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Baking the best cornbread

Cast iron skillet cornbread
Cast iron skillet cornbread
Lisa Hechesky

Cornbread is a staple of rural American cuisine and goes hand in glove with authentic Southern cooking. Whether the main dish is greens, soup beans or chili, a slice of hot buttery cornbread makes the perfect accompaniment. Fortunately, this bread is simple to construct, requiring only a few basic ingredients, and with a couple of tips the road to cornbread perfection is an easy path to travel.

Deriving from Native American tradition of cooking with ground maize, cornmeal provides the backbone of both flavor and flour for the bread. In some traditional Southern recipes, all cornmeal is used, while in others have the addition of wheat flour. Wheat flour provides the batter with more gluten thus better texture. As a quick bread, cornbread receives it rise from the chemical reaction of baking powder. True Southern style cornbread will not include sugar in the recipe; however, other regional versions often have a sweeter note from either sugar or honey.

Being comprised mainly from cornmeal, to insure making the best cornbread involves procuring the best cornmeal. Commercially available cornmeals are finely ground, with inform pieces and are less flavorful than their stoneground brethren; therefore,using stoneground cornmeal offers a lot of flavor for the bread since more of the hull and germ remain in tact during the milling process.

Make cornbread in a cast iron skillet and you will be especially pleased with the outcome of a crispy outer crust. In his cookbook on baking, "I'm Just Here for More Food," Food Network host Alton Brown writes on making perfect cornbread, "The key is the cast-iron skillet." Truly, baking in cast iron provides a difference and is the traditional method for most Southern cooks for this reason. To achieve the crisper crust, place a 10-inch cast iron skillet into a extremely hot oven, around 425 degrees, while making the batter. Let the skillet heat in the oven, coated the skillet in cooking fat (shortening or bacon drippings) before heating, for 15 minutes. Once the skillet is ripping hot, pour the batter in and bake according to the recipe.

Besides being delicious on its own, additions to the basic bread raise the taste level greatly. Cracklings (fried pork rind) and jalapeno cornbread variations are frequently found.

To get started on experimenting with some cornbread checkout these recipes:

Good Eats Creamed Corn Cornbread
Mark Bittman's basic cornbread
Cornbread with wheat flour
Cornbread without wheat flour


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