Much like with birthday cakes, skillet suppers and onion soup, home cooks have been led to believe that cornbread is so hard to make that one should employ a boxed mix instead of doing it from scratch. Truly though, to do it entirely from raw ingredients takes no more than 30 minutes from start to finish (and that includes the baking time).
Homemade cornbread is a highly versatile thing to have in your culinary repertory. A basic loaf baked in a square pan makes a meal of soup and salad fit for a cozy dinner party. When you’re planning brunch for a crowd, brown a few strips of diced bacon, stir those crumbles into a batch of prepared cornbread batter and bake the bread right in the same skillet. It makes the most delicious accompaniment to eggs.
The next time you’re invited to a potluck, make a batch of Tamale Pie in your largest casserole dish. It’s simply some quick beef and bean chili, topped with a batch of the basic cornbread and baked until the bread is light brown. I like to serve it with sour cream and grated cheese, but it’s just as good without those extras.
For hurried mornings, having a zip-top bag of homemade corn muffins in the freezer that can be quickly defrosted will make everyone happy. To convert the basic cornbread dough into muffins, you simply add a little extra butter and sugar, as well as a splash of vanilla (cinnamon would also be good). For even more sweetness, you could top the muffins with a little large grain sugar before baking.
Just a few tips before you start baking:
The following recipe for cornbread produces a lean, slightly crumbly bread. I like that about it, because it pairs well with richer foods without being overwhelming. It’s also not particularly sweet. If you like your cornbread to resemble cake, this is not the recipe for you.
The less you stir this batter, the better. Using a rubber spatula, mix it just until the wet ingredients are incorporated into the dry and no ore.
Like biscuits, scones and other savory quick breads, this cornbread is best eaten warm. I often eat leftovers toasted and buttered.
This recipe freezes really well. Often I’ll make a batch and as soon as dinner is over, will package portion-sized hunks for the freezer.
- 1¼ cups yellow cornmeal
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter or bacon fat
Preheat oven to 425°F. Grease an 8 inch cast iron skillet or an 8 inch square baking pan.
Sift dry ingredients together. Whisk milk, egg and butter together. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just incorporated.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and gently shake the pan to level the batter. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top of the bread is well-browned and a toothpick comes out mostly clean.
Serve warm, with butter and honey.
To make Skillet Bacon Cornbread:
Dice 4 ounces of smoky bacon. Set the skillet in which you plan on baking the bread over medium high heat. Add bacon to pan and cook, stirring regularly, until bacon has rendered most of its fat and is quite crisp.
Using a slotting spoon, transfer bacon to a paper-lined plate to drain. Scoop two tablespoons of the bacon grease out to use in the cornbread batter. If there’s a great deal more grease in the pan, remove the bulk of it, leaving behind approximately one tablespoon.
Place skillet in oven to keep warm. Stir cornbread batter together, added bacon bits in at the end. Pour batter into the hot skillet, shake gently to level batter and place in oven to bake.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top of the bread is well-browned and a toothpick comes out mostly clean.
Whole Wheat Cornbread Muffins
Using the Basic Cornbread recipe above, substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose. Increase sugar by three tablespoons (to a total of four) and increase butter by two tablespoons (to a total of four as well).
Stir batter together and portion into a greased 12-cup muffin tin. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until muffins have risen and a toothpick comes out mostly clean.
Serve warm, with jam.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 green pepper, minced
- 2 cups corn (frozen or canned is fine)
- 2 cans kidney beans, rinsed
- 1 batch Basic Cornbread
Heat the oil in a large pot over high heat. Chop onions and garlic together finely in a food processor, blender or with a hand-held chopper (you want them to be chopped nearly to paste). Scrape onion and garlic paste into the pot and stir. Add spices and cook until the onions start to brown and smell fragrant.
Add beef to the onion, garlic and spices in the pan and break up into fine pieces using a spoon or spatula. Add tomatoes and stir.
Once tomatoes start to bubble, add green peppers, corn and kidney beans and stir. Bring up to a simmer and taste. Adjust seasoning, as needed.
Pour chili into a large casserole dish. Carefully pour the prepared cornbread batter over the chili, spreading it out to the edges of the dish.
Set the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a 350°F oven for 30-35 minutes. Bake until cornbread is just browned. Serve warm, with sour cream and grated cheese for garnish.