10 November 2008

Gigi Louise's Cornbread

I think my bones must be made of cornbread. Wonder how far back up the family tree I would have to go to find a woman who didn't make cornbread? 

My Gigi Louise's cornbread 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. No no no. And no need whatsoever for foo-foo. Cheese and/or green chiles, I'm looking at you. (If that's what you're after, I advise enchiladas.) Hot cornbread with a slather of soft butter hath no need of gussying.

I prefer stone ground yellow meal from non-GMO corn, which, thankfully, is getting easier to find. And I want ALL cornmeal. In the foolishness of my youth, I deviated from matriarchal wisdom and experimented with mixing in some flour. I soon straightened up; there's just no need. You can't improve on the toothsome texture of old-time corn-rich batter, cooked right. 

Being the first native of the great 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. Blue cornbread! Even Gigi Louise thought that was fun.

Gigi said the very best cornbread she ever made was when she could get her hands on some freshly ground corn and make it the same day the corn was ground. I've done that a time or two with my grain mill. Wow. Most salubrious. 

One note: 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 Louise's Cornbread

oil and butter for the skillet

1 cup stone ground, medium-grind corn meal
a small handful of coarse grind corn meal (for priming skillet)*
1 T sugar (or less)
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 F.

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. This is KEY. Do not skip!

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 a little more time in the oven.)

*Priming the skillet: Pour a shallow layer of vegetable 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. Toss in a tablespoon of butter. Put the pan in the preheated oven for a few minutes to thoroughly heat the oil and melt the butter, then carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and immediately 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 but before it turns brown. Now carefully pull the hot pan out of the oven, 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.