People divide into two camps as far as cornbread is concerned. There are those who put sugar in their cornbread and those who do not.
I am here to tell you that we can all get along. My husband is in the former camp and I am in the latter. The most intelligent thing to do is compromise. Sometimes I make it with sugar, and sometimes I don’t. It makes living a peaceful life possible.
No one can argue that cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet is a thing of beauty. It develops a brown, crisp crust that is irresistible.
The proposition is straightforward: Heat canola or vegetable oil (or bacon grease) in a cast-iron skillet (9-inches wide is my preference) in a supremely hot (450 degree F.) oven while you mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ingredients in another bowl. Once the oil or bacon fat is sizzling hot, mix the wet and dry ingredients together.
Remove the skillet from the oven and pour in the batter as quickly as you can. It will sizzle and start to form a crust around the edges. Return the pan to the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, with a few moist crumbs attached and the top is golden-brown. The cornbread will pull slightly away from the edge of the skillet.
Let it cool five minutes, then invert it onto a plate (careful, this takes practice and good oven mitts so you don’t burn yourself.) Slice and serve with sweet cream, salted butter. It doesn’t matter if you make it with sugar or not, it is going to be delicious.
To make cornbread with this spectacular crumb, you need two special ingredients. One is a medium-course grind cornmeal. Bob’s Red Mill medium grind cornmeal is what I use.
The other key ingredient is buttermilk. This recipe calls for 1-1/2 cups of buttermilk and the smallest container I can buy is a quart, which is four cups. But there are lots of other baking gems that call for buttermilk: biscuits, pancakes, quick loaf breads, buttermilk pie, you name it.
“Buttermilk: A Savor the South Cookbook,” by Debbie Moose, has plenty of recipes for you to use up the rest of that quart of buttermilk, plus you’ll learn about the history of buttermilk and why it has endured as a treasured ingredient for many.
I remember my dad pouring cold buttermilk into a tall glass filled with leftover, crumbled cornbread. He’d settle on the couch, watch an episode of Gunsmoke, and eat his buttermilk-soaked cornbread with a spoon. It was a “treat” I never took a shine to, but I think buttermilk makes the very best cornbread.
Go ahead and give it a try. This version is WITHOUT sugar, but if you need to keep the peace, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar to the dry ingredients.
- 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
- 2 cups cornmeal, preferably medium to coarse grind
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1-1/2 cups low fat or whole buttermilk
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees (425 if convection).
- Place the vegetable oil in a 9-inch cast iron skillet and put the skillet in the oven to heat while you mix the batter.
- Whisk the dry ingredients -- cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder -- together in a medium bowl.
- Whisk the buttermilk and egg together until blended. Stir in the melted butter.
- Pour the buttermilk mixture over the cornmeal mixture and stir just until the mixture is fully incorporated and smooth.
- Remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour the batter into the hot pan (it will sizzle).
- Put the skillet back into the oven and bake until the cornbread pulls away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.