10 November 2008

Gigi Louise's Cornbread

I think my bones must be made of cornbread. Wonder how far back up the old family tree you'd have to go to find a woman who didn't make cornbread? Gigi's was perfection. It had a substantial, crunchy crust that smelled like hot buttered popcorn. A hearty, toothy texture -- nothing cake-ish about it. Never sweet and never foo-foo'd up with corn or green chiles. No no no.

I've flirted around with all sorts of cornbread recipes. When I'm tired or pressed for time, I confess without shame that I whip out a package of Morrison's Corn Kit mix. Surprisingly good and not expensive. But this is a purely psychological boost -- it's really no harder to make from scratch.

I prefer an organic stone ground yellow meal from non-genetically modified corn, which, thankfully, is getting easier to find these days in stores like Whole Foods and Central Market. Sometimes I mix some flour in with the cornmeal, but generally I like a southern style corn-rich batter. And being the first native of the southwest on a solidly southern family tree, I have to whip out a batch made from southwestern blue corn every now and then just for the Dr. Seuss-ish spunk of it.

(For any beginners out there, it's handy to know there's a difference between 'corn meal' and 'corn meal mix' even though the packages can look very similar. Be sure to read labels!)

Gigi would also sometimes use a mixture of cornmeal and flour, but she told me she liked it best with cornmeal only. She said the very best she ever made was when she could get her hands on some freshly ground corn and make it right away the same day it was ground. I've done that a time or two with my grain mill. Wow. That and some butter and a big glass of tea... most salubrious.

Gigi Louise's Cornbread

corn oil for the skillet

1 cup corn meal (plus extra for priming skillet)
1 T sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1 large egg
1/2 c buttermilk (plus more to adjust batter thickness)

butter, for serving

Preheat oven to 425.

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Mix egg and buttermilk and stir into dry ingredients. If the batter seems too stiff or thick, add a little buttermilk. It should be a little thicker than pancake batter, but thinner and lighter than muffin batter.

Prime a 6-8 inch cast iron skillet as per note below.

Pour batter into the primed skillet. Check at 18-20 minutes; cornbread is ready when the top is dark golden yellow. (A double recipe will need a 10 inch skillet and will probably need a half hour or more in the oven.)

*Priming the skillet: Pour a shallow layer of corn oil in the bottom of your cast iron skillet and swirl it around so that the oil coats the sides. Use your fingers if necessary. Put the pan in the preheated oven for a few minutes to thoroughly heat the oil, then carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and quickly sprinkle a light layer of stone ground corn meal in the hot oil. Put the pan back in the oven for a couple of minutes, until the cornmeal starts to smell like popcorn. Now carefully pull the hot pan out of the oven, quickly pour in the batter and return the skillet to the oven. This is an old trick that will give your cornbread that fantastic crisp, aromatic crust.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this cornbread recipe -- it sounds scrumptious! When folks learn that I regularly take gourmet cooking classes, some from world class chefs (recently a former chef of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and also a former chef of Joseph Kennedy), they ask what my favorite dish is. Although the Braised Lamb Shanks from Jean Pierre Auge was definitely a favorite, I always answer that my favorite food is peas and cornbread. Cooked properly, it just doesn't get any better!

Dani said...

My grandmother makes amazing cornbread. After eating it for supper, we use to crumbly a piece up in a glass of milk for desert... Granddaddy taught us that. I always do it even now that I'm out on my own, but it never is quite as good as it was at their table after supper.