Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cornbread: The South vs. The North




Nothing sparks controversy here in the South as cornbread. Authentic cornbread, Southern style, uses little, if any flour, no sugar, and white corn, not yellow. It is just the opposite of Yankee cornbread which here is considered more of a sweet cake.

Southern cornbread is also always baked in a hot, cast-iron skillet that has been well-larded with bacon grease. When baked, it is flipped out of the pan to reveal the crunchy exterior which contrasts to the warm, moist interior. It is always cut into wedges or "pones" and never baked in a square pan or cut into rectangular shapes.

Less dense than a Northern-style cornbread, the loose crumb lovingly sops up melted butter, honey or maple syrup. And, of course, pot-liquor from greens, such as collards. Cold cornbread is often dunked into buttermilk.

As with most arguments, I tried to reach a happy medium with this recipe. I used "polenta" for the cornmeal base to achieve a more authentic texture and taste. I used less flour and only a few tablespoons of sugar. While I am not adverse the joys of bacon, I left out the bacon grease because I wanted this plain with honey and jams.

The verdict? Man, this was some good cornbread! This was all about the corn. While baking, the smell permeated my apartment. The outside was crunchy and the interior was wonderfully moist with specks of yellow from the corn. I loved the loose crumb and the pronounced corn taste. It really wasn't sweet, but it didn't need to be.

I put this under the broiler for just a minute or two after baking to give a crisp crust.


My black cast iron skillet is too large for this recipe, so I used a 9-inch, enamel-lined cast iron skillet greased with peanut oil. It worked well, but I should have allowed it to cool a bit more before flipping it from the pan since the middle didn't loosen. But I will never ever bake cornbread in a square baking pan again. I can see how the addition of bacon grease would pair well with corn taste.

Bit of a crack after I flipped it out of the pan .... But
note the crispy exterior.


  • 1 1/4 cups coarsely-ground corn or "polenta" (I used Bob's Red Mill)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1 1/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil or bacon grease for the pan.


Place the oil/bacon grease in a nine-inch iron skillet and place in 375 F. degree oven while pre-heating so it is hot when you are ready to add the batter. Ideally, you are supposed to hear a bit of a sizzle as you add the batter. 

Meanwhile .... 

In a medium bowl, mix the milled corn, flour, salt and sugar. Set aside.

Add the egg to the buttermilk and whisk. Add the baking soda and melted butter. Stir. (Do not add the baking soda to the dry ingredients.)

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir just to incorporate. Allow to sit for a few minutes so the corn has time to absorb some of the liquid.

Using a hot pad, carefully remove pan from oven ... it will be HOT. Pour in batter and smooth the top.

Return to oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the top is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 

Cool ten minutes before flipping out of the pan. If you nervous about this part, first cut out a slice and then carefully use a small spatula to loosen the bread from the pan.

Serve with fresh butter, honey, jam or maple syrup.











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