“Alabama Cornbread”

If you have ever spent any time at all in the American south, you will know that cornbread is a deadly serious subject. Every region has its own cornbread dogma, and the true believers in any particular state/county/town/swamp are not likely to welcome any suggestions or comparisons when it comes to their local product. This is both dangerous and unfortunate, since many areas of the south have what can only be categorized as nasty cornbread. In the low country of the Carolinas, for instance, they have a hard and fast rule that nothing approaching either flavour or texture should ever be found in their miserable yellow bricks of doom. If you are unfamiliar with the style of cornbread in a particular locale your best bet is to simply avoid it altogether. It saves all sorts of angst and embarrassment when your host asks you how much you love it.

This rule can be dispensed with in Alabama, however. The folk in Alabama know how to make seriously good cornbread. They like their ‘bread light and sweet, and don’t have the bizarre prohibition against sugar that you will find the Carolinas. This recipe is the real deal – I poached it from my friend Amanda who is Alabama born and bred, and while I have tweaked it specifically to be baked in a Big Green Egg or a hotter-than-average barbeque pit, it will work just fine in your kitchen oven too.
So grab yourself a hot cast iron pan and join me after the jump for some warm golden goodness.

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Cast iron pan? Yes. You can make this in a regular 8 or 9 inch baking dish, but you really want a cast iron skillet. Either a run-of-the-mill 8 or 9 inch skillet, or one like I have in the photos here with special cornbread wells or cutouts. You will get a lighter and fluffier bread and you will get the yummy crispy edges that transform cornbread into something divine. Trust me.

So – with cast iron firmly in hand, assemble your ingredients:

1-1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of fine yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup of regular yellow cornmeal (see note below)
1/4 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of milk
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten

A NOTE ABOUT CORNMEAL: If you are not a regular user of cornmeal you may be boggled by the selection at the supermarket. Yellow, white, fine, coarse, in between – there is an astounding array of stuff on the shelf. Which one to use? In the south you will find that people use coarse meal, period, but I think you do better with a blend. If for some reason you cant find or don’t want to buy two kinds of cornmeal, simply use 3/4 cup of whichever you prefer (fine for a softer bread, regular for more grit and crunch).

Get your cooker of choice (barbeque pit, Big Green Egg, oven, what have you) up to 400 degrees. Grease your cast iron pan (I use bacon fat for this, you can use shortening or a vegetable oil if you choose) and put it in the cooker to get hot. If you are not using a real pan, you can skip this step.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well with a fork or whisk. In a separate bowl combine the three wet ingredients and mix well. Stir your wet ingredients into the dry, mixing with a fork until just combined. Treat this like a muffin batter – do not overmix. Pour the batter into your hot greased pan – you should hear a bit of a sizzle – and put it back in the cooker for 20 minutes. Check it at this point and pull it out if the top is golden brown. If not, you can give it up to 5 extra minutes.
Serve warm as a side to ribs or chicken, or on its own as a snack with gobs of butter and honey.

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