Skillet cornbread

And now…from diabetes to cornbread. (How’s that for a segue?)

After a chilly, dry winter, the rain has finally arrived in Northern California. This is the kind of weather that fleece blankets were made for. Sam has been begging me for weeks to make chili, and it finally felt like the weather gods were giving me a directive.

But with chili this good, we needed something to mop the bowl. And my trusty cast-iron skillet felt due for a baking workout. Helllllooooo, cornbread.

This is a classic, no-frills, Southern-style cornbread. I’m a born-and-bred Yankee girl, so this is just about the polar opposite of what I grew up eating. Around here, cornbread is almost always a cakey, sweet confection, based as much on wheat flour as on corn. So for me, traditional Southern-style skillet cornbread is an exotic treat–crumbly and chewy, enveloped in a tender golden crust, tasting of nothing but salt and corn. It’s got much the same appeal as that magical one-ingredient corn pudding: all the summer-sweet indulgence of eating corn on the cob, but in bread form.

Plus, it happens to be whole-grain, sugarless and gluten-free. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Classic skillet cornbread gets its lift from one of my favorite chemical dance duos: baking soda and buttermilk. I’m always surprised by how much downy, dewy softness comes from a tiny scoop of baking soda and a glug of something tangy. This cornbread baked up gorgeously, firm and crunchy at the edges and pillow-tender at the center. It’s rich and homey without being decadent, and I could. not. stop. eating it.

Now, as soon as this post goes live, someone is going to complain that this recipe calls for greasing the skillet with butter instead of bacon grease. It’s true that bacon grease is the traditional lubricant for this type of cornbread. If you want to use bacon grease, go right ahead. Me, I’m a freak of nature who thinks bacon is weird and creepy and tends to override the flavors of anything it touches. Plus, there’s a reason you put butter on your corncobs in the summer: it’s a freaking transcendent combination. But do what you like. You could even use olive oil.

The original recipe I used suggests whipping softened butter with some maple syrup or honey to spread on top of the cornbread. I tried that, and the friends I was feeding loved it, but I honestly thought the cornbread didn’t need the extra sweetness. Especially since most of this batch ended up submerged in bowls of chili, sponging up the spicy, meaty juices.

If there’s a higher cornbread calling, I don’t know what it is.

Classic Skillet Cornbread (serves 4 – 6)

From Gourmet

NOTE: This recipe is designed for a 9- or 10-inch skillet. I multiplied it by one and a half to fit a 12-inch skillet, which worked beautifully.

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 3/4 cups buttermilk (shake well before measuring)

4 tbsp (1/2 stick or 2 oz) unsalted butter

Special equipment: a well-seasoned 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven, and place the (dry, clean) skillet on it. Preheat the oven to 425ΒΊ F and let the skillet heat up inside the oven while you prepare the batter.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, baking soda and salt, breaking up any baking soda lumps. Then, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and buttermilk.

When the oven is preheated, remove the hot skillet (carefully!) and place the butter in the skillet. As the butter begins to sizzle and melt, swirl the skillet gently to get the bottom and sides coated. You may see the butter start to brown; this is a glorious thing and should be encouraged.

When the butter is fully melted, pour it into the buttermilk and egg mixture, and return the now-greased skillet to the oven to keep it hot. Whisk the hot butter into the buttermilk, then add cornmeal mixture and whisk until a batter forms. No need to mix super-thoroughly–some lumps are fine–but, unlike flour-based breads, this one won’t toughen if you overmix, so don’t stress it too much.

Pull the hot skillet out of the oven again and pour the batter into it. If you’ve done your prep right, the outside edges will start to puff up and cook right away. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is golden and center is set but still soft and pillowy. Remove from oven and let sit for 3 to 5 minutes, then slice into wedges and serve directly from the skillet.

You want a blank canvas for your artistic cornbread aspirations? This is the perfect recipe. Once the batter is ready for the skillet, you could fold in half a cup of shredded cheddar cheese, or a roasted chopped poblano pepper, or a small minced jalapeno, or half a cup of oven-roasted corn kernels, or the zest of a lime, or some combination of things. And if you do, please invite me over for dinner.


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11 responses to “Skillet cornbread

  1. Looks delicious!!! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  2. Kate

    The results rib-sticking good, I must say. Thanks for sharing such gluten free goodness with me!

  3. Veronika

    Bugger verbs, I love good cornbread! But, allergic bf bla bla – do you think it would work if I separated the eggs and used, say, 3 egg yolks and about 3 tablespoons of sourmilk more in the recipe? No buttermilk here in Sweden, but we do have sourmilk which is pretty close, only thicker and richer.

    And yes, ‘good’ Jew that I am, I will SO use the bacon grease saved in a jar in my fridge! πŸ˜‰

    • You could certainly try! I’d be interested to hear how that works. I’ve also heard of people using a paste of ground flaxseed and water in place of egg whites.

      • Veronika

        I’ve stuck it on my things-to-cook list now, so at one point the cornmeal (which I do not keep around the house) will get bought and this will get tried! I will report the results, definitely so!

  4. Veronika

    Hm. Do you think this will work with my huge and enameled cast iron pan? I don’t even know what it is in inches, and if I were to measure, which part do I measure – rim to rim?

    • I don’t see why it wouldn’t! The only difference between enameled and non, as I understand it, is the need to season the pan. Usually pan sizes are in diameter, rim to rim, so you can measure it and scale the recipe from there. I’m really curious how it’ll turn out for you!

  5. Just made this! Did it in a regular pyrex and it seemed to be fine, just not as brown. I also used half milk + lemon juice half whole milk yogurt because that’s what I had instead of buttermilk. Jeremy has given it his approval πŸ™‚

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