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This post is part of a series on cornbread; the simple yet widely variable staple of the Southern table.

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I decided to change the name of this series. “In Search of the Perfect Cornbread” had a couple of issues; the first, and certainly not the least, being that it kind of reminds me of that show with Leonard Nimoy where he goes in search of Sasquatch and things like that. The second problem I have with the title is that I quickly realized that finding the “perfect” cornbread recipe is in fact a bit like looking for Sasquatch. You’ll never find it because “perfect” is different for everyone. Who am I to say that this recipe is more Southern than that one? Food cultures just don’t work that way. Instead, they are ever-evolving systems that work with individuals’ tastes. So, instead, I’ve decided to look for my perfect cornbread recipe. Who knows if I’ll ever find it, but like searching for Sasquatch, the searching is the fun part.

My friend Aggie posted a comment to the last cornbread post. Unlike me, she grew up eating cornbread at every meal and knows a thing or two about it. So, I decided to put her recipe at the top of my list. It definitely comes much closer to the “real thing” as I know it. She brought up a few excellent points in her comment; one of them being that you can in fact use other fats, such as lard or Crisco for your cornbread. I used some of the neutral lard in this batch and it came out delicious. The smell as you take the bread out of the skillet is like nothing else in the world…that said, I do like the subtle flavor that bacon grease adds.

Katy pointed out in an e-mail that a  cast-iron skillet is a must for cornbread. I have to agree with her. Of course, cornbread can be made in other containers, but the cast-iron gives the bread a dark, crispy crust, which is in my mind a necessity.

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Here’s Aggie’s recipe. This is real country cornbread. Thanks Aggie!

1 heaping cup self-rising cornmeal mix
1 heaping tablespoon bacon grease (or lard, or Crisco)
Some Milk (Aimee’s note: for me this translated to 1/2 c. or so)
1 egg

Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees.
On stove-top melt grease in small cast iron skillet (no bigger than 8″)
In bowl mix together cornmeal, egg, and milk until batter is the consistency of pancake batter.
pour in melted grease and thoroughly blend (its o.k. if it sizzles)
Pour batter into hot skillet and bake at 500 for about 12 minutes.
If unsure of doneness, stick a fork or toothpick in it. If it comes out clean, its done.
Immediately flip pone out of skillet on to cutting board or plate.
Cut yourself a slice and enjoy. If you want, you can slice it open and smear with butter.

For larger skillets I use about 1 and 1/2 cups to 2 cups mix, about 2 tablespoons grease, and 1 or 2 eggs. (I usually use 2 eggs, because my Momma liked it that way.)

This post is part of a series on cornbread; the simple yet widely variable staple of the Southern table.

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If you follow this blog you may have been wondering what business I have writing a blog called Syrup and Cornbread without actually blogging about cornbread. I admit it, I’ve been dancing around this for a while and I have a confession to make: I don’t yet have the perfect cornbread recipe. Unlike some of my friends, we didn’t really eat cornbread much in our house growing up; although my  mom hails from Memphis, her family were German immigrants from Cincinnati. In my dad’s family there was always cornbread, but it’s just not something for which you’d pass down a recipe. Since my mom did most of the cooking when I was growing up, I was never really given the tutorial on how to properly cook it. Inspired by my friend and fellow cornbread-lover Katy, who has just returned from a trip to Mississippi, I’ve decided to embark on a series of posts about my search for the perfect cornbread recipe. I hope that this series will take me further into my own families recipes (I’ve simply never thought to ask), as well as other people’s.

Cornbread is a pedestrian bread; it is very rarely the star of the show, but people are passionate about it. In the South cornbread is not sweetened at all. Here in New England all cornbread has sugar in it. This is wrong. Cornbread, if made properly, should be thin, crumbly, have a nice dark crust on the bottom, and be made with bacon grease or butter.

For my first attempt I turned to my favorite Southern cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking. You all know how much I love Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis, the authors of this cookbook. I have the utmost respect for them both and came very close to actually swooning over the dinner I had at his restaurant Watershed (oh, and don’t forget when I was spying on his biscuit-making at Slow Food Nation ’08). Well, I tried their favorite cornbread recipe and was underwhelmed; it turned out too egg-y. You might be able to see in the picture (my fancy camera is on the fritz so you have to make due with the point-and-shoot) that there’s a layer of egg on the top. This was unexpected, and I’m not sure I like it; maybe I did something wrong, although I can’t figure out what.

The only substitution I made in the recipe was bacon grease for butter. I just keep a jar of bacon grease in the door of my refrigerator. It keeps forever and is perfect for getting that nice bottom crust that all cornbread should have. His technique, from what I can tell, is pretty standard. You melt the grease in a cast-iron skillet in a hot oven. Then, once it’s melted, you pour it into the batter, stir, then pour the batter into the skillet. Katy told me this is what her mom does, and it’s pretty close to the method I use.

Don’t get me wrong, this cornbread turned out really good; I realized that I do like buttermilk or sour milk, but this particular recipe just didn’t it the mark. I want a bit more crumb and certainly less egg. The search continues.

Our Favorite Sour Milk Cornbread
From The Gift of Southern Cooking by Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis

1 1/2 c. fine-ground white cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 3/4 c. soured milk or buttermilk*
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp. unsalted butter (I used bacon grease)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix the cornmeal, salt, and baking powder together in a bowl. Stir the milk into the beaten eggs, and pour over the dry ingredients in batches, stirring vigorously to make a smooth glossy batter.
Cut the butter into pieces and put in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or baking pan. Put the skillet in the preheated oven, and heat until the butter is melted and foaming. Remove from the oven, and swirl the butter all around the skillet to coat the bottom and sides thoroughly. Pour the remaining melted butter into the cornbread batter, and stir well until the butter is absorbed into the batter. Turn the batter into the heated skillet, and put in the oven to bake for 3040 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown and crusty on top and pulls away from the sides of the skillet.
Remove the skillet from teh oven, and turn the cornbread out onto a plate. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve the cornbread while it’s hot.

*I didn’t have buttermilk, so I soured some milk according to their note: “A Quick Sour Milk It only takes about 10 minutes to make this tangy substitute for buttermilk. Stir into 1 3/4 cups sweet milk 2 tsp. lemon juice and 2 tsp. cider vinegar. Let sit until curdled.