It’s no secret. I like cornbread. Specifically, the bready balance between hearty cornmeal and airy flour, between cakelike sweet and lip-smacking salty. When I see that fluffy golden yellow square (or triangle!) sitting on a side plate, I know I’m in for a good meal.
It’s also no secret that I look to ratios as part of recipe development. When I couldn’t find any of my own grandma-certified cornbread recipes (even though I’m still on the hunt!), I didn’t skip a beat. I knew what flavor I was after, and set to work using ratios to guide the way.
This is another instance where Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio really came in handy. Aside from my ratio-based biscuits, quickbreads like cornbread also lend themselves nicely to a simple, mathematical foundation. Using Ruhlman’s quickbread ratio, I played with different combinations of flour to cornmeal, different salts and forms of sugar, until I essentially “found” my grandma’s tried and true cornbread.
The texture is unbelievably fluffy and the taste so sublimely sweet, your taste buds might think you’re eating yellow cake at first. But give the salt and cornmeal a second to mingle on the tongue, and you’ll see why this is another ratio-based jackpot.
And what’s better, is that quickbreads are truly quick. With five minutes of measuring and mixing, you’re well on your way to cornbread town.
My only ask? Keep your eyes peeled for high-quality cornmeal. While the baking aisle staples will absolutely do, it’s amazing how this one ingredient can elevate an understated side. Here locally, I love Hayden Flour Mill’s stone-milled cornmeal.
Cooking with Cast Iron
Cornbread is a resilient quickbread that will bake beautifully in any kind of bakeware. If you want soft, golden edges, reach for a lighter pan. If you want browned edges, go for a darker one. If you want the crispiest, crunchiest edges though, you’ll need to cook in cast iron.
Cast iron is an excellent heat conductor and a southern kitchen staple. Quite simply, cast iron is one of the most practical pieces of kitchen equipment you could ever own. You can pan fry dinner one day, and bake a decadent dessert the next. Its utility knows no bounds. With baking in particular, preheating is key. This will ensure the sides start to crisp up the very second the batter goes in. You may also want to play with preheating to a higher initial temperature and then turning the temp down once the cornbread goes in.
Whichever pan you choose, use this cornbread as a sweet and light side for hearty dishes, like gumbo or poblano soup. You can also use this as the base for cornbread dressing to pair with holiday meats.
Ratio-based quickbread perfection. Grandmas will approve!
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup good quality cornmeal
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and prepare a dark colored 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan by spraying it lightly with cooking spray. If using a cast-iron pan (8 to 9-inch diameter works great), allow it to preheat with the oven.
Melt the butter in a microwave-safe container or on the stove (I use a glass measuring cup for the milk, add the butter then heat both together in the microwave). Allow it to cool slightly, so as to not cook the eggs that will be added later.
Mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the eggs to the milk and butter and beat lightly with a fork. Then add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Transfer the cornbread batter to the baking or cast iron pan, and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until cornbread is browned on top and cooked through (a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean).