cornbread, this may be the recipe for you (with or without the sugar). The crumb is tender and tasty (more cake-like). The sour cream is my secret, along with my (subjectively favorite) ratio of flour to cornmeal. I often cut the fat and calories by using low fat milk and sour cream; and I sometimes increase the fiber and nutrition by using white whole wheat flour (more on that below).

Are Oranges Safe? Yes! No worries…

This is a peak time for California and Florida oranges. They're a great source of vitamins and with winter taxing our systems, they’re also a good immune booster so don’t pass on them because of that recent issue with some brands of orange juice. 

In a nutshell, orange juice products made from Brazilian oranges are being inspected for a health issue: Brazilian farmers were using a fungicide on their oranges that was not approved for use on foods in the US. There is no recall, and it has nothing to do with oranges grown in the United States. You can read more about the orange juice story by clicking here.

To read about the harvesting seasons for (and varieties of) our California and Florida oranges, click here and here, and eat US-grown oranges with joy!

A note on white whole wheat flour…

What is it? A lighter type of whole wheat flour that gives you the fiber and nutritional benefits of whole grain but with a taste and texture closer to white flour. You can substitute white whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour at a 1:1 ratio. While this won’t work in an angel food cake or puff pastry, you can get good results using it in cookies, muffins, brownies, quick breads, and yeast breads. Learn more from King Arthur flour by clicking here

Cleo Coyle, sweet on
cornbread, is author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

This sweet cornbread is delicious plain, slathered with butter, or even drizzled with the orange blossom honey. And speaking of a slight note of citrus, here’s a second secret to something amazing…

With a bounty of California and Florida oranges cheering up our winter produce aisles (as I mentioned above, this is a peak time to go orange!), I’ve started adding a little orange zest to my morning cornbread. The light orange fragrance in the warm, sweet bread starts off my winter day just right. If you’re not a fan of oranges, leave it out. But it you are, I think you’ll go Lady Ga-Ga for it.

To download a free PDF of this recipe that you can print, save, or share, click here.

Makes one 8- or 9-inch square pan of cornbread (This recipe will also work in a 7 x 11-inch pan.)


1 large egg
1/2 cup milk (whole, 2%, or skim)
1/2 cup sour cream (regular or low fat)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola (or vegetable) oil
1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour (for more fiber and nutrition I often use
          “white whole wheat flour,” more info on this above)
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
(optional) 1 tablespoon orange zest (grated orange peel, no white pith)

CLEO NOTE: I'm adding this bit of info on zesting based on a query in the comments section. If you've never "zested" an orange, lemon or lime, Chef Gordan Ramsay will show you how in the video below... 

CLEO NOTE CONTINUED... Although I do have a boxed grater similar to the one that you see in Chef Ramsay's video, I find a MICROPLANE grater/zester makes zesting citrus fruits even easier and well worth the small investment. To see the microplane tool (and/or purchase one for yourself), click here. To see me using a microplane grater in a recipe, jump to my Key Lime Coolers cookies post by clicking here.


One bowl mixing method: First preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. In a mixing bowl, whisk together egg, milk, sour cream, sugar, salt, and oil. 

When the mixture is well blended and the sour cream smoothly incorporated, measure in the flour and cornmeal. Evenly sprinkle over the baking powder and soda. If using, add orange zest now. 

Switching to a spoon or spatula, mix to create a lumpy batter. Do not over-mix or you’ll develop the gluten in the flour and your cornbread will be tough instead of tender. 

Prep an 8- or 9-inch square pan by coating
with non-stick spray (or buttering and dusting with flour). 

Pour batter into pan and 
spread into an even layer.

Bake in preheated oven
for about 25 minutes. 

When a toothpick inserted in the center 
comes out clean, remove from oven. 

Cool, cut, and... 

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries


To get more of my recipes,
enter to win free coffee, or
learn about my books,
including my bestselling
Haunted Bookshop series,
visit my online coffeehouse:

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are national bestselling
culinary mysteries set in a landmark Greenwich Village 
coffeehouse, and each of the ten titles includes the 
added bonus of recipes. 


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name Alice Kimberly
To learn more, click here.


  1. Cleo, love the addition of the orange zest. I adore cornbread and make my gluten-free! It's a terrific breakfast. Very settling and comforting.


  2. Pass the cornbread, please! Oh, yum. Sounds like a delicious breakfast to me.

    ~ Krista

  3. I know what you mean about toasted corn muffins for breakfast! I'm originally from central Pennsylvania (even though I now call Southern California home). While still going to school and living with my parents, my favorite Saturday morning breakfast was at a local deli counter eating corn muffins that were toasted on the grill. YUM! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  4. Hey girls I sure have missed all of you. Now that the holidays are over I am back to being organized at least I think so :).

    Cleo I love this recipe. I like mine on the sweet side with the addition of the orange zest I can imagine how yummy this would be. I will have to make this tomorrow morning.

    Good to see all of you.

