It was my mother's birthday recently. And as usual, my sister and I were tearing our hair out (at the last minute, of course) about a gift. Something for the house? Jewelry? Clothes? After 7 decades on earth, Carol's cup has long since runneth over. Photos of the grandkids? Hate to say it, but they're just not as cute as they used to be. A weekend away with the two families? The whoosh you're hearing is the sound of wind blowing through my very empty wallet.
So we decided on lunch. Not with all the eye-rolling preteen grandkids. Not with the Blackberry wielding son-in-laws. Not even with obstreperous grandpa. Just mom and her two daughters (who still roll their eyes but have improved somewhat over the years.)
I took the day off from work and we met at Dovetail, a tiny hideaway on 77th, right off Columbus, that I had been eager to try. It was that kind of gorgeous NYC spring day where everyone was out, the flowers were riotous, people were even smiling. So I was a bit dashed when I trounced into the restaurant and found it to be not only darkish and spare (it almost had the feel of a sushi place), but nearly empty. Was it the economy? Was this more of a winter spot?
Couldn't quite figure it out but my worries soon flew away. The $24/pp prix fixe meal we had was not only a great deal, it was so inventive and delicious, I cleaned every plate brought to me--from the beet salad with horseradish, pears, and ricotta cheese to the milk chocolate panna cotta with lemon curd and vanilla chantilly. What made the meal even sweeter was the service--I swear I don't remember the last time a restaurant in the city made me feel so welcome and appreciated as a guest. I suppose it's the proverbial silver lining to this grim recession. Just before leaving, I told the maitre d' what a wonderful time we'd had and how crazy I was for the cornbread they had served: It was that perfect balance of salty-sweet, crunchy and tender, buttery and fragrant. I was thrilled when he appeared a few moments later with the recipe. As we strolled through Central Park afterwards, I could barely wait to get home and give these babies a go.
I tweaked the recipe just a tiny bit and...as Borat would say....."Great success!" I've made these a bunch of times and find them addictive. My boys love them for breakfast as well as for snacks. They were a hit with parents at ballgames, too. This is sort of like a recipe for scones--but don't be afraid that it calls for rolling out dough: If that really freaks you out, just pat the dough flat with your little ol' hands before you slice it into wedges. One more thing: I tend to mix about 3/4 tsp. of dried, crumbled rosemary into half of the dough since I love rosemary in my cornbread. I leave the other blob of dough plain because, well, my boys aren't quite there yet.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup coarse cornmeal ( not mandatory but it does make for a toothier texture. I buy Indian Head brand and can usually get it at ShopRite. You can probably find something similar at Whole Foods, Kings, or other high end or specialty markets.)
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 tsps. baking powder
1 1/4 tsps. baking soda
1 1/4 tsps. salt
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 sticks cold, cubed, unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk
For brushing on top:
1/2 cup heavy cream
In a food processor using the steel blade: Mix flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together with a quick whir. (If you are adding rosemary to the whole batch, you can include the rosemary here with the dry ingredients). Add butter cubes and pulse into dry ingredients until butter is reduced to small, pea-sized pieces. It should look like very coarse meal. Pulse in buttermilk JUST until dough forms. Add cheese and pulse a couple of times, just until cheese is distributed. Dump lump of dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide in half. Place each blob of dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, slightly flatten each into a disc with your hand. (If you are adding rosemary to only half of the dough you can sprinkle rosemary over one of the flattened blobs at this point, fold it over once or twice, and flatten it again. Don't handle too much because you want the butter to stay cold.) Wrap up each disc and stick in fridge for about an hour or longer.
While dough is chilling, line two or three cookie sheets with parchment (if you for some reason consider yourself unworthy of parchment, butter and flour them.) Pour about 1/2 of a cup of heavy cream into a bowl. Pull out a pastry brush. Go find a rolling pin if you have one.
Preheat oven to 350. Flour work surface. Don't get all dramatic about it, but take out one of the discs of dough, unwrap. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour and, lay plastic wrap you just took off the the dough on top of the disc. Quickly just roll the disc into a circle about 7-8" inches across and 3/4" thick. Cut like a pie into eight wedges and place wedges a few inches apart on parchment-covered cookie sheet. Brush each with heavy cream and sprinkle not too shyly with salt and, yes, pepper (trust me!). Repeat this whole process with the next blob of dough. If just one half has rosemary in it, you can sprinkle a little rosemary on top of the wedges along with the salt and pepper so the kids will know to avoid them.
Bake about 10 minutes, turn cookie sheets. Bake 5-10 minutes or more, until the cakes are golden brown. This will all depend on how hot your oven is. You want them to be as crispy and brown as possible without burning on the bottom, so be careful. Serve and devour warm if you can. They're also pretty darned yummy at room temp.