Like, really cold. This winter has been disgustingly cold. And today it was cold enough that school districts were closed just because of the wind chill being in the -40’s and -50’s.
When it’s cold, we all want to eat something hearty like soups, stews, and chilis. And what goes better with those things than some good ol’ cornbread?
Now, I’m not a Southern girl, but I did have a Granmammy. She was my great-grandmother, and while as long as I ever knew her she lived in Chicago, she never lost her southern drawl. And my love of all things biscuit and cornbread says I’ve got a little southern in me.
There seems to be a lot of debate on the “right” way to make cornbread. I’m not here to add to that, just to let you know how I’ve been making it lately. This isn’t a recipe for “true” Southern cornbread. But it’s not the sickly-sweet, practically cake kind of cornbread that you find sometimes up here in the North. It’s somewhere in between. I’ve made several different cornbread recipes in my lifetime, and this is how I’ve settled into making it for now. It takes all the things I’ve liked from different recipes and blends them into one.
What makes this different from a true Southern cornbread is that it has a bit more flour (some Southern cornbread recipes contain no flour at all) and it’s sweeter. But I cook it in a cast iron skillet, which I believe to be the only way to make a good cornbread.
This cornbread is not too dense, not too sweet, has a lovely crust, and is just right for my liking. But it’s also very easily adaptable for your tastes.
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup corn kernels (optional)
1 Tbsp oil
1) Preheat oven to 375˚F
2) Put oil in a cast iron skillet and place in the oven as it preheats.
3) Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl.
4) In a separate bowl (or measuring cup) whisk the wet ingredients together
5) Make a hole in the dry ingredients and pour the wet into it. Combine with as few strokes as possible. Fold in corn kernels if using.
6) Remove skillet from the oven (carefully!) and pour the batter into it. Return to the oven and bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly golden.
Buttermilk is a lovely alternative to milk here, but frankly I just don’t have it in my house that often. You can sub buttermilk for the milk, and change the amount of baking powder to 2 teaspoons, and add 1/2 tsp baking soda.
This is weirdly neurotic of me, and doesn’t really matter at all to the final product, but I like to melt my butter, let it cool a bit, then whisk the eggs into it well. Then I add this to the milk so that the butter solids don’t get cold and solid again when you add it to the milk.
I use dark brown sugar, and there are usually little clumps of it after mixing the wet and dry together. I kind of like this, but you can take more time to whisk with the dry ingredients so there aren’t clumps. And if you prefer your cornbread to be a bit more Northern, you can swap it out for white sugar. But I like the depth that brown sugar adds. Alternatively, you can add up to 1/2 a cup of sugar to make it sweeter all around, or cut it down to a couple of tablespoons if you don’t like yours sweet. Like I said, it’s easily adaptable.
You can also mess around with the ratio of cornmeal to flour. As long as you have 2 cups total, you’ll be good. I like the 1:1 ratio, but if you want it more authentically Southern, up the cornmeal. And if you want it cakier, up the flour.
The corn is totally optional. You can use fresh corn kernels off the cob (the best option!) but this time of year it’s not an option. You can use canned & drained corn, or what I usually use is frozen & thawed corn. Make sure if you use canned or frozen that you drain off all liquids.
My skillet is 12″, which is kind of enormous. If yours is a bit smaller, your cornbread will be thicker. It’s possible it will need to cook slightly longer, but probably not much.
The cast iron skillet + the hot oil is what gives cornbread the best crust. It’s crispy and wonderful. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, you can use an 8×8 square pan. If you preheat it with the oil in the oven before pouring the batter in, it will still help the crust, but it won’t be quite as good.
And please, remember that the skillet stays ridiculously hot! It’s easy to forget and try to grab the handle, which if you do you will end up with a nasty burn across you fingers & palm. While logic dictates that this would be the obvious result, I also know from personal experience.
When I was a kid, we always had cornbread with Bean with Bacon Soup. While back then the soup came from the familiar Campbell’s can, I recently found a from-scratch recipe I really like. Check it out! It’s perfect for these cold, cold, cold, cold, cold winter nights.
So how do you like your cornbread?