As a food blogger and recipe developer I love trying new foods in new ways, but there is something so warm and familiar about using a tried and true recipe that has been passed down through generations. In my family, grandma’s cornbread has always been one of those recipes. It’s light and tender, yet crumbly and chewy at the same time. It goes great with soup, stew, chili, and is a staple for a barbecue. Almost every time I make this for friends someone asks for the recipe. As my family was never one for keeping recipes secret I happily gave it out. I cannot count the number of times that I have made it, but it turns out right every time. When I decided to use it for this post, I called my mom to try and learn where the original recipe came from. Luckily, I caught her while visiting my grandma and the two of them let me in on what was the only secret behind this recipe – the source.
Here it is! In all its well worn, well loved, glory: my grandmother’s copy of Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. She received it as a wedding present in December of 1952, so it most likely is a 1951 edition. The front cover, with its iconic red and white checked pattern, is missing along with some of the pages. What is left has survived for over 60 years. You can see from the included instructions that the intended audience was someone who didn’t need a lot of instruction. Recipe writing sure has changed a lot over the years. Like most good cooks, my grandmother has made her own notes on additions and subtractions in her lovely cursive scrawl. If you look closely above the recipe for Corn Muffins you can see where she wrote “best for corn bread.” I have no idea how long ago she wrote that, but it’s still true to this day.
When my mom started making this cornbread she chose to use a cast iron skillet. When I started making it for myself, I tried an 8″ square cake pan, but something just wasn’t right. The bread still smelled the same, but the crust was not as thick and it didn’t have the same savory chewiness. Just looking at this picture is making me hungry. Lucky for me, my brother gave me this set of cast iron skillets that Christmas and it made all the difference! The 10″ skillet in my set might just be the most used pan in my entire kitchen, which is a fairly bold claim. Cast iron is incredibly durable and is good for both the oven and the stove top. Granted, you cannot put them in the dishwasher and you cannot leave them to soak in water, but clean-up is a breeze and these pans can be passed down for generations. I currently have my eye on this 13.25″ skillet for making pizza. But that is another post for another day.
This cornbread recipe is fairly straightforward. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. The original calls for shortening, which by definition means any fat that is solid at room temperature. I once tried using coconut oil, which works quite well, but I prefer the flavor that results from using butter. You can see that I selected unbleached, all-purpose flour and 1% milk, but these are personal preferences based on what I keep in my kitchen. You can use either yellow or white cornmeal. The bread gets most of it’s color from the cornmeal, which is why I prefer yellow. You will need a third bowl (it’s hiding behind the eggs) to cream the butter and sugar, which is where we will start.
Into a small mixing bowl measure out your sugar and add your butter. I actually remembered to leave my butter out of the fridge to soften, which could very likely be a first. If yours is still rock hard, you can beat it with a rolling pin the way I described in the Blueberry Muffin post, or run it through a grater. In fact, hard butter grated with the coarse side of a grater would probably make this process even quicker. Once you have both ingredients in the bowl, grab a fork and mash the softened butter into the sugar. Keep mixing until you have a light, fluffy result. You can do this with a stand mixer instead of by hand, but this way you burn extra calories. Probably not enough to justify an extra piece of cornbread, but it still counts! Let this stand for a minute while we prepare the flour mixture.
In your largest bowl, which should be a medium to large mixing bowl, measure out the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using your whisk, thoroughly mix it together. Then add the butter and sugar mixture to your flour. I start with a fork, but then switch to my hands for a more even result.The idea it to crumble the butter into the flour mixture so that the little pockets of butter are mixed throughout. The result will be a sand-like consistency, with the largest bits being about pea sized. In your third bowl, or in my case a 4 cup measuring cup, add one egg and beat it. Then add the 1 1/4 cups of milk. To save yourself another measuring cup to clean, a large egg measures out to be 1/4 cup. You can add milk on top of the egg to the 1 1/2 cup line to result in 1/4 cup egg and 1 1/4 cups milk. Mix the two together and add to the flour/sugar/butter mixture. Mix well to combine.The last thing to add is the cornmeal. It gets added separately, as you don’t want to over mix it once the cornmeal is added. Mix it just enough so that it’s wet and you don’t see any large clumps of cornmeal. I prefer to use my spatula for this step.
Once your batter is fully prepped, grab your pan and butter it liberally. I use the 10″ cast iron skillet, as discussed above, but a 9″ round cake pan or an 8″ square cake pan will work as well. If you are on the fence about getting cast iron, I’d be happy to help understand them better, just send me an email. Pour the batter into the pan and place it in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. This one always takes 25 for me, but every oven is different. You can always add more time later, but you can’t undo it once it’s burnt. Here is what mine looked like at 25 minutes.The top had turned an even golden brown, the edges were dark brown and pulled away from the sides. The room had filled with a lovely aroma and the steam coming off the top was enough to fog up my camera lens. Like with most baked goods there is only one way to know for sure that it’s fully cooked: the tooth pick. Stick it straight into the middle of the bread and pull it straight back out. If it looks like this one, then it’s fully cooked. If it pulls out crumbles or batter, it will need more time.
Normally, I leave the cornbread in the pan and slice and serve directly from there, but I had to show you the crust! It’s probably my most favorite part. Just look at that texture. Yum.
This is best when eaten while still warm. Alternatively, you can reheat it on the stove top over a low flame – be careful not to burn it. If you left it in the skillet, you can reheat the whole thing at once, or cut off a slice and heat individual portions. Make sure to cover the pan with a lid so that the insides warm up too. The microwave works, but you do lose some of the crispiness of the crust.
If you find yourself with leftovers, this makes a great pan toast for breakfast. Cut a wedge and slice in half like you would if you were going to butter the inside. Except, put the butter into a small frying pan and melt it over medium heat. Then add the toast with the inside edges down in the pan. The inside will toast up and absorb the butter. Delicious with eggs and bacon.
What’s your favorite thing to serve with cornbread?
Do any of you have cast iron skillets and what is your favorite thing to cook in them?
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup butter softened to room temperature
- 1 cup flour
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1 1/4 cup milk
- 1 cup cornmeal
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and liberally butter your pan.
In a small mixing bowl measure out sugar, and softened butter then cream together.
In a large mixing bowl, measure out flour, salt, and baking powder. Whisk to combine.
In a 4 cup measuring cup beat one egg, add 1 1/4 cups of milk and mix together.
Crumble butter/sugar mixture into the flour mixture. It should result in the consistency of wet sand with the largest pieces being pea-sized.
Add milk and egg mixture to the flour mixture. Whisk together.
Add in cornmeal and stir with a spatula until just combined.
Pour into your buttered pan and bake for 20 - 25 minutes.