Living on the coasts (first Northeast, then West), for most of my life I was unaware that there exists a cornbread divide, a culinary Mason-Dixon line separating the North from the South. Apparently Southern cornbread, cooked in an iron skillet (and sometimes fried afterwards), is dense and moist, with a crunchy crust. But most notably, it tends to be made without sugar- if it’s sweet, it’s not cornbread, at least according to Southern purists. In the North, on the other hand, cornbread tends to be lighter and sweeter, made with sugar or molasses. So-called “Yankee cornbread” is usually made with yellow cornmeal, as opposed to the white cornmeal most popular in the South. I’m a Northerner, as far as my geographical roots go, but growing up in in the middle of Manhattan, I can’t say that cornbread was a major part of my upbringing, so I’ve remained blissfully neutral as far as the controversy goes.
Heading to a Super Bowl party last Sunday, I got the urge to bring homemade cornbread along, but what sort? It was a group of grad students, which immediately suggests they’d be happy to eat almost anything homemade, but even so, knowing that some had spent time in the South while others hailed from the North, it was unclear which sort to make. Beyond that (and more importantly, in my mind), I figured some would want to slurp up meaty sauces with their cornbread, while others might prefer it with my homemade Gaviota strawberry preserves from the summer. So I needed a cornbread that would suit both salty and sweet accompaniments.
This recipe, found on Baking Bites, did the trick. It leans a bit towards the Yankee side, I’d say, with a hint of sugar and honey and the yellow cornmeal, but it’s not so sweet that it couldn’t be eaten alongside a big bowl of chili or other savory fare. (Which reminds me of the story of the last cornbread we had, a fabulously sweet Northern version- Dylan crumbled it into a potato-chanterelle soup only to find out later that it was made half with yellow cake mix. Soup and yellow cake…what a combination.) Indeed, the cornbread was a hit and seemed to please the entire crowd, from North to South. So if you’re a die-hard Southerner or Northerner, stick with what you love. But if you’re aiming to please a larger audience, and are looking for a happy medium (a cornbread compromise, if you will), this recipe should fit the bill.
Buttermilk cornbread (serves 12)
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1. Preheat oven to 400F and lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
2. Whisk the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and sugar in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, beat buttermilk, egg, honey and vegetable oil until well blended. Stir in dry ingredients, mixing until no streaks remain.
3. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 400F for 23-28 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the bread pulls away from the side of the dish slightly.