BBA #10: Cornbread

March 12th, 2011 by Chris


I figured this week I was in big trouble.

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.

Difficulty

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

Before adding the ingredients to the pan, you need to also bake some bacon. After you do so, you use some of the fat and grease the pan with it, and then add the batter to the pan, once you’ve heated the pan up with the fat inside. Then you push down the crumpled bacon bits into the batter. Put it in the oven and wait. Simplistic. Don’t even need a peel.
Some problems: Okay, it wasn’t entirely uneventful. The instructions said that it should take 30 minutes. Believe it or not, it took mine an hour to bake to get it to the stage that PR says it should be at the end (firm but springy, lightly browned top). The only thing I can imagine is that I used a 9-inch pan, so mine was higher than it should have been. But even this was easy to problem solve, since you’re basically just waiting for it to get to be that texture/color.

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:

 

Top Shot Still in Pan

Not a bad top shot, I don’t think. And here’s another slice shot.

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!

22 Responses to “BBA #10: Cornbread”

  1. Joanne Says:

    Wow!! You put a cast iron skillet into the dishwasher? She had every right to be upset over that one…. major mess up!

    I did this one last week to go with some chili beans I made for dinner. For cornbread it turned out ok, but I would leave out the corn definitely next time. Not sure I would bother with the bacon either.

    http://journeywithbaking.blogspot.com/2011/03/corn-bread-muffins-and-soup.html

  2. Chris Says:

    Joanne,

    Yep. I did. But it was more the loss of the historical oils than the skillet she was mad about.

    My mother-in-law doesn’t use corn either. My wife said she prefers it with no corn, but she thought adding the corn is good too, it’s just different. I think it comes out more moist with the corn added.

    Also, I notice you made yours as cupcakes. When this was finished, I thought immediately that it would have worked better as muffins. I think if I make it again I’d do that, and I think I might drop the bacon too. I’m not sure.

  3. jim Says:

    Chris, I’m Happy for you,after the dishwasher incidence,You must know your wife is an exceptional person,especially in the forgiving department.I agree with her, I loved this recipe,being a corn bread lover helps alot.I have often made corn fritters using whole corn,they do add moisture and crunch.This is a simple recipe, as PR stated he only added to it the ‘bread book’ because he loved it.
    I did use a 10 ” spring form pan,look out, the bacon grease leaked out,fortunaely I placed a baking pan underneath on a lower shelf as a precaution,glad I did.
    I loved the crunch of the corn kernels and the bacon topping,some call it ‘Vitamin B’.The only thing I would add would be some type of diced onion and some heat,jalepeno maybe,cheese would would be nice too.
    The cooking time for me was also much longer,46 min,and it never reached 185 degrees,only 145?
    I posted my photos here:
    http://ovenminded.blogspot.com/

  4. Joanne Says:

    Chris,

    Yes, I understand how she would feel, sometimes losing something from your history can be very hard. Sounds like she loves you though, and has forgiven you.

    I think these would work even better with a non-stick muffin pan, or with a cornstick cast iron pan. Like this one:

    http://tinyurl.com/4lywkzc

    If I made cornbread often, I would use the cornstick pan. Definitely no corn though….

  5. Adam Says:

    Heck, I’m not a southerner by any means and I’d be tempted to Dexter someone with a cast-iron skillet if they used soap on the couple years of seasoning I’ve got on mine! (I think it’s more a non-stick thing than a flavor-thing, though.)

    My cornmeal is soaking. And I’m planning on some jalapeños and cheddar cheese in place of some of the sugar after what I’ve read of all y’all’s results.

  6. Chris Says:

    Adam,

    If you told anyone in Christie’s family that all that seasoning was just for non-stick purposes, you’d certainly get skilleted in the skull for sure.

    I didn’t think the sugar stuck out much, by the way. Apparently jalapenos are popular – I’ve heard lots of people suggest it.

    I’m not sure I think cheese would be a good addition, but I’m not a cornbread fan so what do I know?

  7. Geraint Says:

    I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on this recipe for two reasons: (1) although I’ve made cornbread a few times I’ve never experienced an ‘authentic’ one, and (2) the recipe I made merely resembled the recipe in the book.

