Just in case you need a sweet, buttery bread to serve alongside your favorite dinners, I present to you: cornbread in all of its glory. I’m a Yankee; I never claim to be a Southerner. That said, no one has to be Southern-born to make a bomb cornbread. I’m proof positive. My cornbread is sweetish. It also has vanilla in it. If you’re rolling your eyes at either of the previous sentences, you need a cocktail. Cornbread doesn’t have to be controversial. It just has to taste good, and this one does.
What is Cornbread?
Different camps have differing opinions on what cornbread should and shouldn’t be. Someone sent me a very nasty email a couple of months ago. In it, the writer told me I wasn’t worthy of my chef’s coat. His rant went on to say something along the lines of, “You probably use yellow cornmeal and sugar in your cornbread recipe.” Uh…yeah, I do, and it’s incredible, so, what’s your point??
Cornbread is a quickbread of both cornmeal and flour. It’s become very popular here in the States because corn has always been plentiful here and because it’s so simple a recipe. It’s called a “quickbread” because it has no long proofing (rising) times like yeast bread. Some folks prefer theirs to have a sweet flavor. Others like theirs to be more on the savory side. I’m of the opinion that it should be just a smidge sweet. Not cake-like, but not bland and boring either.
Where does Cornbread come from?
Notice that the title of this recipe does not include the term “Southern” in it. That’s because I’m knowledgeable enough to know that my addition of eggs, vanilla, and a fair amount of sugar is not classically Southern. Unlike a lot of Southerners, I prefer rich, sweet cornbread. I am a Yankee, after all.
All of that aside, cornbread is probably one of the few recipes that are truly native to North America. The Indigenous peoples of this land taught the colonists how to incorporate corn into their diets. Cornbread developed from lifelong European breadmakers discovering that cornmeal works well in their flour-based bread, and birthing this lovely creation. It wouldn’t have been possible without the Native Americans, though.
Many different variations of cornbread exist. Some batters are thicker than the one here and are formed into balls and fried or baked into a dense loaf. Other batters are much thinner and griddled in a cast-iron skillet to form Johnnycakes. Corn pone, or skillet cornbread, is a very popular dish in the Southern United States, often made with self-rising flour and cornmeal.
Why is homemade Cornbread better than a box mix?
Homemade cornbread is yards ahead of box mix versions for many reasons. The main one being, you probably already have everything you need to make it in your pantry. You need to make no special trips only to pick up a box that’s been sitting on shelves for who knows how long.
Besides containing very accessible pantry ingredients, homemade cornbread is versatile. As I mentioned above, you can convert it from a pan of bread to muffins, to a skillet, to a pancake, to a hoecake, to a hush puppy. Add-ins are just as plentiful. With boxed mixes, there are so many unknowns: when was it produced, how much salt do I need to add or avoid adding, why are there bugs in my mix??
There are so many reasons to avoid the box stuff and make it from scratch, but the main one is: it just tastes better.
What do I need to make Cornbread from scratch?
To make this cornbread at home, you need yellow or white cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, melted unsalted butter, whole milk, vanilla extract, and an egg. The amount of sugar and the vanilla are adjustable. I don’t recommend the use of self-rising flour because I don’t believe in one-trick ponies. This is probably one of the only recipes I’d ever use it in, whereas, with all-purpose flour, I can use it in a lot more recipes. Plus, I don’t find the results (the rise) to be as satisfactory when I use self-rising flour.
Chopped jalapeños, crumbled bacon, diced ham, or cheddar cheese are other ingredients add-ins that will elevate this basic recipe.
How much Cornbread does this recipe make?
As written, this recipe makes one 8x8x2-inch pan of bread, one 12″ cast iron skillet loaf, or 12 muffins. Doubling it is easy, and I often do it myself when I want to have enough bread leftover to freeze. You can still bake the bread in one pan even if you double it. The loaf will just be thicker. For muffins, however, you need to divide the batter and bake them in two muffin tins.
