Scratch Cornbread Recipes
Here are a few favorites from my experiments with cooking cornbread from scratch.
Some Helpful Tips on Scratch Cornbread Baking
My self-interest in the craft of baking cornbread has taught me quite a few very handy lessons in the scratch baking of cornbread. My first tip: NEVER be intimidated by a food or recipe because it's old-fashioned or new-fangled or whatever. Knowing is half the battle. After a couple of tries with scratch cornbread you will develop an intuition for the process that will produce few mistakes, most of which will be more of a spectrum of great to life-changing.
I almost always use cast-iron. This may be a skillet, or it could be a corn stick cast-iron pan. Pyrex or a muffin tin will certainly work, but I won't cover them here.
The better the seasoning (a polymer produced by oil that has been heated on the cast iron) on your cast-iron, the easier the cornbread will separate from the skillet or pan without sticking. I won't pontificate on the care or maintenance of cast iron cookware here, but it will suffice to say that you should always keep your cast iron well seasoned, and NEVER let it sit around wet. You can always thoroughly dry your cast iron by heating it up to evaporate any residual moisture.
Cast iron is heavy. I have a few scars that I consider the price of my hard earned knowledge of cornbread cookery. You will want some good oven mitts for handling your skillets and pans and Dutch ovens. Even if you're the kind of cook who spent some time in a restaurant kitchen grabbing anything hot with a terrycloth towel, don't risk it. Get some good mitts. I have two pairs, and some leather welder's gloves to boot.
When a hot skillet comes out of the oven you're going to want to have a spot ready for it to sit. I'm not here to lecture you on the way you keep your kitchen, but your skillet is definitely going to melt any plastic it touches, and it can scorch a number of other surfaces.
Despite my advice to buy more gear for your kitchen, I'm no fan of fooling with things I don't need, so I just set my skillet on the range on top of my (gas) stove when it's hot. For those of you with glass top stoves, you're going to need a trivet. If you're cooking with other chefs, do them a favor and let them know the skillet is hot. Even better, leave a mitt on the handle of the skillet, or buy one of those silicone handle covers (I know, more gear) for your skillet.
When your (rather loose) batter goes into your cast iron, you're going to want that cast iron really hot. I like to look for that first wisp of smoke from the (copious) oil in the heated vessel. When I say oil, I also mean melted butter or whatever you're using to grease your cast iron. I've used everything from coconut oil to lard. You want a satisfying sizzle when the batter goes into the cast iron. A rubber spatula is great to make sure all of your batter turns into delicious cornbread instead of going down the drain when you wash your mixing bowl.
I don't think I've ever used an oven that was perfectly calibrated, ever. Make your first try baking cornbread a study in the behavior of your oven. You can get a thermometer if you want, but honestly it's superfluous. If your oven can make it up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (I suggest baking at 450), you can bake cornbread. A simple toothpick test will give you a solid idea of the doneness of your cornbread.
I've taken a knife to slice a piece of cornbread out of my skillet, and unsurprisingly it left a nasty scratch. Years ago we had a bit of a pizza baking obsession which led to the acquisition of two pizza peels. You can always turn out your cornbread onto a cutting board or butcher's block, but a pizza peel will make it easy to slice your cornbread and get your cornbread back into your skillet for warmth and a nice presentation. Firmly hold the peel over your skillet, flip it over and carefully but solidly give it a smack onto you counter. when you remove the skillet from the peel, you should be greeted by the beautiful sight of a golden brown patina on the bottom of your cornbread. After slicing (and a bit of tidying) a reverse of this process can get your sliced cornbread back into your skillet. It turns out that a pizza cutter is a great tool for slicing up your cornbread.
All cornmeal is not equal. The best cornmeal you can buy (mine) will not taste all that great after three months in a cupboard. Therefore, any whole-grain whole kernel cornmeal needs to be frozen if it is stored for any significant duration. The oils that make freshly-ground milled goods so much more remarkable that their inferior shelf-stable counterparts are an Achilles' heel. These products are very susceptible to staleness and rancidity.
Corn flour work great also, but it may take a moment longer in the oven to cook in the center.
Store your good whole-grain products in your freezer, or at least your fridge.
Baking soda is very useful for absorbing odors in your fridge. The implication here is that baking soda can become very unpalatable if stored incorrectly. Baking soda right out of a freshly opened package is best, but a plastic baggie for your open box of baking soda will buy you some more time.
I've never bought into the idea of "light" or "diet" or "reduced fat" foods. My unsolicited (perhaps unwelcome) opinion on the topic is that it's a false economy. If you want to let your cornbread be all it can be, use buttermilk. For that matter, always use heavy cream when called for. If you're worried about your health, leave the table a little hungry and you will probably live a long life.
I hope these tips help you in your efforts. I wish you luck.