Friday, March 14, 2014

Whole-Grain Cornbread

As you may know, we eat a lot of beans. A. Lot. Of. Beans. as the young people say these days. Sometimes it’s rice and beans! And sometimes it’s just beans! Perfectly cooked pintos, say. (Don’t make me get all pressure cooker on you again.) It’s always exciting. I put out chopped raw onions, a little cruet of olive oil, some feta, fresh herbs, hot sauce, flaky sea salt—and everyone gets to top their own beans. Could there be a more delightful dinner? (Don’t answer that.)
But if company is coming, I occasionally lose my nerve around the serving of Just Beans in a Bowl! I do. And in those cases, corn bread is the card up my bean-loving sleeve. Corn bread is a crowd pleaser—pleasing crowds of children and grown-ups alike. Plus, it’s basically a thirty-minute round-trip excursion: into the oven by the time the oven preheats, then baked in another 15. 
A warm slab of sweet, grainy cornbread with a melting pat of butter? I mean, come on. Even if dinner is a kind of soup that you don’t like, the corn bread will work its good-natured magic on your meal mood, and you will find yourself saying, “I didn’t think the turnips and the parsnips would taste that good together? But it’s not even terrible.” While cheerful corn crumbs spray from your pleasant expression.
This corn bread is yet another example of how, for me, roughing up a white-flour recipe into a whole-grain recipe is win-win. It’s not at all an oh, well, it’s like chewing a cardboard-flavored wedge of particleboard but at least it’s healthy situation. Instead, it’s a nutty, deeply-flavored, tender-crumbed wonder, with a just-shy-of-custardy middle (you could bake this trait out of it, if you like) and a whiff of browned butter. Cheap, easy, wholesome, delicious.
Whole-Grain Cornbread
Serves 8-12

This is a loose adaptation of Joy of Cooking’s Northern Corn Bread recipe. The spelt is me, of course, and, also of course, I am using the maximum recommended allowances of butter and sugar. They call for ½ milk and ½ buttermilk, but I love the flavor you get from using all buttermilk—also the tender, almost custardy crumb of the baked cornbread. Leftovers, toasted and buttered, are sublime.

1 ¼ cups cornmeal (IF you can get freshly ground cornmeal, you will be ruined for life)
¾ cups whole spelt flour THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE (Okay, you could actually use white flour, but why would you?)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup sugar (feel free to use less)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
More butter

Heat the oven to 425 and put a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet in to heat. (Alternately, grease a 9- by 9-inch baking pan or dish, or the equivalent.)

Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Whisk together the buttermilk and eggs.

Fling a knob of butter (1 tablespoon, let’s say) into the pan that’s heating. If you’re using a greased pan, don’t do anything.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, start folding, then dump in the butter and fold together until the dries just disappear.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, which should be coated with browning, sizzling butter, and bake until it’s browned and seems springy, or at least not squidgy when you press the top (or stick a toothpick into it). Start checking it at 15 minutes, which is when I usually take mine out, even though the recipe says 20-25. Maybe this is because of preheating the pan, which is not in the recipe. A cold pan will doubtless take a bit longer.


  1. This sounds delicious and is the excuse I've needed to get a cast iron pan (I know, I know!).

  2. Ack, I just got a cast iron pan but it's 12 incher. Any suggestions, or should I just try to find a recipe that is meant for that size? Thanks!


    1. i guess you need to get a 9" skillet! LOL or double the recipe...

    2. Hi Loren, I think doubling the recipe would work perfectly for that size skillet! But it might take longer to bake. (I am sitting here trying to remember the area formula. 2 pi R. anyhoo. ... )

  3. We had corn bread the other night with our chicken chili. I love corn bread!!

  4. Eleanor2:21 PM

    We eat cornbread ALL the time (not always by my choice; my husband is gluten intolerant) and this one looks like a great alternative to my standard recipe. I always use freshly ground cornmeal, and it really does make a difference. Also, I grease my cast iron with bacon grease and that makes it even better. Although not healthier. Or vegetarian friendly. But tasty. :)

  5. Cast iron cornbread is really the best. My favorite way to eat cornbread is with a little dab of butter and some molasses drizzled over it. So good!

  6. Tracey10:50 PM

    Yum, this looks sooo good! I love cornbread, and this has inspired me to finally try spelt flour and get a cast iron pan. (I love the flavor and crust my cast iron Dutch oven lends to pot roast, so why on earth do I not yet own a pan, too?) Mouth watering... must make soon!

  7. never heard of Spelt... but you do have a good recipe... and yes, pre-heating your pan makes a big difference in the bottom crust.. i melt the shortning in the skillet in the oven while it is heating. it is ready to use in a minute or two. the extra 5 minutes of baking eliminates the custardy center which i particularly do not like... cornbread and a glass of milk... good for supper.

  8. Anonymous4:07 PM

    Looks delicious!

  9. shari8:09 PM

    can I just say that your picture of your cat in the middle of the cornbread pictures made me laugh out loud. love it!!

  10. This looks so decadent that you really didn't have to explain why it is so - on the other hand, since I can't eat spelt or any kind of gluten, I am REALLY GLAD that I can at least savour every bit of tasty crumb from your delicious story.

    Boy, do I love the way you write. And your decadent cat.

    1. I don't have a pressure cooker, but cooking my famous Black Bean Thing - in a cast iron pot - is one of my favourite winter culinary pleasures. It warms up the whole flat, it smells wonderful all day, and I feel rich with my bowl of dried beans expanding into a meal for 5.

  11. How would this fry up as a hoe cake? We're having our weekly beans and cornbread tonight like the good Southern family we are, but we are a house somewhat divided. I prefer the fried, and the man prefers pan bread (the little eats both with equal gusto), so I usually end up making both.

  12. Anonymous9:28 PM

    Marie Callender's organic cornbread is to die for…. I've used this mix for several years and everyone in my family loves it!! Now, it's sort of a tradition for me and the little ones to have weekly baking sessions with MC’s cornbreads and muffins. You should visit their website today to purchase your mixes. I’m sure you will enjoy the great taste!