Begin by brushing a thin layer of melted butter into your baking dish using a pastry brush. This recipe calls for a stick of butter that’s melted. I melt the butter in the microwave and use part of it (about 1 tablespoon) to butter my baking dish. Do this in any pan you’re going to bake in. If you’re making muffins, just use baking liners instead.
Set the greased dish aside while you prepare the batter.
What’s the best type of cornmeal to use in this recipe?
Again, this is a cornbread recipe written by a Yankee, so I believe yellow cornmeal is the best. Tons of Southerners prefer white cornmeal. I’m over here all, “Does it taste like corn? Is it made with corn? Then give it here so I can make my doggone bread!” Honestly, it’s not that serious. Do you want white cornbread or yellow? Whichever you like, use that.
The more important thing, for me at least, is to use medium ground cornmeal. Fine ground cornmeal (or cornflour) makes the cornbread too cakey for my liking. On the other hand, coarse cornmeal makes the bread too gritty after baking. Medium creates a good combination of texture and airiness.
Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together in a mixing bowl using a whisk. I usually sift my dry ingredients together. Here I prefer to whisk them. Set the dry ingredients aside.
Do I have to use butter?
While you don’t have to use butter in your cornbread batter, I see no good reason not to. Sure, oil is an adequate replacement, but it’s not as tasty as butter is. Butter stands alone in the flavor department when it comes to cornbread. Melt the butter until it is fluid.
While it cools, use a whisk to combine the whole milk, egg, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Be sure to have all of these ingredients at room temperature. If you add warm, melted butter to cold milk and eggs, the butter solids are going to firm and clump up on you. Instead, room temperature liquids mix with the melted butter smoothly, which is what you want.
Now add some, not all, of the melted butter. You are going to brush the rest of the butter onto the cornbread after baking. For now, just set it aside.
How long do I bake the Cornbread?
The dry ingredients and the wet ingredients have been combined separately; now, we bring them together in holy matrimony.
Pour the wet mixture into the bowl containing the dry. Use a rubber spatula to fold the two mixtures together, just until the flour and cornmeal are no longer loose. Try not to overmix the batter. Fold gently and only until the batter forms. This prevents the cornbread from baking up tough and chewy.
Scrape the cornbread batter into the pan you prepped earlier and use the spatula to smooth it out. If you’re making muffins, use a #30 portion scoop to scoop the dough into the prepared muffin pan.
Give the pan a couple of gentle raps against the countertop to expel any air bubbles and slide it into a 350°F (177°C) oven.
Bake the cornbread for 20-24 minutes, or until the top is a golden yellow color. Insert a toothpick into the center of the bread. If it comes out clean, the bread is ready to come out of the oven. If not, close the oven and bake the bread for 5 minutes more.
What do I do with the rest of the butter?
Once the bread is fully baked, remove it from the oven. Use a pastry brush to brush the remaining melted butter onto the surface of the bread. If the butter solidified while the bread was baking, just nuke it for 15 seconds to melt it again.
Allow the bread to cool slightly (or completely) before slicing and serving. If you’re making muffins, allow the bread to cool for 5 minutes, then remove them from the muffin pan and leave them to cool on a cooling rack. You can continue baking the rest of the muffin batter while these finish cooling.
How do I serve this Cornbread?
My family is addicted to this cornbread, so we don’t eat it like ordinary folks do. It’s been breakfast with coffee more times than I can count.
I suppose the standard way to eat or serve it is alongside something more substantial like a protein or stew. It can honestly be eaten by itself. Just slice and serve. Some folks like to crumble their cornbread into milk, buttermilk, or yogurt. Others sop up the pot liquor from their greens with it—still, some pair it with beans and rice.
Serve it warm drizzled with honey if you’re feeling fancy.
What’s the best way to store leftover Cornbread?
Once we’re done gorging on the cornbread, I pack leftovers away into a freezer storage bag or a food container. I store the bread on the countertop for 3 days, max. You can keep the bread in the fridge, but that butter will cause the bread to grow extra hard in that chilled air. If your bread is too hard for your liking, just pop a slice of it into the microwave. Warm it for 10-15 seconds, and it will taste as fresh as the day you made it.
