Skillet Cornbread: Make It from Scratch or Use a Boxed Mix

Lori Lamothe

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(Theryn Fleming/Flickr)

If you're going to make cornbread, the best way to make it is in cast-iron. I've been partial to skillet cornbread since my waitressing days, when I worked in a D.C. restaurant that served it in round 6.5-inch pans. There was something so much more homey about starting off a meal with mini-cornbread than plopping down a basket of rolls. The easy quick bread stays warm and pairs with just about anything: jam, butter, honey, cheese, chili, fried chicken or soup, to name just a few.

Another plus is that you can vary basic cornbread endlessly. If you prefer sweet cornbread, it's easy to add sugar, honey or maple syrup to the mix. If you like your cornbread savory, add jalapeno, hot pepper sauce or onions. If you want your cornbread to serve as a meal, add bacon and cheddar.

Last but by no means least in this economy, cornbread is cheap. If you make it from scratch, it will cost you a couple of dollars at most. It's just as inexpensive if you buy boxed cornbread and cook it in a skillet. You'll still get the same crisp edges and soft crumb inside.

Last year Southern Living blind taste-tested boxed cornbreads and I was pleased that two of my favorites ranked in the top 4. Krusteaz Southern Cornbread came in a close second and Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix placed third, to the editors' surprise. I've been a fan of the Krusteaz brand for a while but I also think Jiffy gives you a bang for your buck. It's super sweet but not bad—and you can't beat the price, which is less than a dollar.

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(Spicysouthernkitchen.com)

Cornbread's origins

While cornbread has been ever popular in the South, its origins date back to the Native Americans. Native American tribes made an early version of cornbread using only a few ingredients: cornmeal, water, and salt. Corn was a staple of their diet because it thrived even in the most unfavorable soil.

Each tribe's version of the quick bread varied slightly. The Iroquois recipe called for cooks to pound corn kernels into flour and add enough flour to make a paste, to which they sometimes stirred in berries and nuts. They dropped the portions of the batter into boiling water and cooked it until cornbread dumplings floated to the top. The batter was also cooked in fire pits or fried in sunflower oil.

When settlers arrived in America, Native American cooks taught them how to form flat cakes from cornmeal, fat, and water. Colonial bakers soon added in other ingredients like eggs, yeast and molasses. In the North, cornbread morphed into a sweeter, cakier dish. In the South, it was often on the savory side and was made with lard or bacon drippings.

It's healthier than you think

Cornbread is an excellent source of phosphorous, which is important for bones and teeth. It also helps with DNA production and energy storage. According to Heathline, a single serving contains a whopping 20 percent of our DV.

Cornbread also contains selenium, an antioxidant that helps protect against cell damage. In addition, it has calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, folates and vitamins A, B-6 and B-12.

Making cornbread from scratch is not much more work than buying a boxed mix and it is better for you. Boxed mix ingredients vary according to the brand, but they can include excess sodium, sugars and animal fats. Either way, cornbread is healthier than you think:

More reasons that corn bread is good for you come from newer research. Corn bread contains all 10 of the essential amino acids, building blocks for proteins that control growth, cellular processes and organ function. --Laura Reynolds, Livestrong

To start, follow the classic cornbread recipe below. You can vary it by using the suggestions below or click on one of the links to find even more variations.

Classic Skillet Cornbread

Ingredients

1/4 cup butter

1½ cup yellow cornmeal

¾ cup flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1½ cups buttermilk

2 eggs

2 tablespoons butter

⅓ cup honey or 2 teaspoons sugar (if you want sweeter cornbread)

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.

2. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.

3. Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

4. Add buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter to the cornmeal mixture. Stir until just combined.

5. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to skillet and allow to melt over medium heat, tilting to coat the whole pan.

5. Pour batter into skillet and allow to cook for one minute.

6. Bake skillet in the oven for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned on the edges and a toothpick comes out clean.

I've been on a brown butter kick lately, so of course I love this recipe. If you want to jazz up your cornbread, Serious eats lists adds ins to make maple walnut cornbread, orange cranberry cornbread, cheddar bacon and scallion cornbread, Jalapeno Jack cornbread and roasted pepper cornbread. There are many other possibilities:

Add 1/2 cup bacon bits.

Add a can of green chili peppers.

Add 1 cup of corn.

Add 1/2 cup of roasted red peppers.

Add 2 teaspoons of chili powder.

Add 1-2 tablespoons of herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, chives, or parsley.

Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of cheese: try cheddar, mozzarella, Gouda, Havarti, or Parmesan.

Substitute maple syrup for the honey or sugar.

Add orange zest.

If you're baking for two, you can try this small-batch corn bread recipe via Cookie Madness, which uses a 6.5-inch skillet.

Small Batch Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornmeal fine corn flour works too (85 grams)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (50 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (25 grams)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter melted

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a 6.5-inch cast iron skillet inside to heat while you make the batter.
  • In a medium size bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk in the milk, buttermilk, and egg. Whisk in almost all of the melted butter, reserving about 1/2 tablespoon for the skillet later on.
  • Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  • Add the reserved butter to the hot skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet (it should sizzle and butter should pool around it) and place it in the center of the oven. Bake until the center is firm and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes and serve.
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(Cookie Madness)

Looking for more? Check out these 22 sweet and savory cornbread recipes from Taste of Home.

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Writer, assistant professor, former baker. I cover cold cases, history, recipes, and culture. If you have a story idea you'd like me to investigate, you can email me at lorilamothe29@gmail.com.

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