Have you ever had something work out that seemed so statistically unlikely, it felt like destiny? This happened today with our wedding date. Last weekend, we gave up our desired day in May to a couple that challenged our soft hold, as we weren’t ready to commit to a deposit. Just a few days later, we made the commitment but had to “settle” for June. Fast forward to this morning, and we received a call from the venue, saying the other couple moved their wedding date out. We immediately took back our original day! I let my mom know the good news, and she said “Oh, that’s easy to remember because it’s the last four of our phone number.” I hadn’t made that connection. Amazing right? Destiny.
If I had to pick one recipe significant to our relationship, it would be Southern Skillet Cornbread. I loved cornbread growing up – sweet and cakey Northern-style cornbread that is. I knew of nothing else…until I met my fiancé. He introduced me to the world of Southern cornbread. This is skillet cornbread with little to no sugar, no flour, and a satisfying crunchy exterior. A completely different animal, but one I have grown to love just as much as Northern cornbread.
Mr. A’s favorite cornbread is from a cafe in Alabama. I’ve never been to Alabama, but I was determined to bake a close replica. My base recipe is from Sean Brock, executive chef at Husk. His version is the real deal and recommends fresh cornmeal from Anson Mills. Serious Eats has a great read on the significance of using of fresh, stone-milled cornmeal, and the evolution of cornbread from unsweet to sweet. Using high quality cornmeal yields a naturally fluffy cornbread with a hint of sweetness. No sugar or flour needed.
For my first two years of baking cornbread, I used the supermarket variety as Anson Mills is only found online and comes at quite a premium. Their coarse cornmeal is actually finer and softer than the “fine” cornmeal at the supermarket. When using the supermarket variety, I prefer fine-ground cornmeal from Bob’s Red Mill and add another egg to increase the rise. I keep it sugar and flour free. Occasionally I’ll add diced serrano chilies or bacon bits to spice things up. Mr. A declares it almost as good as the one from Alabama. Considering I’ve yet to eat Southern-style cornbread outside of my own kitchen, I’ll take that as a win!
Southern Skillet Cornbread
- 2 cups Anson Mill cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 4 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon fresh lard, melted (or butter)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk
- Optional: Diced chile peppers to taste or bacon bits
*If using supermarket cornmeal, pick fine or medium ground. It won’t be as fluffy or naturally sweet. Add 1 extra egg to help the rise.
- Heat the oven to 450° F. Place a 10″ cast-iron skillet inside.
- In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
- In a medium bowl, combine 4 tablespoons of lard, 1 egg, and the buttermilk.
- Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until smooth. If you are adding chilies or bacon, stir them in now.
- Move the skillet from the oven to the stove top, over high heat. Add the remaining lard to the pan and swirl to coat. Pour in the batter; it should sizzle vigorously. Shake the skillet to distribute it evenly. Cook 12-16 minutes, until the sides are golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.