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skillet cornbread

Crumbly Cornbread

Cornbread is a classic sidekick for barbecue with good reason. The corn flavor and texture is a perfect foil for sweet barbecue sauce and Southern Sweet Tea. You can eat it straight, or you can butter it. A compound butter with honey, molasses, or herbs will generate smiles. It also makes a fabulous breakfast substitute for pancakes or waffles, warm, with a dab of butter, and a pour of maple syrup. In Central Florida where I was raised, it was served warm topped with honey.

In the South, cornbread is not sweet. Elsewhere, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, cornbread is sweeter and more cake-like. I compromise, with just a touch of sweetness.

Classic cornbread is baked in a cast iron skillet greased with bacon fat, lard, or other meat grease. The hot black metal creates a brown crunchy crust that really amps up the flavor and texture. This recipe is designed for a 12" cast iron skillet, but if you don't have one, you can use a 10" cast iron skillet, or any other skillet, or an 8 x 8 x 2" oven safe glass baking dish. You can even use a metal baking pan if that's all you have, but it won't brown as well as a black pan. If you use anything except the 12" skillet, the cooking time will be different, so use the toothpick test described below. In a narrower pan the mass of batter is thicker and will take longer.

Cornbread Recipe

Makes. 8 nice sized wedges

Takes. 20 minutes prep, 25 minutes cooking time

Ingredients

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosheer salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons honey

3/4 cup sour cream

4 tablespoons butter, melted (it doesn't matter if it is salted or unsalted)

1/4 cup sweet corn kernels (optional)

1/4 cup sweet bell pepper, chopped into 1/4" chunks

1 more tablespoon of butter to grease the pan

About the corn. This ingredient is optional, but I really like it. Fresh corn's the best. If not, use frozen corn, thawed by letting it sit for about 15 minutes at room temp. I wouldn't use canned corn. If you wish, you can amp the corn up a bit by pan or grill roasting until it browns slightly.

About the sour cream. Many cornbread recipes call for buttermilk, but this recipe has been formulated for sour cream so resist the temptation to substitute.

About baking powder and baking soda. They seem mysterious, but they work magic. It's chemistry. Click here to learn how they work.

Optional mix-ins. If you wish you can add 4 strips crumbled cooked bacon or some chunks of cooked sausage, cracklins are a Southern tradition, too. Or try 1/2 cup chopped scallions or onions, 6 ounces grated cheddar cheese, 1 minced jalapeño pepper or 1/2 teaspoon of hot pepper sauce (it is barely noticeable but gives the mix a spice of life). I tried chopped sun-dried tomatoes and didn't like them in there. Don't go crazy with the add-ins. Use just 2 to 3 max.

Optional. If you wish, you can grease the pan with bacon fat or lard instead of the butter, as was common in the old south.

Method

1) Pre-heat the oven or grill to 400°F and put the skillet on the rack to preheat it.

2) In a bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: Cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

3) In another bowl, whisk the eggs lightly. Then add the honey and whisk for about 30 seconds. Then add the the sour cream, whisk, melted butter, and whisk until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Gently stir until everything is mixed, only about 30 seconds. The batter will be lumpy. That's what you want. Now add the corn, red pepper, any other add-ins, and stir gently until they are evenly distributed. It is important that you do not overmix.

4) Take the skillet out of the oven and add the remaining tablespoon of butter. Roll the butter around as it melts coating the inside of the pan, including the sides. Yes, I know that's a lot of butter. You will thank me later. You'll be tempted, but you won't need more. Work quickly so the pan doesn't cool.

5) Pour in the batter, level it more or less. Place in the hot oven. Work quickly.

6) Cook until the top is golden and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it to make sure the edges don't burn.

7) Cool for about 10 minutes and serve.

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