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sought: cornbread help

I made cornbread tonight, as a side for black bean soup, and, well, I need some assistance. The texture was light, the crumb was nice, but flavour was distinctly lacking. Blandness, everywhere. Not coming from anywhere where cornbread is traditional, I have no grandmother's recipe to use as a guide. Here is the recipe I used (don't remember where I got it, unfortunately):

2 c finely ground cornmeal
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 egg

Heated a skillet, coated with bacon fat, in a 450 degree oven. Poured batter into hot skillet; baked 25 minutes.

Is this a remotely authentic recipe? I know there are controversies about whether one should include sugar in the batter, but otherwise I am completely innocent of what may or may not constitute traditional cornbread. Does it customarily include egg? Is it supposed to be on the bland side, as a foil for heartier, spicier fare, or as a platform for lots of butter and honey, or should the bread itself be flavourful?

Thanks!

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  1. The recipe you used doesn't include shortening of any sort. Most recipes do as far as I know. The best may be in Frank Stitt's Southern Table, this month's CH Cookbook of the Month, which uses a scant 1/2 cup of bacon drippings for the pan and in the batter. I use that when I've cooked bacon. The one on the back of the Indian Head Stone Ground Corn Meal bag calls for 1/4 cup of shortening. I use either lard or Crisco.
    Using good stone ground corn meal also makes a big difference over supermarket stuff. The real corn flavor is important and the slightly coarse texture adds body.
    As a Southerner, I leave out the sugar,especially since we eat cornbread with savory food. It ain't dessert.

    3 Replies
    1. re: MakingSense

      Yes, you need shortening. Every recipe I've ever used includes either corn oil or butter (or as above, bacon drippings). Most cornbread recipes also include some wheat flour, often an amount equal to the amount of cornbread. I recently made Deborah Madison's skillet cornbread, which contains 3T butter, 1 cup flour, 1 cup cornmeal, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 eggs, 2 Tbls sugar, and 2 cups buttermilk.

      I don't like my cornbread sweet, either, but IMO a small amount of sugar helps to offset the bitterness of the leavening agents. You could probably leave it out, though.

      1. re: MakingSense

        Actually that recipe did include fat in the pan. The similar Joy recipe calls for 1-2T of fat in the pan, but not the batter. That fact that the texture was fine suggests that the fat use was ok. Sure, a salty bacon fat will add its flavor to the cornbread. So will salty buttery. But this recipe already uses 1 tsp of salt (compared to 1/2tsp for sweet recipes).

        paulj

        1. re: paulj

          The recipe I used instructs you to put the butter in the pan and put the pan in the oven to melt, then swirl it to coat the sides of the pan and pour the remainder in with the rest of the wet ingredients before mixing them in with the dry. I use unsalted butter, so salt was not the issue.

      2. Your recipe is pretty close to the 'Southern corn bread' in new(er) Joy of Cooking.

        Cornbread is pretty bland - corn meal, flour, salt, egg, fat etc. Nothing particularly flavorful in this. As discussed in many cornbread threads, northerners (in the US) like a sweeter, cake like cornbread, using some sugar, and more wheat flour. Southerners tend to prefer an unsweetened one, with more corn flavor (which is never strong), and texture. It is made more interesting by baking in a hot cast iron skillet with bacon fat, which creates a crisp crust.

        It is almost always eaten with something else, whether a savory meat item, or sweet like syrup. And there are innovations that try to make it more interesting, such as pepper bits, ham and cheese additions, whole corn, etc. But it's roots are in the plain every day fare of frontier homes. Consider the plainness of polenta before you load it down with butter, cheese, and tomato sauce.

        The wiki article gives a nice overview of various types of corn bread.

        paulj

        1. if i can pull this one out....

