Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Crumbly Skillet 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. In the South, cornbread is not sweet. In the Northeast, cornbread is sweeter and more cake like. I like a compromise, with just a touch of sweetness. Cornbread is great as a side dish, but also makes a fabulous breakfast, warm, with a dab of butter, honey, or syrup.

You can eat it straight, or you can butter it. A compound butter with herbs or molasses is great on cornbread. Some folks in the south serve it warm topped with honey and in New England it is often served with maple syrup. Some say it is better if you cover with foil and and set it aside for at least 24 hours.

The classic Southern cornbread was 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" Pyrex or Corning pan. 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.
About baking powder and baking soda

Baking powder is also used to increase the volume and lighten the texture of baked goods. When wet, it makes carbon dioxide gas quickly, much quicker than yeast, so breads made with baking powder are called quick breads.

Baking soda is the popular name for crystalline sodium bicarbonate. When heated it releases carbon dioxide and helps dough rise.
Cornbread Recipe

Servings. 8 nice sized wedges
Prep time. 20 minutes
Cooking time. 20 minutes
Special tools. You need a 12" cast iron skillet and 1 wooden toothpick


1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup sour cream or buttermilk
3 tablespoons honey
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup sweet corn kernels (optional)
1/4 cup sweet bell pepper, chopped into 1/4" chunks (optional)
2 more tablespoons butter

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

Optional mix-ins. If you wish you can add 4 strips crumbled cooked bacon, 1/2 cup chopped scallions or onions, 6 ounces grated cheddar cheese, 1 minced jalapeƱo pepper or 1/2 teaspoon of hot pepper sauce (it is barely noticeable but gives the mix a spice of life). Don't go crazy with the add-ins. Use just 2-3 max.

Do this
1) Pre-heat the oven or grill to 350°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. Then add the honey and whisk for about 20 seconds. Then add the the sour cream, whisk, melted butter, whisk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Gently stir until everything is mixed, only about a 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 2 tablespoons 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. Work quickly so the pan doesn't cool.

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

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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