From salty to sweet: Caymanian custard-topped cornbread

And boy, do we mean sweet…

Other than it being a tax haven and therefore the home of potentially dodgy offshore bank accounts, we don’t know much about the Cayman Islands. After some Googling, we don’t know much about its national dish either, because it doesn’t seem to have one. Popular foods are conch, whelks, coconut, plantain, breadfruit, yams, cassava, rice and beans, but there isn’t one specific dish that is considered native to the group of three islands. This left our options open.

Pretty quickly, we found a recipe combining two wonderful things (custard and cornbread), and when we saw that, we knew there was no point in looking for anything else! The introduction to the recipe said that ‘you won’t find the recipe anywhere other than the Cayman Islands’ so it ticked the ‘delicious’ and ‘authentic’ boxes for us.

Custard-topped cornbread

3 cups caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp cornflour
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 400ml can coconut milk, plus the same can filled with water
12 fl oz can evaporated milk, plus the same can filled with water
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 175C and grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.
2. Whisk the sugar, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, cornflour, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a large bowl.
3. Add the coconut milk, evaporated milk and water and mix well.
4. Mix the butter, egg and vanilla into the mixture and beat with an electric mixer until well mixed.
5. Pour into the prepared dish (the mixture will be very runny at this point).
6. Bake until the cornbread is cooked through and set – at least 90 minutes (see note below).
Serves 8 generously (in fact very generously as the recipe says it serves 15… oops)

1148a Cornbread batter compressed

1149a Uncooked cornbread compressed

1150a Cooked cornbread compressed

1151a Custard-topped cornbread compressed

1152 Custard-topped cornbread

We mentioned in the recipe that these ingredients created a very runny mixture – so much so that honestly, we didn’t think there was any way it could come together in the oven to make a cake. When we checked it after the 90 minutes specified in the recipe, it seemed like we had been right: it was a very long way from being set and we ended up putting it back in the oven for about another half an hour. During this time, the edges threatened to burn (even once we covered it with some foil) but even when we eventually conceded defeat and took it out of the oven, the middle wasn’t set.

After some time sitting on the bench, however, a miracle happened: the custard set! Because we’d left it in the oven for so long, though, the bottom cornbread layer was a little dry and the top bit was on the well-done side. What we don’t know is whether it would have set in the same way if we’d taken it out of the oven at the 90 minute mark – if it had, it probably would have been even yummier, but without making it again, there’s no way of knowing.

And would we make it again? Well, that’s a tricky one. On the one hand, it was utterly delicious. The custard layer was cinnamony and caramely and incredibly sweet without (somehow) being too sickly, Ash liked it even though it had coconut in it, and you basically can’t go wrong with cornbread. On the other hand, it didn’t get to be incredibly sweet by accident, and we’re not sure whether we can really justify a cake with THREE CUPS of sugar (plus evaporated milk) – especially not with the dessert portion sizes we’re capable of eating, haha. In the interests of health, this might have to be a dish consigned to the annals of nostalgia…


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