Growing up, my mom would make cornbread from the little white and blue Jiffy mix boxes. Mom’s Jiffy cornbread was always sweet, tender, faintly and appropriately tinged yellow, and devoid – to my great pleasure – of actual corn kernels. I’d have to check the box, but something tells me there’s very little, if any, actual cornmeal in the mix.
I never thought twice about the authenticity of Jiffy cornbread when I was younger, but exposure to other varieties of this generally non-yeasted quick bread has opened my cornbread world to new and delicious possibilities. Many true southerners think that sweet cornbread is blasphemous, and take great pride in their favored brand and grind of cornmeal. While I still prefer kernel-free cornbread, I’ve been experimenting with various recipes to find a happy balance among the authentic, nostalgic and delicious.
Like most Alice Waters recipes, The Art of Simple Food’s cornbread recipe doesn’t disappoint. As the title of the book suggests, it’s simple and requires relatively few ingredients but turns out bread that’s as tender as you want it, a little bit savory and a bit sweet. Tinkerer that I am, I use way more, and a coarser variety of, cornmeal than called for in the original recipe. The grind of cornmeal you use will alter the crunchiness and crumb of your bread, as will the type of milk you choose. Homemade vanilla milk steps in for regular milk in my version. It lends a nutty sweetness that complements the corn well. Lest you think this bread was thus heading for the vegan/vegetarian category, stop right there: an egg and bacon fat are essential elements of my version, too!
A final note: this recipe is practically gluten-free. I suspect that substituting your favorite all-purpose, gluten-free flour blend for the ¼ cup all-purpose flour wouldn't significantly affect the outcome.
Adapted from The Art of Simple Food
Rendered bacon fat, for greasing the skillet (olive oil or butter would work, too)
1¾ cups of flour and cornmeal (Alter the proportions based on your personal cornbread preferences. Use les cornmeal for softer, more cakelike bread. I use 1½ cups stone-ground cornmeal and ¼ cup all-purpose or whole-wheat pastry flour.)
1 tbsp maple sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
Scant ½ tsp sea salt
1 cup milk (regular or non-dairy)
4 tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 425°F and grease pan. If using a cast iron skillet, put it in the oven to preheat. This will yield a better crust on the bread.
Mix together next four ingredients (through sea salt) in a medium bowl.
Measure the milk into a glass measuring cup, add the egg and whisk to combine.
Make a little well in the center of the bowl and pour in the egg-milk mixture. Whisk until smooth.
Add melted butter and stir to combine.
Pour mixture into chosen baking vessel and bake for 20 minutes, or until brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.