Southern (With a Twist) Cornbread
When you pour the batter into the hot cast iron skillet, the magic of this recipe begins. If you do not have a cast iron pan, you may substitute another oven-safe skillet. Just make sure to not use a round pan with a diameter of greater than 10 inches or the bread will be too thin. A 9-inch skillet will work, too, and may simply require an extra minute or two in the oven. In a pinch, you may substitute a 9-inch square metal baking pan.

Yield: 8-10 servings


Ingredients

  • 2 cups stone-ground cornmeal*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk, well shaken (see notes for dairy-free option**)
  • 1/4 cup honey (may substitute sugar***)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (bacon fat would be traditional; may substitute oil of choice)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In medium bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy. Whisk in the buttermilk and honey.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix until just blended.
  5. Meanwhile, place the coconut oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (see comments above about pan size/type), and heat the skillet in the oven for 5 minutes or until very hot.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven, and immediately pour in the batter. Return the skillet to the oven, and bake for 18 minutes, give or take a few minutes, or until the top is golden and the center is just cooked through. Check a few minutes early as all ovens vary and add a few extra minutes if needed. Taking care not to over-bake will ensure moist cornbread. (If the top is sufficiently browned but the center is still not cooked through, lightly drape with a piece of foil.)
  7. Serve hot or at room temperature, with butter, honey or — my personal favorite — strawberry jam. Wrap tightly, and refrigerate any leftovers. If the leftovers become dry, wrap lightly in a damp paper towel and reheat gently in the microwave. This will “refresh” the cornbread, as my grandmother used to say!

Notes

*I recently noticed that the weight listed on the package of a popular brand of cornmeal does not match the corresponding volume measurement, potentially leading to a discrepancy for those who use that brand.  (This could lead to not enough cornmeal being used if measuring with a kitchen scale.)  So while I usually say that weight is the most accurate measurement, in this case it may not be.  Weight of cornmeal will vary slightly based on grind (fine, medium, or coarse), so for best results I recommend scooping into cups and leveling with the straight edge of a knife.

Also, over time I’ve had the occasional comment mentioning that the center was still undercooked but the edges were done, which was likely tied to too little cornmeal being used.  However, I have raised the oven temperature to 400 degrees F (from the 375 degrees previously recommended) because I think it does bake the bread more evenly.  If you’ve had success with this recipe at 375 degrees, by all means stick with it.  However, I have begun cooking this cornbread at 400 and do prefer it. (10/28/17)

**Low-fat buttermilk works in this recipe, but for best results I prefer the full-fat version. (If you are local and a patron of Lancaster Central Market, Maplehofe Dairy‘s buttermilk is extra delicious.)  Because I have heard from many people who cannot consume cow’s milk, I have tried this recipe substituting a 14.5-ounce can of light coconut milk combined with 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice for the buttermilk, allowing the mixture to sit for five minutes. Though this is quite untraditional and I had my doubts, the resulting cornbread rivaled the buttermilk version and was enjoyed by all. I wouldn’t hesitate to prepare it this way again.

***Purists may prefer no honey or sugar in their cornbread. The amount used in this recipe adds just a hint of sweetness; feel free to increase or reduce if desired. If you use sugar, mix in with the dry ingredients.

A few more things:  

  • Finely ground cornmeal will produce a more tender crumb while a medium grind yields a hint of crunch.
  • You may mix the batter and allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before baking.
  • If you prefer to use butter in place of oil, I recommend ghee, or clarified butter.  Regular butter is more likely to burn as the skillet preheats.

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