    For instance, buttermilk is possibly available locally, but I couldn’t find any; I substituted sour cream & whole milk (1/3rd s.cream:2/3rd milk). I didn’t do an overnight soaker either, but warmed the milk slightly, mixed it with the sour cream & polenta & let it stand for an hour & a half. I also left out the bacon as I’ve given up meat for Lent. Although I found the idea unappealing, I did add the corn, but only because we had two cobs in the fridge that needed using.

    I only made half the quantity because in my experience cornbread stales quickly and because Tess told me she didn’t like it and wanted rice with her chilli instead.

    I baked the batter in a non-stick loaf pan. It rose to the top of the tin during the first part of the bake, but was nowhere near done when I tested it after 30 mins, & collapsed once back in the oven. It took a further 15mins to be fully baked, although I could have given it even longer as it was still a bit too moist & dense. I wondered if the lack of overnight soaker might have been the cause of the extended baking time, but having read Chris’ experience, it now seems unlikely. The moisture content does mean this is still in good condition on Day 3.

    I found this recipe far too sweet for my tastes. Tess however, really liked it & has consumed far more of it than me; so this recipe has made at least one cornbread convert.

    If I made this again (which I would do if I came across some buttermilk), I would leave out the corn kernels and at least half the sugar and/or the honey. And I would include fresh chillis.

  8. Frieda Says:

    *gasp!* In the dishwasher?!? I’m not sure how I would have handled that one…but I’m glad she enjoyed the cornbread. I made mine into muffins (sans corn) and did the bacon thing. It was on the sweet side, but the family loved the addition of bacon.

  9. Coz Says:

    Chris, thank you for being daring to share your cast iron pan story. I feel bad that happened but if did put a smile on all of our faces. That is something I would do. Just think, you should start using that pan again and start a new generation of oils in it!!

    My blog is updated at http://www.scratchbaker.blogspot.com

  10. jim Says:

    Coz: Love the photo shot!Looks like an add in a foodie mag!

  11. NancyB Says:

    Chris found my blog post already and linked it above. Like most of you, I’d skip the corn kernels if I did it again. I didn’t find it as objectionably sweet as I expected, coming from a “no sugar in cornbread” upbringing, but on the other hand I didn’t see any need for the sugars and honey and will go back to my old unsweetened cornbread next time. Baked in my well-seasoned cornbread skillets or cornstick pan. :)

  12. Geoff Says:

    Oh man – I just about peed myself… cast iron in the dishwasher… oh lord, jewlery my man, jewlery.

  13. Joanne Says:

    I just love the display pic by Coz. Just looks so good! Now I am hungry….

  14. Geoff Says:

    One thing I didn’t see – you don’t preheat the pan? When Danae makes it she preheats the pan till it’s about smoking hot so there’s a good crunchy crust along the pan side. That would really cut down the cooking time too.

  15. Joanne Says:

    Is that for cast iron? Makes a lot of sense to do that Geoff.

  16. Chris Says:

    Geoff –

    Yep. I’ll be hearing about that one for a loooong time. I did heat up the pan beforehand in this case, as the directions suggested. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference, but it could have been the type of pan perhaps. A cast iron pan would probably keep the heat collected more efficiently?

    I love Coz’s shot!

  17. Adam Says:

    Just thought I’d update the thread here with my results from the corn bread challenge: http://wr.freeminds.net/?p=617 A week late, but I also include a week’s worth of tips about what to do with the leftovers!

  18. Jerry Falek Says:

    Good judgment is based on experience. Experience is based on bad judgment. A story is an opportunity to learn from someone else’s bad judgment.

    Iron skillets across the country are breathing a sigh of relief, and the rest of us will never put them in a dishwasher.

  19. Joanne Jones Says:

    Lol, Thanks for the smile and laugh this morning! Yes, skillets across the country are breathing a sigh of relief!

  20. saltandserenity Says:

    Thanks for sharing your cast iron story! I like to believe I am not alone in screwing up big time. I can feel your pain. After my husband’s mother died, he had 5 of the last peach pies she baked in the freezer. I accidentally left the freezer door ajar before we went away for a weekend and the pies thawed and spoiled. 22 years later he still remembers!

  21. Joanne Jones Says:

    Sigh, I have my fair share of those stories too. I’m so very glad that my family loves me, cuz I have done some really hair-brained things through the years!

  22. A Ku Indeed! » Blog Archive » BBA #12: English Muffins Says:

    [...] after two challenges that I had little interest in (the Cornbread and Cranberry-Walnut Bread challenges) I was definitely psyched up to do this one. Why? Well, two [...]

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