Southern-Style Buttermilk Cornbread
So in what seems like forever ago, I made a post that featured my favorite cornbread recipe. It’s from Cook’s Illustrated, who describes it as a Northern-style cornbread: there’s a quarter-cup of brown sugar, a stick of butter, and you bake it in a glass dish. When I make it, the thick cake-like squares that we cut out of the dish remind me of my beloved meals growing up when my mom would serve my siblings and I Jiffy cornbread muffins that we cut open and slathered with butter and honey. It’s a good cornbread recipe, or so I thought.
In what also seems like forever ago, I got an email from a reader (or actually more likely someone who stumbled on my blog for a one-time-thing and who will never see it again—Charles, if you’re reading this, let me know!) who told me that I have been doing cornbread all wrong. He’s from the South, and apparently having more flour than cornmeal is blasphemous or something. He referred me to this recipe, and said it was for my own good that I try it.
This recipe is most definitely made with a much higher ratio of cornmeal—and stone-ground, medium-grind cormeal, that is—to flour, and you cook it in a hot cast-iron skillet that’s been coated with some butter. Two notes here: One, as you can tell, I used a cake pan, because I don’t even own a cast-iron skillet (I know, I know, still more blasphemy). And two, although the recipe says you should use unsalted butter, I’m going to go ahead and be a little prissy and say you shouldn’t. The salted butter that coats the pan gives the crust of the cornbread a delicious salty edge to it, much the same way that the salted butter wrapped around the crust of these favorite buttermilk biscuits of mine.
Besides those details though, I think this cornbread follows a similar logic and make-up that most do. Those small changes though produce a very different cornbread, though, and one that I think Charles might be right about. It most definitely tastes…”cornier”… than my previous go-to cornbread, and it’s got a grittier texture. As Charles told me, there’s “just enough” flour to allow the bread to hold together, so what you end up with is more crumbly and less cakey. It feels more rustic to me, and it makes me want to pack up some wedges in a kitchen towel to carry off for a picnic in the sun.
I, of course, haven’t done that but instead have been eating it with some turkey chili that I cooked up (it was not only made with ground turkey but also had beans in it—the blasphemy, I can’t ever escape it!!). The chili itself is nothing to write home about. But this cornbread—yes, this is something. If I were to be honest with you, if I just had to eat a wedge of any type of cornbread by itself, I still prefer my Cook’s cornbread. When it comes to the simple topping of butter and honey, that’s when that strong force of nostalgia takes over and I can’t refuse the cake-like-Jiffy-but-better recipe. Regarding this, I would never admit that I am a self-respecting Southerner, because frankly I’m a Northerner who shamelessly prefers more sugar in everything. However, this Southern-style buttermilk version here is the one I will most likely be making from now on, for everything from chili to soups to turning it into cornbread-crumbs. Charles was right; he did me a favor.
One Year Ago: Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds (oh, that’s a good one)
1 3/4 cup (9 ounces) stone-ground, medium-grind cornmeal
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
heaping 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons salted butter, cut into a few pieces
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Place a 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet or a heavy-duty round metal baking tin on the rack. Let it heat up while the batter is prepared, at least 20 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal, the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 up water to a boil. Once at a boil, combine with 1/2 cup of the cornmeal in a large bowl. Stir until the mixture becomes a thick mush. Once the mixture has cooled slightly, add in the buttermilk, sour cream and eggs. Using a whisk, mix to blend.
At this point, if the oven and pan are fully heated, sprinkle the dry ingredients over the wet corn mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just blended; do not overmix.
Remove the hot pan from the oven and add the butter pieces, carefully swirling the butter around as it melts to completely coat the pan. (My butter didn’t brown at all, but if it does, that’s fine.) Immediately pour the melted butter over the batter. Stir briefly just to combine in the butter. Scrape the batter into the hot pan, and smooth out the top.
Bake until the cornbread’s browned edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, and the bread is golden on top, about 18 to 22 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool briefly for a minute. After loosening the edges, turn the bread out on to a rack to cool for a few minutes. Serve hot, with butter.