Everyone Says This Is the Best Cornbread They've Ever Had – And It's Vegan
The chef at Cadence in New York City revealed her secret ingredients — and gave us the recipe.
Half a year ago, my partner took me to a surprise Valentine’s Day dinner at Cadence, a tiny vegan soul food restaurant in New York City. Since then, I’ve been back four times — mostly for the cornbread — and I’m not even vegan. Also since then, Cadence has gotten a James Beard nomination, moved to a much bigger space and accrued numerous glowing reviews. Frankly, I’m not surprised: everything on the menu — from the fried lasagna with pine-nut ricotta to the oyster mushrooms and waffles — exudes crispy, unctuous, buttery richness, exactly like Southern comfort food.
But back to the cornbread. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I’ve eaten and baked many, many cornbreads and this one was different. Served piping hot from the oven in a cast iron skillet, this cornbread had a fine, fluffy crumb that melted into butter and maple in my mouth — a very different experience from eating crumbly cornbread. A topping of vegan butter and homemade blueberry compote ran in rivulets down the cornbread as I forked up huge bites. As I looked at the half-eaten dish, I noticed the cornbread appeared plump and juicy (though not underbaked), like it might start oozing out maple syrup at any second. I simply had to have the recipe.
At the opening of Cadence’s new location, I had the opportunity to sit down with Executive Chef Shenarri Freeman, the mastermind behind the menu. I was particularly interested in what she used to substitute for dairy. I’ve done my fair share of dairy-free baking because my partner is lactose-intolerant, and often the desserts — unlike Freeman’s cornbread or a real butter-filled dessert — taste like they’re lacking robustness.
"For the cornbread, I use almond milk for the milk alternative. It gives it that nutty flavor, which I really like. I add apple cider vinegar into it to do a trick with a vegan buttermilk. It’s going to create the curds and have the chemistry of a non-vegan full-dairy buttermilk," Freeman explained, sparkling with enthusiasm. "I use coconut oil with a lot of baking that I do, but for the cornbread I use a palm oil-based vegan butter." Specifically, she uses Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks. Another secret ingredient? Maple sugar, which contributes flavor and moisture. Pure brilliance.
Here's Freeman’s cornbread recipe, adapted for home cooks and tested twice by yours truly. I gave some to two sets of neighbors, one of them vegan and one of them not. Reactions included bugged out eyes, full mouths and the ability to take very short pauses between bites to say "hmmmm!!!!," "what?!!!" and "that’s MEAN!" Bake it now, thank me later.
Cadence’s Cornbread Recipe
Level: Easy - Total: 50 min - Active: 10 min min - Yield: 8 servings
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 cup maple sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups almond milk
- 3/4 cups vegan soy free butter (such as Earth Balance Unsalted Vegan Buttery Sticks), melted, plus more for greasing the pan and serving
- 1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
- 1/2 cup agave
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Jam or compote, for serving
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the sides and bottom of a 10-inch cast iron skillet* with the vegan butter.
- Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, maple sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the almond milk, butter, corn kernels, agave and apple cider vinegar to the large bowl and whisk until just combined. Pour the mixture into the cast iron skillet.
- Bake until just set, lightly golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean, 35 to 38 minutes.
- Serve warm from the oven topped with pats of vegan butter and the jam.
*Note that Cadence serves its cornbread in a mini cast iron skillet. You can split the recipe between two 5-inch cast iron skillets if you own them, reducing the cook time to 20 to 23 minutes. Then bring both to the table — perfect for a dinner party.