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Nov 22, 2011 03:48 PM

What is "good" cornbread really like?

For the past 2 years, my boyfriend has insisted on us making our own cornbread to use in stuffing. I faithfully follow recipes but it's a joke that I really just can't make cornbread.

But I started thinking, maybe we just don't like cornbread? I know there are a number of different styles and types so maybe what we "think" is good isn't ever going to come out of the recipe I make?

I have used either a full cornmeal approach or a 1.5 c of cornmeal to 1 cup of flour, no sugar. It's pretty dense and of course not sweet. Just wanted to know what others thought makes up a "good" corn bread!

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  1. "Good" cornbread is a matter of personal taste. Some like it sweet, some like it dense, others like it with a lighter texture (cake like) and there are many other preferences, including those that use canned, fresh or frozen corn.
    My personal corn bread formula is simply equal amounts (1 cup each) of cornmeal (not the coarse variety) and AP flour with one egg, one cup of whole milk, 3 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. It bakes at 425 for about 25 minutes.
    One of my all-time favorite recipes for cornbread is this one:

    1. I learned to make cornbread that I like from the c 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking. I grew up eating cornbread made from degerminated Aunt Jemima yellow cornmeal. There is no comparison to stone ground cornmeal which makes very good cornbread. I like this ratio more: 1 1/2 C unbleached white flour to 3/4 C of stoneground yellow cornmeal. If you would like I can email you the recipe I use.

      But I think you can find a similar recipe by Googling stone ground cornmeal cornbread recipe. or you can link to a similar one here:

      I like to melt the shortening I use in a cast iron skillet in the oven, before adding it to the batter. Don't overmix. Bake in the heated iron skillet for a lovely brown crust. Slice, and split horizontally and let dry overnight before making the stuffing the next day.

      I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving meal with your BF.

      1. Southern vs Northern cornbreads is a huge culinary divide (though there are plenty of Northerners who prefer Southern-style cornbreads; not sure that works in reverse). I strongly prefer a Southern-style cornbread.

        Your choices:

        1. White or yellow cornmeal. White is traditional in the South and SE New England (which had Triangle trade connections with the South); yellow elsewhere. I prefer yellow, for its slightly better corn flavor, but a really artisanal white meal can be fantastic. Whatever it is, it's better stoneground.

        2. No flour or flour. No flour is traditional in much of the South; flour in much of the North. Flour makes for a cakier-crumb. I strongly prefer no flour.

        3. Sugar. No or de minimis sugar is traditional in the South (because the bread is often used to sop up savory things); sugar is traditional in much of the north. I strongly prefer a de minimis amount of sugar (just enough to enhance color and crust without making it taste noticeably sweet).

        4. Dairy: buttermilk. There is no other rational choice for an American (as opposed to, say, a Portuguese) cornbread with soda/baking powder as the leavens. (For unleavened things like jonnycake, it's a different story.)

        5. Pan: A cast-iron skillet, preheated with fat of choice in a hot oven, is traditional in much of the South, though not unknown up North. The reverse is true of a square or rectangular cake pan. For me, the skillet approach is fundamental. If I wanted a sweet corn cake, I'd ask the Italians for a recipe.

        6. Fat. Bacon drippings or home-rendered lard - the crystal structure of solid pork fat makes for a very crisp crust - are traditional in the South, though not unknown up North. Oil is more often used up North, it would seem. Oil makes for a moister crumb (as it does in cakes). Again, I want bread, not a cake.

        7. Thickness: Cornbreads tend to be thinner down South, and thicker up North. (But the outlier up North is the cousin form of the jonnycake of Rhode Island (of which there are thick and thin versions, too).)

        What do you suspect you'd prefer?

        Cornbread in its myriad guises (ooh, spoonbread....if I want a moist cornbread, that's the most sublime way to go) is fundamental to American cuisine. It's worth developing a preference and the skill for it.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Karl S

          This is great - I think I have actually made a more southern cornbread, with oil rather then fat. It is also bringing back memories - my grandparents were from Oklahoma/Kansas and so I grew up with the coffee can of bacon fat that was saved!

          1. re: DCLindsey

            Ah! My heritage. No flour in the cornbread that you ate as a kid, and no sugar either. And you probably ate Aunt Jemima cornmeal. My mom used to save bacon fat, and it always grossed me out. I mean, that stuff would go rancid. It also made a mess.

            You should find a cornbread you personally like. And, even if the cornbread doesn't seem right to your BF, it should still make a fine stuffing.

          2. re: Karl S

            Karl, you have so over thought this, and I love it! My mother's recipe was white, stone ground, 1 cup to 1/2 cup White Lily, 2 eggs, buttermilk, etc. I play with it and use whole wheat pastry flour and yellow cornmeal (don't tell my family!) I sometimes add jalapeno flakes, corn kernels, and onion. I don't usually have bacon drippings so I use canola oil. But, it is always baked in a hot oven in a very old square cast iron skillet.

          3. A smoking hot well seasoned cast iron skillet. Stone ground white corn meal, Indian Head is an excellent brand. no sugar or flour. If you are using buttermilk you will need some baking soda. Otherwise baking powder and salt milk and egg. When the pan well greased with lard or bacon fat are smoking hot, add the batter and back until puffed, golden and crisp. The batter should sizzle when added to the pan.

            1. Many varieties, all good in their own way. I am a sugar, butter, buttermilk, cast-iron skillet, and 1:1 ratio of flour-to-cornmeal man, in my experience pretty typical among African-Americans whose parents grew up in the south in the '30s and '40s before moving north---which is to say pretty typical soul food. Good for Thanksgiving dressing, sopping up collard-green likker, dipping in black-eyed peas, and just eating out of hand. I've been known to use bacon fat now and again and I don't turn down the sugarless stuff when I'm in the south. Add-ins like cheese or jalapenos or cayenne or whole corn kernels are fun changes of pace, but not something we do regularly.

              It sounds like maybe you've stumbled on an excuse for a fun culinary mission. Assuming your handle means you live in DC, you surely have access to good soul food, good southern food, and yankee bakeries that make vegetable oil corn muffins in non-stick muffin pans. If I were you I'd eat my way through a few professionally-baked varieties to find what you like. Even if it turns out cornbread just isn't your thing, you'll surely enjoy some fine eating along the way.