This cornbread recipe, “California Cornbread”, comes from my cooking school archives. I can still remember tasting it for the first time, over 20 years ago! Rich with toasted pinenuts, roasted red pepper, orange zest, garlic, currants and corn kernels. Today that all sounds a bit over the top. A bit too “California cuisine”.
So, in the spirit of simplifying, I introduce you to Cornbread. Plain ole cornbread. Vivian Howard spent a whole show on it in December, “King Cornbread”—check it out to see her mother and Ms. Lillie in a cornbread cook-off. I learned that a splash of bubbly water will help lighten up the batter. And that honey or sugar is optional, a personal preference. I’ve always known that cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet really ups the homey, cozy factor at dinnertime. Serve with any entrée, but especially good with chili.
You can stir this up with a few pantry staples and another thing I hope you’re starting to keep on hand: buttermilk. You can add other ingredients if you want, but know that plain is great, and leftovers play well at breakfast, split and toasted.
- 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/4 cup soda water or mineral water
- 1/4 cup honey
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 3 eggs
For the pan:
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Optional additions—use none, any or all:
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels or from 1 ear of fresh corn
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/4 cup roasted red pepper finely minced
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves finely minced
- 3 garlic cloves finely minced
- 1 teaspoon orange or tangerine zest
Preheat oven to 400° F. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet in the hot oven to heat for 10 minutes (doing this gives the cornbread a crunchy exterior). Have your oven mitt at the ready so you can use it when you remove the pan from the oven to add the batter - please be careful.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, soda water, honey, melted butter, and eggs. Pour liquid ingredients over dry ingredients and mix just until moistened. Stir in the corn kernels or any other optional ingredients.
Remove hot pan from the oven (oven mitt!) and swirl 1 tablespoon butter around in the pan to coat the bottom and up the sides a bit. Pour batter into center of pan, return to oven and bake for 18 - 20 minutes. Cornbread is done when it is lightly browned on top and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. (If you're making the fully loaded version, bake about 30 minutes and check doneness by using a knife to poke the center. It will come out clean when the cornbread is done.)