    Babs Book Bistro

  5. This looks great. Since we moved up into the mountains, I'm doing much more cooking. The flip side: at 9100 feet, I've had to adapt most recipes. I'm still learning. I'll have to try this one.

    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  6. Replies to...

    @Avery - "Comforting" is the perfect word! Cornbread is a cozy American comfort food, isn't it? (Glad to know you can enjoy a gluten-free version.)

    @Krista - LOL! I'm virtually passing a warm slice of cornbread to you and putting a fresh pot of coffee on, too. Enjoy the day!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  7. Reply to...

    @Maggie - That's a wonderful foodie memory. Thank you for sharing it. You're so right about the corn muffins being toasted right on the grill.

    My own corn muffin memories are attached to slightly nervous waits on NY deli lines--"slightly nervous" because the counter help was always surly and they didn't suffer fools, lol. You had *better* have that order ready to shout when you reached that counter or the deli staff (not to mention your fellow speed-of-light-moving New Yorkers) would express less than happy sentiments in your direction!

    The classic New York delis are not as common as they once were. Many of the high-traffic locations are now occupied by national chain stores (Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, etc...). But I tell you, I can still hear that deli-counter relay yell from customer to counter-staff, to grill cook ("corn muffin, toasted!") loud and clear.

    Thanks for dropping by the kitchen, today, Maggie. Have a delicious day!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  8. Reply to...

    @Babs - Hey, there! Always wonderful to see you in the Kitchen. I hope you and the boys are doing well. Nice to know the recipe has potential for you!

    I'll have to pop over to your Book Bistro to see what great new giveaways and reviews you're serving up this week. In the meantime, thx again for dropping by and (slightly belated)...

    Happy New Year!
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  9. Oh my gosh, I'm coming for coffee and cornbread too--your pix are divine!

    There is a fabulous bakery in Guilford, CT, called Four and Twenty Blackbirds. When I go in and see corn muffins, I'm in pig heaven!

    1. Lucy - That bakery sounds like a must-stop. In the meantime, I'm saving a warm square of cornbread and a hot cup o' joe for you. You're welcome anytime! Cheers and have a great day

      ~ Cleo

      P.S. I think I JUST figured out blogger is letting me reply to each comment. First time I'm attempting this so here goes...

  10. Reply to...

    @Terry - High altitude baking is truly a challenge. I've never baked higher than Denver, but I've heard of the many issues. From what I understand, it's never just one thing but a range of adjustments for particular recipes. You're such a wonderful cook, I'm sure it's only a matter of trial and error--and then you can publish a High Altitude cook book (no kidding).

    Thx for dropping by the Kitchen today. I always enjoy your Terry's Place blog posts. Can't wait to see what you're up to this week.

    Happy New Year and Happy Baking (at any altitude),
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  11. This sounds like a new twist on an old favorite. I'll have to get it a try. Thanks, Cleo.

    Thoughts in Progress

    1. Thank you, Mason! I'm always delighted when you drop by our Kitchen, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you're reviewing this week at your own wonderful Thoughts in Progress blog. Have a great day!

      ~ Cleo

  12. Marvelous recipe, I'm enjoying it as I type this.

    But how does one grate orange peel? I've tried on the orange, and off it. I've tried frozen rind, and fresh. After 10 minutes with less than half a teaspoon to show for my efforts, I gave up because the oven was ready and I hadn't measured out or mixed anything... what am I doing wrong?


    1. Lynne - Belated reply! I have no less than Chef Gordan Ramsay on deck to answer your question about grating orange peel. Simply click this link and watch the video.


      I have a boxed grater similar to the one Chef Ramsay uses in this video, but because I use citrus zest so often, I bought a MICROPLANE grater/zester for this purpose. It makes zesting so easy it's well worth the small investment.
      To see this kitchen tool, click here.

      To see me using a microplane in a recipe, check out my Key Lime Coolers cookie post by Clicking here.

      Thanks for your question, Lynne! If you had that question, I'm sure others did, too, and I hope my answer is helpful.

      Have a delicious day,
      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  13. This recipe brings back memories of Howard Johnson's toaster corn muffins! About a million years ago my good friend and I ventured out out in my old VW bug for a trip to visit my brother on Cape Cod...poor ol' Betty (the VW) got tired with all the mountainous terrain in PA. so we stopped at a Howard Johnson's for clam strips and toasted muffins! Great memory and great muffins :-)

    We'll be having this recipe this weekend for sure! Lovely pictures and a lovely way to start the day!


    1. Nanc - Howard Johnson's clam strips bring back a flood of memories. I wonder if you remember the urban legend controversy about HJ’s clam strips advertisement. (What exactly does one see in that mound of fried clams? Hmmm... )

      Road trips can't be beat, and I would have loved joining you and your friend in your old VW (and, of course, in that bright orange booth enjoying clams and corn muffins and...can we order a hot fudge sundae, too?). Thanks a million for dropping by and sharing with us in the Kitchen, Nanc. Come on back now, y'hear?!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter