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How to Make Southern-Style Skillet Cornbread

Why this recipe works Cornbread is an easy-to-make quick bread, but it means different things to different people. Northerners like their cornbread sweet and light—more cake than bread. Recipes abound for this style, but we wanted to add to our bread repertoire the satisfying skillet-baked cornbread that’s popular in the South. Southern-style cornbread should boast hearty corn flavor, a sturdy, moist crumb, and a brown crust. And it definitely shouldn’t be sweet—that’s veering into Yankee territory. That said, we departed from tradition in some ways. For one, we chose yellow cornmeal rather than the typical white; cornbread made with yellow stone-ground cornmeal had a more potent corn flavor. Toasting the cornmeal in our skillet for a few minutes intensified that flavor. After we toasted it, we created a cornmeal mush by softening the cornmeal in a mixture of sour cream and milk. This ensured that our bread had a fine, moist crumb. We used sour cream in the mush because it added a pleasant tang that worked well with the sweet cornmeal; plus, it reacted with the leaveners to keep this flourless bread from being too dense. And for bread that baked up rich and tender, we whisked two eggs into the batter. When it came to the fat, we skipped the customary bacon fat and instead used a combination of butter (for flavor) and vegetable oil (for its ability to withstand high heat without burning). Greasing the skillet with both and preheating it before adding the batter delivered the rich, crisp, distinctly Southern crust we were after. We prefer a cast-iron skillet, but any ovensafe 10-inch skillet will work. You can substitute any type of fine- or medium-ground cornmeal; do not use coarse-ground cornmeal.

  • makes one 10-inch loaf
  • baking time 12 minutes
  • total time 1¼ hours
  • key equipment 10-inch cast-iron skillet

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  • 2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1½ cups (12 ounces) sour cream
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) whole milk
  • ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons (2½ ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs

1). Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Toast cornmeal in 10-inch castiron skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

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2). Transfer cornmeal to large bowl and whisk in sour cream and milk; set aside.

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3). Wipe skillet clean with paper towels. Add oil to now- empty skillet, place skillet in oven, and heat until oil is shimmering, about 10 minutes. Using potholders, remove skillet from oven, carefully add butter, and gently swirl pan to melt.

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4). Being careful of hot skillet handle, pour all but 1 tablespoon oil-butter mixture into cornmeal mixture and whisk to incorporate. Whisk sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into cornmeal mixture until combined, then whisk in eggs.

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5). Quickly transfer batter to skillet and smooth top. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until top begins to crack and sides are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking.

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6). Let bread cool in skillet for 15 minutes. Remove bread from skillet and transfer to wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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variation spicy southern-style skillet cornbread

Whisk 2 minced jalapeño chiles and 2 teaspoons grated lime zest into cornmeal mixture with eggs in step 4.

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