Cornbread making is a true kitchen art, and even the best cooks have to practice it. So don’t freak out if your first attempts are disappointing. The secrets include a hot oven, a hot skillet, and a moist batter.
These ingredients are liable to vary widely: the dryness of the meal, the moisture content of the sour cream, the size of the eggs. So you have to be willing to guess a lot. Eventually you’ll do this without using measuring cups or spoons. You’ll just throw everything into a bowl and mix it up.
I’ve never used anything to make cornbread but a large, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. You can certainly adapt this recipe to your favorite technique.
And it’s easiest if you mix all the runny things first and then add the dry things. But you want to start with eggs, then oil, and then milk. If you add pickled jalapenos and/or sour cream to your eggs it might curdle them.
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil: see my note at the bottom***.
Milk, half&half or cream — whatever is on hand.
1/2 c sour cream
Self-rising corn meal mix (yellow is best, but white is OK. If you can get the buttermilk kind, that’s even better.)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (sharp, medium or mild — your call)
Diced jalapeno pepper (I like the small cans already diced. If you’re brave, you can dice your own fresh ones.)
Put 2 T oil in your skillet and put into the oven to heat at 400 degrees. You want a hot oven and a hot oiled skillet to start with.
Crack the eggs into your mixing bowl and stir lightly with a fork.
Blend in 2 T canola oil and about 1/2 cup of milk. This isn’t precise and I’ll explain why in a minute.
Add in sour cream and a heaping cup of corn meal mix. Don’t be afraid.
Add cheese and jalapenos. Start with 2 T of the peppers, unless they’re fresh or unless you’re new at this.
Now here’s where the artistry comes in. There’s almost no way to mess up this cornbread, especially if you have no preconceived idea of what it’s supposed to be when it’s done. But you do want it to be moist.
What you want is a batter that’s about like sour cream. You want it to flow into your skillet with the help of a spoon, but you don’t want it to be too thick. Nor do you want it as runny as pancake batter. So here you’ll add a couple of tablespoons of milk to thin it down, or a couple of tablespoons of meal mix to thicken it up.
You can’t go wrong. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll end up with too much batter, and that just means more cornbread.
When the oven has reached 400 degrees, remove the hot skillet. Be very, very careful at this point. Remove children, pets, and clumsy relatives from the area.
Gently spoon the batter into the skillet and bake for 10 minutes. Then check the bread by jiggling the skillet handle. If the top of the bread shivers, give it another 2 to 5 minutes. The bread is ready when it pulls away from the sides of the skillet.
If you’re happy with the way your bread looks when it comes out of the oven, or if the idea of flipping makes you nervous, you can just serve it straight from the skillet. If you’ve used an aluminum pan for your baking or you’ve made muffins, you can just skip this part.
To finish the bread, you want to flip it out onto a ceramic plate, upside down. Then slide the bread back into the hot skillet, bottom side up, and leave it for a few minutes. This gives the top a nice color.
Flip the bread back onto the plate right side up to serve.
Don’t forget to turn off the oven.
I always put butter and honey on the table. But sometimes we just think they’re superfluous.
And if you’re easily distracted and tend to burn things, it’s a good idea to have a loaf of French bread on standby.
***A word on oils
Canola oil seems to be the food snobs’ latest whipping boy. It comes from rapeseed, which gets people all aflutter. Rape is the Latin word for “turnip” and is a plant from the mustard clan, which is high in erucic acid. So somebody reengineered both the oil and the name to let folks know, hey, this is CANadianOilLow(erucic)Acid, abbreviated CANOLA. My advice is to read both sides of the argument and shop carefully. A good organic canola oil is great in recipes where olive oil is just wrong. Or you can pay more for something else if it makes you feel better.