To start off, I must admit that I’m not really the biggest fan of cornbread. It’s okay, but it’s just not really my thing. Given that this is the case, I’m not really the best judge of its quality. So that means I’d be flying blind. However, add to that the fact that I am married to a Southerner who was raised on the stuff. So I knew that no matter what I baked up, I wouldn’t be able to know if it really was any good, and regardless, she’d think it was worthless. I totally understood the problem going in. If my wife made a rustic Italian bread, I’d scoff too. It’s just natural.
So essentially I was going into a lose-lose scenario this week. Not only that, but I also worried that making this cornbread was now going to expose me to the reopening of a drastic and deep wound that I mistakenly caused some time ago. I’ll explain below the fold. (As BBA’ers stream in I’ll link here, such as Joanne, Geraint, Coz, Nancy and Jim – even a link to Freida, a former BBAer from 2010 who gave the cornbread another shot).
A few months ago, my wife got a cast iron skillet from her mom. This was a special skillet, because it was the cornbread skillet. Yes, that’s right — first of all, Southerners make their cornbread in skillets, not in cake pans. Which is sort of cool actually, but that’s not the point of this story. You see, the fact that this was the cornbread skillet is also important for another reason other than the fact that they make cornbread in skillets. Basically, Southerners apparently never really wash their cornbread skillets. At least not thoroughly. Why not? Well, the idea is that you let the oils from each cornbread seep into the skillet during each bake, and this is supposed to give your cornbread added flavoring.
So now with that in mind, back to the story — my wife had just received the Holy Grail of skillets — the one her mom and her mom’s mom had used. It’s truly special because it’s got all that historical cornbread oil in it, probably going back to cornbreads made during the Battle of Bull Run and Reconstruction itself. So now you ask: what did I do? In a moment of total brain freeze, I put it in the dishwasher. Yep. All that oil gone. That was a bad day. It probably didn’t help that a Yankee did the deed. It was the War of Northern Aggression all over again. I felt like a total dumb ass, but the deed was done.
In any case, I thought for sure that making this cornbread would open up that wound again. Not only would she hate the cornbread, but she’d get mad all over again about my admittedly stupid move with the dishwasher. Believe it or not, it never came up! Though she’ll probably read this post (my blog is on her Google Reader) and this will remind her of what I did, and I’ll be back in the doghouse again, and for doing something stupid twice. First, for dishwashing away Confederate age cornbread oil from her family skillet, and second, blogging about it when talking about my cornbread.
Cornbread is probably the easiest thing we’ll made so far in this challenge. It doesn’t even take particularly long from start to finish.The longest part of the process is the soaker, where you soak the corn meal in buttermilk. Reinhart says to soak this overnight, but to be honest I’m not sure it’s necessary to do so (my Arkansan mother-in-law doesn’t use a soaker, and I’m going to say that she’s an authority on cornbread). But even if you do use one, once you start putting things together you’ll be done in a little over an hour.
Also keep in mind that there’s no dough here. It’s not possible to get Reinharted, because there’s nothing to get to come together. In a way, making cornbread is really like making a cake. In fact, at the end I remarked to my wife that I should have used a springform pan, it would have been even easier.
Comments on the Process
Cornbread has two steps, (a) soaker, (b) mix/bake.
Step One – Soaker
As I mentioned above, the soaker is an overnight mixture of cornmeal and buttermilk. He may be right, but as I noted I’m not sold that the overnight is necessary. I’m sure a few hours would be fine, if even that. Most people I know who make cornbreads don’t soak anything at all. Still, I ran the soaker for the time required.
Step Two – Mix and Bake
The process here is terribly uneventful. There’s just much to say! You just add the ingredients – sugars, eggs, honey, salt, flour, corn, and a few other things, to the soaker and mix it all up. This is really just a process of making a cake batter. How much easier could it be? There’s nothing to mess up.
Step Two – Baking
Comments on the Final Product
Well, PR would be happy to know that my wife loved it. I was actually a bit shocked. I thought for sure I would get a lecture on how it didn’t measure up in <fill in the blank> ways. Hell, that’s what I would have done! She cut off a few slices and ate them up no problem at all. Of course, she said she preferred her mom’s (which does not use sugar, and which does not use real corn), but that’s fine with me. She even said that I needed to make this for her on her birthday. Well, no problem.
As for myself, I thought it was okay, but nothing more. I can’t really criticize the bread recipe, though, because as I said I’m just not that big a cornbread fan. So it’s hard for me to say “this is bad cornbread” or “this is average cornbread”. If you want to know about it’s goodness, I’d just go by my wife’s response, and again she loved it. The kids seemed to be underwhelmed by it, to be honest and my oldest one was a little freaked out by the bacon bits.
Here’s a number of shots of the final product:
One thing I did notice here was that this bread really didn’t photograph all that well. Partly it was because it was very crumbly, as you can tell from the shots. So no matter how I tried to take the picture, it always seemed to look like a big mess!
Next Week: Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread
I’m not fired up. Not a cranberry fan, and I don’t love walnuts. But that’s okay — the French and Italian breads are coming soon.
See you next week!