Sweet corn polenta muffins

Small-batch baking – it makes 4 muffins – with a side of nostalgia.


I had a laundry list of things I wanted to achieve with this recipe and not all of them make perfect sense, which is just the way I like it. While baking is more tinkeringly scientific than other forms of cooking, for me it's important that making food fulfils more than the need to eat, that it expresses and satisfies other forms of pleasure.

In no particular order, here's the list. A small-batch recipe suitable for two people (it makes four muffins, so I'll leave the sharing maths entirely up to you). Something like cornbread and with actual corn in it. A nostalgic reason for using one of those teeny little cans of creamed corn I used to be given as a child – a step up from baby food, but not much. A muffin that would work as breakfast (split, toasted, topped with a poached egg), a snack with coffee or as a side at dinner (omit all but a teaspoon of the sugar for a great accompaniment to a curry or chilli). Texture was a consideration: light, not cakey, not dry. So too, of course, was taste. Most of all: easy.

Many, many muffins later, here we are, all boxes ticked, and I am both immodestly proud and delighted to share the recipe with you.

I've made these with instant and, uh, non-instant polenta, and both work just fine. If you have easier access to cornmeal – I'm talking to you, my American friends – feel free to use that. I give instructions for making your own small amount of buttermilk, though of course if you have actual buttermilk around, which I don't, you'll be a step ahead. If you can't bear to buy a little can of creamed corn, you can substitute 125g (5oz) corn kernels (fresh or frozen, thawed) pureed with a tablespoon of the milk. Finally, I use muffin papers to line my muffin pans but this is more aesthetic than essential – also just the way I like it.

Sweet corn polenta muffins


Makes 4.

85ml (⅓ cup) milk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons polenta
100g (¾ cup) flour
2 tablespoons caster sugar (superfine sugar)
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
125g (⅓ cup) creamed corn
1 egg
50g (2 oz) butter, melted in the microwave

Set your oven to 180°C (350°F).

To make DIY buttermilk, pour the milk into a measuring jug and add the lemon juice. Stir and set aside for 5 minutes: it will thicken up. If you're using actual buttermilk (see note above), you're good to go.

Place all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl: polenta, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir together with a balloon whisk to combine.

Add the creamed corn and egg to the buttermilk jug. Whisk together with a fork. Stir in the melted butter and pour your jug of wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon only enough to combine - over-beaten muffins are heavy muffins.

Divide the mixture between four muffin pans or muffin papers. Bake for 18 minutes - they should be risen and golden, very slightly browning around the edges. Let them rest for 5 minutes in the tin before transferring to a rack to cool.