The trick to perfect cornbread is letting the cornmeal, corn flour, and buttermilk sit overnight

I think the real jewel is the cornbread that you can and will eat all by itself for breakfast, lunch, or dinner

By Kelly Fields
November 28, 2020 10:24PM (UTC)
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Willa Jean Cornbread (Oriana Koren/Penguin Random House)

Reprinted with permission from The Good Book of Southern Baking by Kelly Fields with Kate Heddings, copyright (c) 2020. Published by Lorena Jones Books, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

This cornbread recipe is a testament to what happens when multiple folks put their heads together and collaborate on a seemingly simple project. The fantastic team at Willa Jean and I dissected cornbread— what we love about it and what we don't—and became absolutely maniacal about creating a version that spoke to all the different things we imagined the perfect cornbread to be.

First and foremost, it's about achieving great corn flavor. But almost equally important is texture— we hate dry cornbread. This version—the best version ever—blurs the lines between the texture of traditional cornbread and that of a tender quick bread. Then there's the issue of sweetness, about which there is an ongoing decades-long debate. Some folks believe that cornbread is just cake if you add sugar to it. Folks in the South are real serious about their position on this. I can tell you that I've debated it a hundred times over (and often with the same folks over and over again), and I will stand behind and defend my stance: I like a little sugar in my cornbread. But in truth, I believe there is room in this world for all the cornbreads!

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At the end of the day, I think the real jewel is the cornbread that you can and will eat all by itself for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and that you are equally happy crumbling on top of things like red beans and chili. The trick to this perfect cornbread is letting the cornmeal, corn flour, and buttermilk sit overnight; this allows the corn flour to fully hydrate, while the acid from the buttermilk tenderizes the cornmeal, helping to create a tender, almost cakey bread that still retains that slightly gritty texture you expect. The beauty of this cornbread is that you can leave the fully prepared batter in the refrigerator for 2 days before baking it.

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Recipe: Willa Jean Cornbread

Makes one 10-inch round or one 9 by 5-inch loaf

  • 3⁄4 cup corn flour (I like using Bob's Red Mill)
  • 3⁄4 cup coarse cornmeal
  • 2 1⁄3 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 1⁄3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1⁄2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Butter for serving
  • Cane syrup for serving (optional)
  1. In a medium bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir the corn flour and cornmeal with the buttermilk until there are no dry pockets remaining. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or for as little as 1 hour if you want to make the cornbread right now).
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with the 1 1⁄2 teaspoons butter. In another medium bowl, whisk the all-purpose flour with the baking powder and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk the granulated sugar and brown sugar with the eggs, honey, and salt. Whisk in the cornmeal mixture until well combined. Add the flour mixture, stirring just until combined, and then stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared skillet or pan. Bake for about 35 minutes, if using a skillet, or 50 to 55 minutes if using a loaf pan, rotating the skillet or pan after 25 minutes, until the cornbread is golden and irresistible and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  4. Slather with butter and cane syrup, if using, cut, and enjoy immediately. Store leftovers loosely wrapped in foil at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Cornbread Pancakes

To make cornbread pancakes, whip 3 egg whites until medium stiff peaks form and fold them into the batter. Voilà! Pancake batter. To cook, lightly oil a skillet and heat over medium heat until hot. Spoon approximately 1⁄2 cup of batter into the skillet. Cook for about 1 1⁄2 minutes, until you see bubbles popping on the surface, and then flip and cook the other side until golden brown. This batter makes about 16 large pancakes.

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Cornbread Waffles

Drag out that waffle iron and turn the batter into waffles. Whip 5 egg whites with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar until soft peaks form, then fold them into the cornbread batter. To cook, follow your waffle iron's directions. A standard waffle iron uses about 3⁄4 cup batter per waffle and takes about 31⁄2 minutes to cook each one. This batter makes 8 waffles.

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Cornbread Fritters

To make fritters, just add some fresh corn kernels to the batter and deep-fry for delicious little fritters. To make savory corn fritters, stir 2 cups fresh corn kernels, 1 cup sliced scallions, 1⁄4 cup minced jalapeño, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper into the cornbread batter. In a separate bowl, whip 4 egg whites to soft peaks, then fold them into the batter. Set a brown paper bag on a baking sheet. Fry dollops of the batter in 350°F vegetable or peanut oil for about 2 minutes, until golden. Transfer the fritters to the brown bag to drain, then serve hot. This batter makes about 32 fritters.

Cornbread Croutons

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If you have any leftover cornbread after a couple of days, turn it into cornbread croutons for chili or salads. Cut the cornbread into cubes, store in a resealable bag at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month, and then toast on a baking sheet in a 325°F oven for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring after 4 minutes for even toasting, until light brown on all sides. If frozen, toast straight from the freezer; no need to thaw.

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Kelly Fields

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