Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Corn meal is an ingredient I am very familiar with because I have eaten plenty of cornbread and corn muffins in my lifetime. But when I tried corn flour, it opened my eyes to a whole new area of baking and battering.
Corn flour is much like cornmeal (made from the whole corn kernel) but is more finely ground. I have read it is milled with the same equipment that millers use to grind flour so it is softer and lighter than cornmeal. I think one thing people dislike about cornmeal is the texture. It is somewhat grainy. Don't get me wrong. I love cornmeal and I am not troubled by the consistency but corn flour gives that great corn flavor and is more like wheat flour.
I would bet that if you make corn muffins using half cornmeal and half corn flour rather than half wheat flour, as some recipes recommend, you would probably produce a corn muffin that is richer in corn flavor. It would be a more agreeable bread for a person with celiac disease or a wheat allergy. Most cornmeal baking mixes contain wheat so this is a good alternative.
Corn flour is also a good alternative for baking breads using rice and other alternative flours. Tortillas are made using corn flour, oil or lard and corn flour. That is what makes the texture so fine. I was confused by this the only time I tried to make tortillas using cornmeal. It didn't work at all. I made the grainiest corn tortillas ever. I am sure if a veteran tortilla-maker had seen me, it would have been good for a laugh. I just didn't know that corn flour and cornmeal were so different. My eureka moment came when I bought some masa harina (corn flour) and used it for battering fish and okra for frying, then began experimenting with corn flour for baking.
I am sold on using corn flour to dredge fried foods, especially okra but I am just beginning to experiment with corn flour for baking.
One area of confusion for me is that I have read that cornstarch and corn flour is the same product. That is not true at all. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm only of the corn kernel. Not too long ago I saw a recipe for bread that called for a large amount of cornstarch. I have a feeling that recipe was wrong and the author meant corn flour. I can't imagine why a person would even try to put large amounts of cornstarch in a recipe unless they like bread that is hard and gummy.
Corn flour, containing the whole corn kernel does possess the starchy part of the corn and that would give it an ability to act as a binder similar to the gluten in wheat and that makes it a good candidate for bread.
In my corn flour muffin recipe, pictured above and listed below, I used an egg. But that was only because I was testing it out and hadn't thought it through. I will be trying it without eggs and I think using two tablespoons of cornstarch would be a good binder for this recipe. I also think children like the texture of corn flour muffins better than cornmeal muffins. Another thing I want to try is adding cream-style corn and some peppers and onions to make a good, gluten-free, vegan Mexican cornbread.
I hate running on so long about something so mundane as corn flour but I really do think it is an important under-utilized flour -- at least for me.
Corn Flour Muffins
3/4 cup corn flour
3/4 cup rice flour (or corn meal)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1-1/2 cup water or almond milk (buttermilk could also be used)
Mix all ingredients together until mixed and pour into greased muffin pans. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes for mini muffins and 20 to 25 minutes for regular-sized muffins or until muffins are firm on the top when pressed and golden around the bottoms. Remove from the oven and using a knife or small spatula lift muffins on their sides in the pan and allow to cool until they are firm enough to handle. These are great with vegetable soup.