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How to Make Cornbread

A classic quick bread that should be in every cook’s recipe collection.

by Maryellen Driscoll

fromFine Cooking
Issue 107

Cornbread is loved by most and contested by many. In the debate about what constitutes authentic cornbread, your viewpoint is likely determined by which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on. The southern version is usually cooked in a hot skillet with butter or bacon drippings. It uses neither sugar nor flour and doesn’t rise much. Northern-style cornbread, on the other hand, tends to be sweeter and almost cake-like.

Geographic preferences aside, the roots of this quick bread’s success come down to two simple things: using high-quality cornmeal and not overmixing. The recipe here incorporates those tips and takes style cues from both the South and the North—there’s a hot skillet with butter plus just the right amount of sugar and flour. Since traditional cornbread tends to be dry, starting with a cornmeal mush and adding a little sour cream to the buttermilk goes a long way toward a moist, tender crumb. The result is a cornbread that’s not only great for sopping up chili or soup but also delicious on its own.

Try the Bread Stuffing Recipe Maker to create your own cornbread stuffing recipe.

Need to Know

Buy the best Purchase fresh, stone-ground cornmeal; it has a clean, subtly sweet corn flavor. Small-scale grist mills source the best corn, carefully process their meal, and often grind daily. Bob’s Red Mill is a good stone-ground supermarket variety.

Boost your buttermilk Buttermilk is typically lean. Supplementing it with a little sour cream adds tenderness and a touch more tang to your cornbread.

Make mush Stone-ground cornmeal includes some of the kernel’s hull and germ and doesn’t readily absorb moisture or fat, which can result in a dry, crumbly texture. Adding boiling water to a portion of the cornmeal helps draw out its flavor and produce a moister cornbread. The water must be boiling hot, though, or the cornmeal won’t absorb it.

Mix sparingly As with pancakes and muffins, overmixing will make your cornbread less tender. Stir just until the wet and dry ingredients are combined.

Make bread, not cake Some cornbreads eschew sugar, while others use so much that they’re practically desserts. Only a couple of tablespoons are needed to really draw out the corn flavor. Try drizzling a slice with honey if you want to sweeten things up even more.

Cook’s Tip

Heat your skillet or heavy-duty metal baking pan in the oven while you prepare the batter. Don’t be alarmed by the batter’s sizzle as you pour it into the hot pan—it’s this dose of heat that will deliver a crisp, crackly crust.

Cornbread Mix-Ins

While this classic cornbread is delicious in its own right, these simple additions add a little pizzazz.

•Sauté 1/3 cup diced chorizo until crisp and fold into the batter along with the melted butter.

•Add 1 cup of grated extra-sharp Cheddar to the wet ingredients.

•Toast 1/4 cup pine nuts and add to the batter with the melted butter.

•Mix 4 thinly sliced scallions with the wet ingredients.

•Add 1 cup of sautéed thinly sliced leeks to the batter with the melted butter.

•Add 3 Tbs. minced fresh jalapeño to the wet ingredients.

•Add 1 cup fresh corn to the wet ingredients.

•Add a few slices of cooked, crumbled bacon to the batter with the melted butter. You can also substitute 1 Tbs. bacon fat for 1 Tbs. of the butter.

Tool Kit

Have these kitchen essentials on hand before you start the recipe:

•9- to 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 9-inch heavy-duty square or round metal baking pan (not nonstick)
•Small saucepan
•Large and medium mixing bowls
•Dry measuring cups and spoons
•Liquid measuring cup (1 cup)
•Whisk
•Wooden spoon
•Cooling rack

Photos: Scott Phillips

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