Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Cooking Basic: Cornbread

If you live in the south, cornbread is most likely a staple of your diet. Not that they don't eat cornbread up north - they do - it just seems to be more popular down here.

And, there are about as many cornbread recipes - and opinions about what cornbread should taste like - as there are people in the south. So, I offer this little post to demonstrate the basics about cornbread - not to issue myself as an expert on the subject, or to even say this is the RIGHT way.

For example, this recipe uses white corn meal. To some people I have just committed a grave error. And, this recipe has NO sugar. Another foul to some. Also, this cornbread is made in a round cake shape - not muffins. Sacrilege to many. This recipe is a coarse bread - you can really taste the meal in it. Some people prefer their cornbread to be more like cake. I say live and let live. What's more, I would never put milk of any kind over my cornbread. I'm just not gonna do it.

But, since the "how to string a guitar" post was so popular, (and I use that term popular loosely) I thought I'd try to work in a few more "how to" posts. And, people, I don't know enough about much to do a "how to" post on just anything. But, I do know how to cook. So, I thought a few posts about cooking basics might be interesting. If you're a master chef or even an occasional cook, this will be totally boring for you. However, if you like to learn cooking basics then you've come to the right place today. And if you don't, well, maybe you'll like the pictures. Or, come back tomorrow. I'll certainly have changed the subject by then.

So, here we go. This recipe is the one S's family makes. That's the way S likes it, so we use this recipe. That said, it has all the basics of a good cornbread recipe, minus the aforementioned personal preferences. I'm going to call it Anna's Cornbread because Anna, S's grandmother, is where S thinks the recipe originated. Whether this is true or not or just family lore, she's getting credit today on Ate Up Amateur.

Anna's Cornbread

1 1/2 cups white corn meal
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
Some cooking oil

If you're a novice looking to cook more, one thing you can do is take a basic recipe like this one, and change it up - add more baking powder to see it rise, sift the ingredients for a different texture, by all means add sugar if you like it. And, see what happens. It's science people - like little science experiments. And you just might like the outcome.

So here we go. The first thing you do is preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then, you get out your cast iron skillet. Cast iron seems to be important to this recipe - I've baked it in a glass loaf pan and other containers and S says it doesn't taste as good. It probably crisps up pretty good in the cast iron, if nothing else. Anyway, you put some oil - a two inch circle, maybe, or less, in the bottom of a cast iron skillet, and you put that skillet into the oven while it's preheating. This allows the oil to become more viscous and cover the entire bottom of the pan. Note to you - should you try to photograph this action, do a better job than I did. Two blurry photos. Geez.

Then you measure out your white corn meal and your flour and put it in the mixing bowl.

Then follow suit with these. And give it all a toss.
(That means mix it together.)

Some action shots of adding the salt...fancy.

Next comes the wet ingredients.
Egg and buttermilk.

There's another variation. Sometimes people use "sweet" milk for their cornbread. I will have you know there is no such thing around our house as cornbread made with anything but buttermilk. But, to each his own!

Then mix the ingredients together with a spoon (or a whisk - S likes to use a whisk. I don't see the need.) When it's ready to go in the skillet, it will look like that bottom photo.

Take your skillet out of the oven. That oil will now be good and hot. You can swirl it all over the bottom of the skillet. Spoon the cornbread batter into the hot oil - check out that sizzle? Use the spoon to spread the batter (dough?) out all over the bottom of the pan.

Return the skillet to the oven and bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.

Then go read something. Or cook something on the stove. Or feed the dogs or practice your guitar. Do something for twenty minutes. It'll bake without you looking or doing one thing to help it along. If you're feeding S, you'll slice up your potatoes and get them into the skillet to fry. Somehow, in S's head, cornbread must be accompanied by fried potatoes.

Ding! 20 minutes later, browned cornbread goodness. Amen.

Left-top. Right-bottom.
The bottom gets browner because of that oil.

Then cut it up and serve it with some butter. Or ketchup, or navy beans. Or ham. Pick your poison.

Another S oddity is pictured above - he CUTS OFF the BEST PART - ala the blueberry muffins with no blueberries in them - and leaves the crunchy bottom to languish in the pan. Strange man. But I love him, so more power to him. Keep on, baby.

So, there you go. If you're a cornbread novice, try it out. If you just want to try a new cornbread recipe, go ahead. Or, come back tomorrow and I'll talk about something else. See you then.


  1. Loved the non blurry pictures, very professional looking. Now that particular cornbread, not so much. But as you point out, each to his own.

  2. He leaves the crunchy goodness in the bottom?!?!? Funny - I had cornbread AND MILK (as in milk poured over my cornbread) last night. I'll have to try your recipe though I'm sure I'll be adding sugar. I make Kev's grandmother's cornbread - lucky for me that only involves a package of Korn Kits! :-) I absolutely agree cast iron is key to making good cornbread, regardless of whether it's from sratch or from a mix or with sweet milk or with buttermilk.... I LOVE CORNBREAD!!!!!!!!! ;-)

  3. Love cornbread. Could eat it every day. I got hungry just looking at the photos.

  4. Are you kidding, no sugar!!!!! Talk about a complete violation of southern cornbread. Don't you know southerners put sugar in everything, just taste the tea. Plus, when you add the milk over it, it's perfect! - errika


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