Sometimes I just want to bake something. It doesn’t matter what, really. There are days when, faced with an open stretch of an hour or so, I just want to root around in the pantry, see what jumps out at me, then bust out the flour and create something that I can put in the oven. Maybe it’s the comfort that baking suggests, what with the emanating warmth of a heated oven and the lingering scent of something slowly baking and waiting to greet you. Or maybe it’s just that I have so little free time these days, when I have an open moment, my brain automatically commands: MAKE SOMETHING.
Unromantic as that last notion may be, I am glad to have whatever urge it may be that compels me to create new foods. It keeps my creativity sharp, sure, but it also brings me so much joy to be measuring, mixing, and anticipating what new thing I have just thrown together. Because sometimes that is exactly what happens: I find things, I put them together, and I wait to see what emerges. My efforts are not always successful (remind me to not tell you about the time I put dried pears in a batch of cookies and ended up with cookies that tasted as though they were studded with chunks of fibrous cardboard), but, as with this bread, when they are successful, it certainly makes my day feel that much more complete.
So: the bread. I had an apple, I had some cheese, and I wanted to bake something. A tour of the pantry lead me to some cornmeal, and, with the knowledge that I had only a single egg left in the refrigerator, I decided that some sort of batter bread was in order. Heavy on textural variation, this bread is not a cornbread, per se, but neither is it a standard batter bread. Chunks of apple and streaks of sharp cheddar cheese lend the bread a comforting flavor, and, along with the cornmeal, they add a sunny brightness to the appearance that I did not anticipate. Added along with the fine crumb, wonderful toothsome bite, and delicately savory/sweet flavor, it was the final element of a pleasingly successful afternoon experiment, and one I certainly plan on revisiting in the months to come.
Cheddar Apple Cornmeal Bread Recipe
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and diced into ¼-inch chunks (about 1 cup apple chunks total)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal (finely-ground, not polenta)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups buttermilk or sour milk
1 large egg
4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled slightly
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously grease an 8 ½” by 4 ½” loaf pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then whisk to combine. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk or sour milk, egg, and melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and, with a spatula or wooden spoon, stir just to combine.
Fold the shredded cheese and diced apples into the batter until they are fully incorporated, being careful not to overmix the batter as you fold.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, then smooth the top as much as possible. Bake in the center of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating halfway through. The bread will be done when the top is tall and golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the bread emerges with just a small amount of moist crumbs attached.
Cool the bread in its pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Bread is best when served ever-so-slightly warm, or at room temperature.