Apple upside-down cornbread can be side dish, dessert

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Cornbread has always had a bit of an identity crisis in our house: Is it savory or is it sweet? Does it replace dinner rolls or dessert?

This very dilemma may be what I love most about cornbread: It can go either way.

Usually, we veer more sweet than savory, topping corn bread and muffins with a quick homemade maple or honey butter, a welcome break from the pot of chili I often serve at the cornbread's side. Sometimes, though, I'll dabble in savory territory, adding actual corn kernels or smoky chipotle powder or chopped roasted poblano peppers into the batter. Either way, leftovers make their way onto the breakfast table the next morning, either spread with a bit of coconut oil and marmalade (sweet) or topped with a poached egg, black beans and salsa (savory). Cornbread, fast and easy to make, is a versatile bread to put in the dinner basket.

Inspired by the gorgeous tarte tatins of France, lately I've been sauteeing up tart Granny Smith apple slices in a little butter and then covering them with everything from oven-puffed pancake batter to oatmeal-bar dough. When I decided to make my quick weeknight cornbread one evening, I had a few extra minutes to spare, so I sliced up the last couple of apples in the fruit basket and sauteed them to bake under the batter. The result looked more like a cake than a cornbread, which ended up being a huge plus with everyone in our family.

The buttery apple layer was thin, but kept the cornbread moist with its syrupy edge. Unsweetened applesauce adds tenderness without a ton of fat, while also adding a tiny bit of sweetness. Because most of the sugar is on the outside of the bread, it tastes sweeter than the few tablespoons of brown sugar might suggest. Which means I really could serve this cornbread for dessert.

Apple upside down cornbread

Start to Finish: 40 minutes, plus cooling time

Yield: 12 slices

INGREDIENTS:

Apple mixture:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 large or 2 small granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

teaspoon salt

Corn bread:

1 cup cornmeal (fine or medium)

cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

teaspoon salt

2 eggs

cup unsweetened applesauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, or low-fat dairy milk

1 tablespoon melted butter (or olive oil)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter with the ginger in a medium saute pan. Cook the apple slices in the pan, until crisp-tender, about five minutes, stirring often. Add the sugar, cinnamon (if using) and salt. Cook and stir another minute, and then remove from heat.

Make a pan liner out of parchment: Trace the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan on parchment paper. Cut out the circle, and use it to line the inside bottom of the pan. Spray the whole inside of the pan with cooking spray.

Scrape the apple mixture, including the syrupy sauce, into the prepared baking pan, spreading the slices out along the bottom of the pan and set aside.

Make the cornbread: In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, applesauce, brown sugar, milk and melted butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Pour the batter into the baking pan, on top of the apples. Bake until the corn bread springs back when light pressure is applied with the fingertips, about 30 minutes. Let the cornbread cool for at least 30 minutes before inverting, removing parchment and serving, apple-side up.

Nutritional information: 129 calories; 38 calories from fat; 4 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 43 mg cholesterol; 205 mg sodium; 20 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 3 g protein.


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