I can't think of any other food item that is created in so many different ways with so much conviction that 'this way' is the 'best way'. It's true. People are passionate about cornbread. Want to start a fight in the South (or the North for that matter)? Start a conversation about cornbread. Given the dozens of varieties, I'm not sure where my recipe ranks among them but I do know it will give you the confidence to throw your hat in the ring with the best of them.
It's been around the block
If I had to guess, I would say cornbread is probably one of the oldest American recipes, if not the oldest. To my knowledge, the making of cornbread originated in America, and I say this because, corn is not a native crop to Europe.
My theory is; cornbread was invented by the Native Americans and taught to European settlers when they arrived. Corn was then transported across the big pond where the cornbread recipe expanded into many various ways. So, you not only have multiple Native American tribes here in the states making different cornbread recipes (probably), when European travelers made their way back across the big pond, they likely brought with them even more varieties of cornbread recipes. Then with the migration of tribes and settlers across the US, America has become a melting pot of cornbread variations. It's just a theory but seems plausible in my opinion.
So, how do you like your cornbread?
How you like your cornbread depends very much on where you are from and/or who made it for you first. Whether you like it tall or flat, sweet or unsweet, cake-like or crumbly, moist or dry, white or yellow, and on and on.
My personal recipe is ever-changing in my attempts to 'perfect' it. Those who have tried my cornbread are adamant that it needs no improvement. For some reason though, I am forevermore trying to 'tweak' it just a bit. Something is lacking. I believe though, I am chasing an angel. I want my cornbread to be just like I remember it. My grandmother's cornbread was the absolute best, hands down, no contest. It was perfect. I'm not quite there.
I'm in the orbit, dancing around it even, getting close, oh so close.
My Cornbread Convictions
These are things I never deviate from no matter how I alter my recipe
Always use a cast iron skillet
Use yellow cornmeal
Use stone ground meal and flour - stone ground is actually more nutritious.
Sugar has no place in cornbread
Bacon grease is a must
Buttermilk is another must, I never use milk in cornbread
Tools of the Trade
Cast iron skillet
Mixer - I use an electric hand mixer
Strainer or sifter
Measuring cup and spoons
1 3/4 cup of cornmeal
1 cup of flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tbs baking soda
1 or 2 tbs bacon grease
buttermilk - As needed. It's something I never measure but I'd say I use close to a pint, give or take. I buy a quart bottle and I can make 2 nine inch skillets of cornbread with a little left over.
You can substitute bacon with shortening or vegetable oil, but why would you want to? Bacon grease gives you that nice outside crusty texture.
Also, if you are using shortening, you will need to include 1 tbs of salt. I don't include salt because the bacon grease fills that void.
Melt about 4 tbs of butter and add it to your mix for a nice buttery kick to your cornbread.
If you use self-rising meal and flour, you won't need to use baking soda and baking powder.
First things First
First thing I do is season my skillet. I always season my skillet before I make cornbread. That way my skillet is already nice and hot. If your skillet is already seasoned, move on to the bacon. Preheat the oven to 400. While it heats up I grease my skillet with Crisco. Place the greased skillet in the oven for about 30 minutes or so. After my skillet is seasoned, I place the bacon grease in the skillet, then back in the oven while I prepare my cornbread mixture. If you don't have bacon grease (I save mine), you'll need to cook 1 or two strips (depending on the fattiness) of bacon to obtain some grease.
Ok, grab your bowl and strainer/sifter. Add all of the dry ingredients and sift/shake them over the bowl. I've learned the hard way not to ever skip this step. You want all of the dry ingredients to be blended evenly together. Then add the eggs. *If you want it buttery, heat some on the stove or microwave and mix it in too.
Now, grab the buttermilk we are ready to mix it up. I add buttermilk gradually as I mix. Pour in a little and mix, then a little more etc. until you reach the right consistency. The key to mixing is not to over mix or it will be too runny. Nobody wants runny cornbread mix. You want it to be mixed but thick.
MOST IMPORTANT STEP
Allow your mixture to rest for about 15-30 minutes. If you don't do this, your cornbread won't rise properly when baking. It will be something more akin to a frisbee. Which might taste ok, but you won't achieve that nice height.
Let's Heat This Baby Up
Pull the hot skillet with the bacon grease out of the oven (leave the oven on). Tilt the skillet all around trying not to spill any. The goal here is to coat the inside of the skillet completely from the bottom center to the upper edges. If there is too much excess grease, toss it or save it for something else. Some people place the excess bacon grease into the cornbread mix. That's fine, it certainly adds to the taste. I don't like to though because I have found it hinders my cornbread from rising the way I like it to.
Pour the cornbread mixture into the hot skillet. If your skillet is hot enough, it will start to sizzle as soon as the batter hits the skillet. Use a rubber spatula to scrape every last bit of batter from the bowl and then smooth the batter around evenly in the skillet.
Place the skillet into the oven and cut the heat back to about 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people cook it on 400, which is fine. 350-375 is what works well for me. I may be wrong, but it seems to me to cook more evenly this way. It's my theory that I want the bread to have a chance to rise properly without burning the outside crust too much. Like I say, it's a theory. I'm not an expert chef or anything, nor do I claim to be. So, I don't fully understand the complex chemistry method to baking. I'm working with my instincts but given the results of my outcome, those instincts are so far, spot on.
As far as cooking time, you are looking at about 25-30 minutes give or take. Keep an eye on your cornbread. When it looks about done, pull the skillet out and do the toothpick test. Stick a toothpick in the center, if it comes out clean, your cornbread is done. If not, cook the cornbread a little longer.
Ah, just look at that
You can almost smell it, can't you?
Ready to Serve
Hopefully, you have some cranberry beans to go with it. Find my recipe here https://www.farmshedblog.com/post/beans~n~cornbread Cornbread goes with just about everything you can think of. It's also great by itself. Maybe you just want a nice hot slice with a pad of butter or even break it up in a glass of milk. The possibilities are as endless as the recipe itself.
So, how do you like yours?
I hope you try this recipe. Everyone should have a cornbread recipe in their wheelhouse. Even though we all have our own ways to make it, one thing we can agree on is that it is delicious. That's why we are so passionate about it. Thank you for reading and have a blessed day.