Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best. Cornbread. Ever.

I've had quite a few versions of cornbread. I grew up with the occasional cakey cornbread and delicious honey butter (I know we mixed our own honey butter, but was the cornbread from a box, Mom?) Now that I'm in the South, I've discovered that cornbread or biscuits are served in most Southern diners/restaurants and everybody has their favorite recipe. Most biscuits are delicious but the cornbread can range from corny and bland to super sweet and cakey.

mmm, look at that golden top
I made the best cornbread of my life on New Years Day. I've made corn bread before, but I've always been vaguely disappointed in it- it was too cakey, too thin, or too much "corn" and not enough bread.  This recipe produced a cornbread that was an ideal 1.5"-2" thick, sweet enough to be eaten by itself (but not too sweet I couldn't slather it in butter and honey), and the perfect texture that walks the line between cakey and flakey.  It was so good, I made it two days in a row and only just stopped myself from making it for dinner on the third. 

I thought I'd made this recipe before.  It's from my New Best Recipe Cookbook, but there are two recipes: Northern and Southern cornbread.  Maybe I tried the Northern one and forgot to notate it.  I distinctly remember trying to make cornbread in my 10" square cast iron years ago and it turning out far too thin and consequently a bit too brown on the bottom to be flavorful, so maybe I made the Southern one.  This time I had the suggested 8" cast iron that we picked up at a thrift store and made the Southern Skillet Cornbread.

Cornbread is a quick bread, meaning it gets its rise from baking soda, baking powder, and/or eggs (in this case, all three) instead of yeast. The difference between Northern and Southern cornbread tends to be how cakey it is.  Northern cornbread uses roughly a 50/50 blend of cornmeal and all purpose flour with butter for the fat while Southern styles use all or mostly all cornmeal with oil/bacon drippings as the fat.  This Southern one uses only cornmeal, so it's gluten free.  My dad is gluten intolerant, so I'm always happy to find something gluten free that tastes this amazing.  It comes together pretty quick, so I can quickly mix it up and stick it in the oven, then have 20 minutes to pull together the rest of dinner. 

I don't want to write out the recipe because of copyright restrictions (blogging is a form of publishing), but I will give the basic gist of how it's put together that can be used on other recipes.  The oil (or bacon drippings) is preheated in the cast iron.  The cornmeal is divided and most of it mixed with the dry ingredients.  The remaining cornmeal is whisked with hot water to form a thick paste, then buttermilk and egg is added.  After folding those together, the hot oil from the cast iron is quickly mixed in.  After baking for about 20 minutes, out comes the best cornbread I've ever had.  

An 8" cast iron pan of deliciousness
So why did I made the cornbread?  Well, the South has a tradition on New Years Day: for good luck in the new year, eat black eyed peas, collards, and fat back (or something porky; we did bacon this year).  While I can finish my plate, I don't particularly like any of these traditional Southern dishes and wanted something that I could look forward to in the meal.  It will now be in constant rotation in our meals. 

bacon, collards, cornbread, and black eyed peas


Joanne said...

Yes, we used a box, probably Krusteus. It was more cakey. I am looking forward to trying your posted recipe. Did you use bacon or oil?

Julie said...

I used oil because we started the bacon after I started the cornbread and we didn't have any on hand.