the moveable feasts

Southern-Style Buttermilk Cornbread

with 18 comments

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.

corn mush
bubbly batter

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.

butter in hot pan

melted butter drizzled in
scraped into hot pan

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.

southern-style buttermilk cornbread
southern-style buttermilk cornbread
ate it with turkey chili

One Year Ago: Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds (oh, that’s a good one)

Classic Southern-Style Buttermilk Cornbread
From Fine Cooking, via The Bitten Word
Makes one 9 or 10-inch round

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
2 eggs
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.

Written by Amy

March 14, 2013 at 6:03 am

Posted in Breads

Tagged with , , ,

18 Responses

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  1. Your cornbread looks perfect! Great for a picnic or along with some chili :)

    Little Kitchie

    March 14, 2013 at 7:29 am

  2. Jiffy holds a dear place in my heart as well. That’s all I ate growing up. Every now and then I still go buy a box just because I can.

    Isn’t the southern stuff just a whole new kind of bread? I swear they’re hardly comparable. I can see why people get so passionate about it. I notice I prefer the sweeter Jiffy-esque stuff of my youth, but generally make the southern stuff. It justifies a heartier drizzle of honey. Such a solid recipe, though. It looks great!


    March 14, 2013 at 8:31 am

    • I think I’m in the same place right now– I’ll make more of the Southern version, but the sweet Jiffy-esque business is closer in my heart. And thank you!


      March 14, 2013 at 11:03 am

  3. This does look good, I have to hand it to Charles. It must be the buttermilk AND sour cream. And your chicken tagine caught my eye, my preserved lemons are just about ready and I’ve been fishing around for a good recipe to use them in!

    • Hmm, that tagine doesn’t call for any preserved lemons, unlike most traditional tagines. But I do hope you make one—I’ve been wanting to try a version with some preserved lemons for a while too.


      March 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm

  4. I used to think that I didn’t like cornbread, but then tried it a couple of years ago at a restaurant and totally fell in love. I’m not sure if the recipe that I use is “right” or not (I can’t remember the flour to cornbread ratios), but I do know that it tastes mighty fine still warm with a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey. This one looks fabulous too!
    Oh, and I once had cornbread at a restaurant that had been grilled and buttered – amazing!

    • Oooph grilled and buttered cornbread sounds amazing. And there really isn’t a right or wrong way to make cornbread, it just depends on which part of America/the world you’re in. ;)


      March 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm

  5. I definitely agree that a lot of people seem to cling pretty tightly to their early taste memories. Chris grew up eating Kraft macaroni and cheese, and to this day, it’s his gold standard to which all other macaroni and cheese can never compare, hahaha. And admittedly, I love the cornbread I grew up eating, more cake-like than corn-y, and always sweet.

    But, I’m all for giving authentic recipes a try, and this version (baked in a cast iron skillet! Seems to the authenticity) looks like it’d go perfectly with stews and chilis (I love turkey chili, by the way. And beans are good for you!). Once again, a recipe you post gets added to my to-do list. :) (Still have to make your buttermilk biscuits and last week’s green beans!)


    March 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    • Haha! I grew up on Kraft mac and cheese for at least half my dinners. I especially loved when my mom made it extra cheesy by adding in chunks of velveeta … ahh who was I!?

      It was a good companion to my turkey chili, though I still feel a little bit bad about pairing something “authentic” with someone that is pretty far off from any authenticity mark. I hope you get a chance to make this, or the biscuits and green beans!


      March 14, 2013 at 7:01 pm

  6. Amy, Amy, still no cast iron skillet (I feel as though we’ve had this conversation before…)? Though it’s true that a good, heavy stainless steel pan can do almost everything a cast-iron one can, cast-iron is really nice for frying things and certain baking projects. But it looks as though your cornbread turned out beautifully anyway, so what do I know?

    P.S. You probably don’t need yet another cornbread recipe, but you should check out the cornbread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice (it’s of the more cakey than corny variety). It is amazing and involves bacon!


    March 14, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    • Ahhhh Katie I know! I think I was expecting you to tsk-tsk me about this. Every time I’m about to buy one I have an endless debate in my head and I think I’ve concluded that I want to hold off on kitchen purchases until I graduate and move out.

      And I’m always open for cornbread recipes. Cake-like and corny, not to mention bacon, sounds delicious. ;)


      March 14, 2013 at 7:04 pm

  7. I’ve made cornbread before but wasn’t aware of the North/South divide – I clearly need to do my research! This looks like a lovely version and it’s always good to have variations up your sleeve!


    March 15, 2013 at 1:35 am

  8. I can’t truly choose a favourite food but cornbread is really, really up there, top five possibly. I agree about salted butter, but then it’s also what I grew up with, and I just really like salt. Very tempted to make both this and the Northern version and take alternating bites of each.


    March 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    • Oh god that would be the best, wouldn’t it? And I’m the same– grew up with salted butter so I can’t imagine anything otherwise (I don’t think I’ve ever, ever bought unsalted butter…)


      March 20, 2013 at 9:18 pm

  9. just stumbled upon your blog. this cornbread looks awesome. loving some of your other posts as well.


    March 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    • Awh, thanks for the nice comment. Hope you get the chance to enjoy some of the recipes. x


      March 20, 2013 at 9:19 pm

  10. I’ve never made cornbread – talk about blasphemy! It looks like I’m going to have to try this one and the Cook’s one and make my own decision. I might also have to try some of the ones that Jess at Sweet Amandine has posted over the years (she’s got a serious thing for cornbread). Great post Amy! I’m sorry to have been MIA from your blog for so long, but I’m glad to be back and in the cooking spirit – your blog is always such a great inspiration. Also, I want you to know that when I was in my cooking-but-not-really phase I made your Chicken Tagine at least 4 times. It just SO good and SO easy and Zach and I love it. Hope all is well!


    April 8, 2013 at 11:32 am

    • Oh yes, I love looking at all the cornbreads that Jess has posted. I want to try the yeasted version she posted about!

      And you shouldn’t apologize for taking a long hiatus! I think growing a baby happens to be a LITTLE more important than keeping up with what I’ve been cooking. ;) Glad to hear you and Zach (and the baby?!) love that tagine– it is a keeper recipe. So glad to see you back and commenting again. x


      April 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm

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