Baker’s Log, Week 5: I actually chose to make Real Cornbread for Week 4. I’d wanted to try it for a few years but never got around to it. My experience with the cornbread from a few weeks ago made me want to try a very different cornbread, with a short ingredient list, without a lot of added flavors. I wanted plain, simple, reliable cornbread, a cornbread that would be a pleasure to eat on its own but that would go well with anything.
I already had a regular cornbread recipe, but it was no longer wowing me. My old recipe was still okay fresh but I didn’t really like it that much anymore as leftovers. I needed a different go-to recipe for cornbread.
I’ve made the Real Cornbread recipe three times.
Cornbread #1: I was in a hurry and didn’t read the instructions closely before I made the cornbread. I’m supposed to heat oil in the pan in the oven. That’s strange, I thought. I reduced the oil, heated it, whisked together cornmeal, baking soda, salt, egg, and buttermilk, poured it into the oil, and baked it. I reread the recipe, and oops – I was supposed to mix the hot oil into the batter! I can’t review a recipe if I haven’t actually followed the instructions, so I decided to make it again.
Cornbread #2: I heat the full amount of oil, mix together cornmeal, baking powder, salt, egg, and milk, and drizzle the hot oil into the batter. Batter goes into the pan, then into the oven. Result: the cornbread is a 1/4 inch shorter than the previous version! But was it because of the baking powder, or because of the oil in the batter? I had to try it again, but I needed a break before we could eat even more cornbread.
Fried Cornbread (adapted from Eating Well)
2 tbsp vegetable oil (recipe originally called for 3, but that’s too much here)
2 cups cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup milk
Pour oil into metal 9×9 inch pan and place in oven. Preheat to 450F. Mix together dry ingredients. Add milk and egg and use a whisk to combine well. Carefully remove hot pan from the oven and tilt gently to oil the sides of the pan. Pour batter into pan, on top of hot oil, and spread the batter into the corners. Get a little of the oil on top of the batter if possible, as this will be delicious. Bake for about 15 minutes; a toothpick inserted into the middle will come out clean. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before cutting and serving.
The cornbread was tasty both as originally written and as I made it, but I think that my version of the cornbread was tastier. The as-written version was paler than mine, and had a more cohesive, uniform texture due to the oil that was incorporated into the batter. The baking soda with buttermilk of the first try may have given the bread some oven spring that the fried cornbread didn’t get. Unfortunately, I couldn’t directly compare Cornbread #3 with the first two. However, I think it wasn’t as flat as Cornbread #2.
The fried cornbread was a little greasy on bottom when fried in 3 tablespoons of oil, but it was perfect with just 2 tablespoons. The cornbread was excellent fresh, but was still relatively moist the next day when sealed well. The best part for me was how the oil fried the edges, making them crispier and a little like hush puppies. Swirling a little of the hot oil over the top of the cornbread helped fry the top a little, too. This wasn’t as crisp the next day, but I still found it tasty. This was much better than the usual, characterless cornbread. Overall, the bread was less dense without the oil stirred into the batter, and thanks to that, it was crumblier and had more texture.
You could use buttermilk (or sour milk) and baking soda in this, like I did the first time, but I like the no-fuss combination of baking powder and regular milk. (Besides which, I don’t like the twang of buttermilk in my cornbread – it distracts me from the corn.) I really enjoyed the fried texture and taste of it without adding extra oil – in fact, the oil is reduced from the original recipe! I will definitely make this cornbread again.