Cornbread may not have been front and center, but we suspect it also was a source of contention during the Civil War. Or as it is also known: The War Between the Recipes. Even today, Southerners maintain that not even a smidgen of sugar should besmirch their beloved cornbread. Northerners, ever girding themselves for winter, like their cornbread a little sweet.
Southerners call for bacon fat, while Northerners think butter is just fine. There are buttermilk camps and plain milk camps. Then there are the doctorers, who can’t help but stir in some diced jalapeños, shredded Cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, corn kernels, even dollops of jam.
In the end, though, it all comes down to the corniness of the cornbread.
Today’s recipe combines the best parts of two great recipes, one from Cook’s Illustrated and the other from Cook’s Country — both under the umbrella of America’s Test Kitchen (although perhaps not on speaking terms?).
In any case, the resulting cornbread uses 100 percent cornmeal (making it gluten-free) that gets a brief soak in buttermilk. It makes a good cornbread. But then we added the kernels from a couple of ears of sweet corn, puréed and cooked down just a bit into a sort of “corn butter.” It’s an extra step, but vaults this good cornbread into the territory of great, and makes savvy use of this season’s sweet corn.
The Cook’s Country recipe works because the cornmeal softens in the buttermilk, making a moist bread with no graininess. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe works because puréeing the kernels avoids those weird chewy pockets in the bread, or corn that grows tough in the oven’s heat.
The recipes split on the sugar question, but we sided with leaving out the sweetener. That’s what a drizzle of honey is for, right?
If you have a cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet, please use that. But a regular 9- by 9-inch metal pan works well, too. Preheating either pan creates the crispiest crust. And if you want to swap in bacon fat for the butter, y’all go ahead.
After all, the idea is to ensure that a nation of cornbread of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth. Nor from our plates.
Fresh Corn Skillet Cornbread
Serves 9 to 12.
Note: This recipe is adapted from recipes by Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated. If making this with frozen corn, the small “shoepeg” variety works particularly well. Thaw before puréeing.
2 1/4 c. fine-ground cornmeal
2 c. buttermilk
2 ears of sweet corn, kernels cut from cobs (about 1 to 1 1/2 c.)
1/4 c. canola or vegetable oil
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut in 4 pieces
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place rack in middle position. Place 10-inch cast-iron or ovenproof skillet or 9- by 9-inch metal pan in oven to preheat for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal and buttermilk. Set aside.
Process the corn kernels in a blender until very smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and deep yellow, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Carefully add the oil to the hot skillet and continue to bake until oil is just smoking, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and add butter, carefully swirling pan until butter is melted. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of oil mixture into the cornmeal, leaving remaining oil mixture in pan. Whisk corn purée, beaten eggs, baking powder, baking soda and salt into cornmeal mixture until well-combined.
Pour mixture into the hot skillet and bake until top begins to crack and edges are golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cornbread cool in pan for 5 minutes. Place a plate over the top of cornbread, then carefully turn over the skillet until the cornbread releases. Then cover cornbread with a serving plate and flip it so it’s right-side up. Serve warm.
Variations: Stir in 1/4 cup chopped jalapeños, 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar or pepper jack cheese, or 3 to 4 slices cooked and crumbled bacon just before baking.
Nutrition information per each of 12 servings: Calories: 230; Fat: 10 g; Sodium: 400 mg; Carbohydrates: 29 g; Saturated fat: 3 g; Calcium: 77 mg; Protein: 5 g; Cholesterol: 43 mg; Dietary fiber: 2 g.