          4 oz butter or margarine or shortening ~ fat of your choosing
          melt in pan
          remove from heat add and blend:
          3 - 5 oz sugar ~ some like it sweet

          whisk together
          2 whole eggs ~ or 4 oz egg replacment liquid
          8 oz Buttermilk

          add to the butter n sugar

          sift;

          1/2 tsp baking soda
          1 cup cornmeal
          1 cup All Purpose Flour
          1/2 tsp salt ((don't add if using salted fats)

          combine the dry ingredients into the cream + liquids.

          either bake in that pan or pour into greased 8 inch square pan,
          375 f 30 min +-

          Killer Corn Bread.

          i have been known to make a double recipe on a saturday afternoon only to have it eaten by the crew before sundown.

          heap'n help'n of hospitality!

          1. The recipe I use includes not only shortening in the pan, but corn oil in the batter.

            1 cup all-purpose flour
            1/2 cup cornmeal
            1/4 cup white sugar
            4 teaspoons baking powder
            1 teaspoon baking soda
            1/2 teaspoon salt
            1 cup buttermilk
            1/4 cup corn oil
            1 egg

            Heat oven to 400F.

            Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, corn oil and egg in separate bowl.

            Place pan with 1-2 Tbsp of shortening into hot oven for 4-5 minutes, or until shortening is melted and hot. Combine wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Pour immediately into prepared hot pan. Bake 20-25 min or until golden around edges.

            1. I made cornbread last Sunday to serve w/ DH's chili. For the first time, I subbed stone ground cornmeal for the regular finely ground stuff and it made a HUGE difference. I will only use stone ground now. The cornbread had such a nice texture; just a little bit of crunch to it. Yum.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mdepsmom

                yes, using WHOLE cornmeal makes a world of difference.

                Although that said, many people prefer the Marie Callendar "corncake" style that is served in restaurants. Sweet, cake-like texture, and bland.

                Whole corn meal is nutty, crunchy and wonderful. Bob's Red Mill has it, aand it's available at most grocery stores in the baking aisle. I find these smaller sealed packages are fresher than the bulk flour/meal available at Natural Foods stores, where it can be oxidized and bitter.

              2. All of these replies are good. But the best discussion of Corn Bread that I have seen is in John Thorne's book "Serious Pig" where he devotes a chapter to the cornbread nation. I think having freshly-milled corn meal is really important, and I do add bacon drippings to it when I can. But his observations about baking powder and buttermilk add some real dimensions to this wonderful creation. Do look at it. You should have no trouble finding it through a library or perhaps even by browing in a book shop. (One minor point. He had some problem milling corn with his Country Living Mill. I've had no problem with mine, which is fitted with a corn and bean augur. But you can buy wonderful stuff from grist mills and freeze it so it is fresh.)

                1. I agree with the other posters: the easiest way to introduce a lot more flavor into your cornbread is to use stoneground cornmeal. (Even the stoneground cornmeal I buy from the supermarket is a huge improvement over the Quaker or Aunt Jemima cornmeal -- I personally don't think you need to go to the trouble of milling your own, excellent though that would be.) Stoneground cornmeal is less processed and therefore has a much more pronounced corn flavor. It also improves the texture of the cornbread, giving it a much more assertive chew.

                  Other than that, yeah, that's a standard southern-style cornbread recipe.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                    Note that stoneground cornmeal should be kept in the freezer. It gets rancid quicker than you would think. All whole grains should be stored in the freezer unless you go through them really quickly. This is a real downside to buying them from open bins/bulk stores. You have no idea how long it's been since they've been milled or how long they've been in the bins. You can smell when they start to go bad.

                  2. Thanks for all the replies so far. In response to many of you - and I should have probably noted this in my original post - I was using stone-ground whole cornmeal, bought from a local health food store with high turnover, so that wouldn't have been the issue. I think that a combination of (a) my inexperience with what authentic cornbread is like (thanks especially for tasting notes and comments on flavour), and (b) lack of drippings/shortening, are the likely sources of my discontent.

                    Hooray for an excuse to bake again, this time with bacon fat...