Quintessential Corn Fingers

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Makes:

    12 to 13

    corn fingers

Appears in

I had been collecting corn bread recipes for years but each one I tried was a disappointment, mainly because the texture was invariably coarse instead of the fine soft texture I’d been seeking. I was beginning to think that great corn bread, particularly corn fingers (the corn bread is baked in a mold that forms miniature corncob shapes), was a figment of my imagination until two years ago when I finally reached the end of my quest: The corn fingers at Campton Place in San Francisco are my idea of perfection. Tender, fine grained, slightly sweet with little nublets of corn in each bite and glad surprises of occasional hot pepper flakes, the corn fingers dissolve in your mouth yet have a full corn flavor. I know San Franciscans who love the food at Campton Place but return with mainly one thing in mind: to eat more of those corn fingers!

I was invited to lunch at Campton Place on Tuesday, October 17, 1989, by my friend Bernadette Vaughn. “Sasha,” I said, “I forgot how wonderful these corn fingers are. In fact, they are the best I have ever eaten. I’d give anything for the recipe.” “Why don’t you ask them for it; I’m sure they’ll give it to you,” was her nonchalant reply that inspired me with the courage to ask the maitre d’ for the recipe. And after lunch it appeared, perfectly typed on the beautiful pale gray Campton Place stationary with the swan logo. I was in heaven.

I protectively took the recipe back to my hotel room on Nob Hill before going to an appointment a few blocks below at the Portman Hotel—which is where I was when the earthquake hit. Anyone who has ever been in a natural disaster will tell you that the events immediately preceding and following it are marked as in a picture frame with indelible clarity. What I remember most is the absolute suddenness, the shockingly total lack of control and helplessness in the face of enormous unreasonable force. Then weak knees, fear and a desire to take some action. And finally, when the worst was over, the inevitable thought surfaced: “Where is that precious corn finger recipe and, if worse came to worst, would they give it to me a second time or was it just a fluke that was never meant to be after all?”

The following day, accompanied by my brother and a porter, I walked up the many flights of stairs in the disabled, vacated hotel, perched on the very top of Nob Hill. The massive walls were cracked all the way up to the top floor, and one of the walls in my room had a long jagged crack in it. As I looked out the window, with a panoramic view of the city below, fear gripped me again and 1 began to feel lightheaded. I threw my things into my bags as fast as 1 could but this time folded the recipe and put it in my purse, where it stayed until I reached home. When I studied the recipe the secret of its tender texture and rich flavor was immediately apparent: heavy cream and a little extra sugar.

Recently, my friend Joceleine Daquin came from France to visit her daughter, Ariane, and I invited them for dinner. Since the Daquins come from the Southwest of France I thought it would be especially appropriate to make them something with American Southwest inspiration so I made the corn fingers as hors d’oeuvre. After two bites, Joceleine looked at me with wide entreating eyes and said, “We have a lot of corn in Gascogny and I have been looking for a recipe for good corn fingers for years. They are never so tender and delicious. Would you possibly give me the recipe for our restaurant?”

Now there are four places in the world where you will be able to find these corn fingers: Campton Place in San Francisco, Chez André Daquin in Auch, France, my house in Hope, New Jersey, and your own home. Here is the recipe: keep it in’a safe place!

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Preheat the oven to: 425°F.
Baking time: 15 minutes
KEEPS: Corn fingers freeze well for several weeks. Wrap each airtight in plastic wrap and place in heavy-duty freezer bags. To reheat from frozen, warm in a preheated 400°F. oven for 7 minutes.
INGREDIENTS MEASURE WEIGHT
volume ounces grams
yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground) ½ cup 2.25 ounces 64 grams
bleached all-purpose flour ½ cup (dip and sweep method) 2.5 ounces 75 grams
sugar 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons 1 ounce 33 grams
baking powder teaspoons 6 grams
salt ½ teaspoon
hot pepper flakes ½ to 1 teaspoon (to taste)
fresh cooked com, cut off the cob (2 small ears) 1 cup 5 ounces 142 grams
unsalted butter, melted 4 tablespoons 2 ounces 57 grams
heavy cream liquid cup
milk liquid cup
1 large egg, separated:
yolk 1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon 0.65 ounce 18.6 grams
white 2 tablespoons 1 ounce 30 grams

Method

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Five to 10 minutes before the batter is ready, preheat the molds.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and hot pepper flakes. Add the corn and stir until coated.

In a small glass measuring cup or bowl, lightly whisk together the butter, cream, milk and egg yolk.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg white until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted slowly.

Stir the egg yolk mixture into the corn mixture just until moistened. There should still be some lumps remaining. Fold in the egg white just until incorporated.

Spoon or pipe the batter into the molds, filling them almost to the top. (If piping, use a pastry bag fitted with a plain ½-inch-wide tube.) Use a small metal spatula or the back of a teaspoon to smooth the batter if necessary. Fill any empty depressions half full with water.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. To unmold, loosen the sides of each corn finger with a small metal spatula. Place a wire rack over one of the molds, and invert together. Repeat with the second mold. These corn fingers are so tender they require care to avoid breaking them while still warm.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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