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November 29, 2012

Southern style cornbread recipe

Southern cornbread is dense, savory, kind of gritty, not sweet at all, and has the most glorious crust on the bottom. To get the crust you put some of the oil from the recipe into the skillet and heat the oiled skillet in the oven as you prepare your cornbread batter. Let the pan and fat get sizzling hot. When you're ready to add your batter you'll hear a satisfying sizzle all around as the wet batter meets the pan.

For those still fighting The War of Northern Aggression, any amount of flour or sugar to cornbread is a direct threat to their way of life. My grandmother's recipe below calls for 3T of flour, and she never apologized one minute.

I've become slutty with my cornbread out here in Los Angeles, where we only fight the war of cellulite. Over the years I have modified this recipe fifteen ways to Sunday and it's always good and almost impossible to ruin. If you want a recipe to mess with, this is the one.

Make it gluten free by skipping the flour or adding any flour of your choosing -- I've made it with rice flour, corn flour, even some weird Whole Foods mystery mix health food flour. Try substituting stuff for the buttermilk, too. You can use kefir instead for a tangy kick. Or use plain, unflavored yogurt. Greek yogurt works and makes it tangy but you have to thin it with water or milk to get the right consistency. Use sour cream if you want (a nonfat sour cream in place of most of the oil makes this recipe light and lower in calories.) Your batter should be kind of wet, just a shade thinner than cake batter. To get that consistency you can add milk or water to your thicker ingredients.

My favorite variation on this recipe is to add very finely chopped red bell pepper, green bell pepper, jalapenos and corn kernels into the batter. Add some shredded sharp cheddar cheese and I can eat the whole thing.

But first you need the basics. This is the traditional recipe handed down from my grandmother to my dad and then to me:

1-1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup of oil, bacon fat, or shortening
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
10-inch cast iron skillet

Cooking Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

If you are using vegetable oil:

1. Add about two tablespoons of the fat to the skillet, enough to coat the pan and swirl around in there. Put it in the oven to get hot.

2. In a bowl, stir together dry ingredients.

3. Pour your buttermilk into a big pyrex measuring cup. Add the egg and remaining oil, whisk a little bit with a fork to combine.

4. Pour wet ingredients into your bowl of dry ingredients, stir together. It will be kind of soupy, thinner than a cake batter. Take your skillet out of the oven (use the best mitts you have, it will be HOT) and then gently pour the batter into the sizzling hot skillet fat. Put it in the oven, bake for 25-30 minutes.

If you are using bacon fat or shortening:

1. Melt the fat in the skillet. Put it in the oven to get hot.

2. In a bowl, stir together dry ingredients.

3. Pour your buttermilk into a big pyrex measuring cup. Add the egg and whisk a little bit with a fork to combine.

4. Take the skillet out of the oven and carefully pour about half the hot fat into the dry ingredients. Leave some fat in the cast iron skillet.

5. Mix the hot oil and dry ingredients with a fork. VERY slowly pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, stir as you go. Do it slowly so you don't cook the egg. Pour into your hot skillet.

Cook on 425 for 25-30 minutes.

You know your cornbread is done when the top is golden, the sides start to pull from the pan and a toothpick comes out clean from the center. or just tap the top, you can feel it.

Now, to my die-hard southern friends, please stop reading.

To everyone else, you can make this cornbread more suited to the typical American taste bud by simply adding in a tiny bit of sugar or honey. You don't need much, just two teaspoons of sugar will do it. More to taste. To lighten up the texture, add more flour and less cornmeal. You can also use yellow cornmeal if you like. If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, use a 10-inch nonstick cake pan. You can still heat the oil in it in the oven for a little crust. Or, spray a nonstick cake pan with oil and go the lowfat route.

The basic idea here is to keep your ratios of wet to dry the same. You need just over 1 1/2 cups of dry ingredients to every 2 1/4 cups wet. Adding an extra egg will make this bread richer, too. This is a recipe that never fails, no matter how much you tinker with it. And if it comes out really hard or bad, just cut it into cubes, freeze it and use it for your Christmas dressing recipe.

Traditional cornbread:

Mixed-up lowfat colorful cornbread:

This variation was made in a non-stick cake pan. I sprayed the pan with canola, heated the pan a bit in the oven. Not as hot as a skillet would get, but still warm. To make it lowfat I changed the wet ingredients and used just two tablespoons of oil and added 1/4 cup yogurt. Added peppers and corn and even after all that it was still delicious!

Posted by laurie at November 29, 2012 7:26 AM