4tablespoons(½ stick) unsalted butterplus additional for greasing dish
3 ¼cupswhole milkdivided
2cupscorn kernelsfrom 3 to 4 ears of corn, or frozen kernels, drained
Large pinch cayenne pepper
4large eggsseparated and at room temperature
¼teaspooncream of tartar
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a shallow 1½ or 2-quart baking dish.
Combine the butter, 3 cups milk, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan, and heat over medium high heat. When it comes to a simmer, and the butter is melted, reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the cornmeal in a slow steady drizzle, whisking all the while. Whisk in the corn kernels and cayenne and continue whisking for another 4 or 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick. Remove from the heat and turn into a large mixing bowl.
In a small bowl whisk together the eggs yolks and remaining ¼ cup milk, and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl using an electric mixer (or a clean whisk if you have the stamina) beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until the peaks are stiff, but not dry or separating.
Add about ½ cup of the cornmeal mixture to the bowl with the egg yolks and stir quickly to combine. Turn the yolk mixture into the bowl with the rest of the cornmeal mixture and whisk to combine. Fold about 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the cornmeal mixture, which will lighten the batter, then gently fold in the rest of the egg whites so that they are almost incorporated – you will see a white streak or two, which is fine.
Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes until the top is browned and puffy. When you shake the pan the spoonbread should juggle slightly, not too much so that it looks liquidy in the middle. Remove and either serve hot, to try and capture the spoonbread at its puffiest self, or cool slightly on a wire rack, then serve warm.