It’s totally fine to keep it on the countertop, though.
Can I freeze it?
To freeze the cornbread after baking it, allow it to cool completely. Transfer the bread to a freezer-safe storage bag and freeze it for 3-4 months.
To thaw the bread, just pull it from the freezer and let it thaw on the countertop. Reheat the slices in the microwave for a fresher flavor.
What meals can I serve Cornbread with?
If you’re eating it for breakfast, just a drizzle of honey or a smattering of jam is all you need.
I like using the cornbread as a way to bulk up meals like my Black Eyed Peas and Rice, my Chicken Fried Chicken, or these Country Style Slow-Cooker Collard Greens. All are country dishes that epitomize comfort food. Even my Puerto Rican dishes go nicely with a few slices of this cornbread!
Whatever you decide to serve the bread with, be sure to make enough of it for seconds. There’s never been a time when my family didn’t want more than one slice or serving.
Be sure to share this recipe with the cornbread lovers in your life. Also, pin it to your breadboards for easy finding later.
Sweet, Buttery Cornbread
- 8x8-inch baking pan, muffin pan, or 12" cast iron skillet
- pastry brush
- 1 cup (135 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cups (125 grams) yellow cornmeal medium ground
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon (11 grams) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (6 grams) kosher salt
- 1 cup (240 milliliters) whole milk at room temperature
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter melted, separated
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C). With a pastry brush, brush a thin layer of the melted butter (about 1 tablespoon) into your baking dish* or line muffin tins with baking liners (you may want to spray non-stick muffin tins with baking spray as well).Set the greased dish aside while you prepare the batter.
Make the Cornbread Batter
- In a mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt together using a whisk. Set the dry ingredients aside.
- In a separate bowl, use a whisk to combine the whole milk, egg, vanilla extract, and 1/3 cup of the melted butter. Save the rest of the melted butter for brushing on the baked cornbread later.
- Pour the wet ingredients mixture into the bowl containing the dry mixture. Use a rubber spatula to fold the two mixtures together, just until the flour and cornmeal are no longer loose. Don't over-mix the batter, instead fold gently and only until the batter comes together.
Bake the Cornbread
- Scrape the cornbread batter into the pan you prepped earlier and use the spatula to smooth it out. If you're making muffins, use a #30 portion scoop to scoop the dough into the prepared muffin pan.
- Give the pan a couple of gentle raps against the countertop to expel any air bubbles and bake the cornbread for 20-24 minutes, or until the top is a golden yellow color. A toothpick inserted into the center of the bread should come out clean. If not, close the oven and bake the bread for 5 minutes more.
- Once the bread is fully baked, remove it from the oven. Allow it to cool for 1 minute on the countertop.Use a pastry brush to brush the remaining melted butter onto the surface of the bread. If the butter solidified while the bread was baking, just heat it in the microwave for 15 seconds to melt it again.
- Allow the bread to cool slightly (or completely) before slicing and serving. If you're making muffins, allow the bread to cool for 5 minutes, then remove them from the muffin pan and leave them to cool on a cooling rack. You can continue baking the rest of the muffin batter while these finish cooling.
Types of pans to use:
- 8x8x2-inch pan: bake 20-24 minutes
- 12" cast iron skillet: bake 20-24 minutes
- 12 muffins: bake 18-20 minutes
- 1/4 cup chopped jalapeños
- 1/2 cup cooked, crumbled bacon
- 1/2 diced cooked ham OR
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
Room Temperature Storage Instructions:
- Pack leftovers into a freezer storage bag or a food container.
- Store the bread on the countertop for 3 days. While you can keep the bread in the fridge, I don't recommend it because the butter will cause the bread to grow hard and stale faster.
- Warm leftover bread slices in the microwave for 10-15 seconds for a freshly-baked taste.
Freezer Storage Instructions:
- Cool the cornbread completely.
- Transfer the bread to a freezer-safe storage bag and press out any air.
- Freeze the cornbread for 4 months.
- Thaw the bread at room temperature on the countertop.
- Reheat the slices in the microwave for a fresher flavor.