Cornbread may not have been front and center, but we suspect it also was a source of contention during the Civil War. Or as it is also known: The War Between the Recipes. Even today, Southerners maintain that not even a smidgen of sugar should besmirch their beloved cornbread. Northerners, ever girding themselves for winter, like their cornbread a little sweet.
Southerners call for bacon fat, while Northerners think butter is just fine. There are buttermilk camps and plain milk camps. Then there are the doctorers, who can’t help but stir in some diced jalapeños, shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, corn kernels, even dollops of jam.
In the end, though, it all comes down to the corniness of the cornbread.
Today’s recipe combines the best parts of two great recipes — one from Cook’s Illustrated and the other from Cook’s Country — both under the umbrella of America’s Test Kitchen (although perhaps not on speaking terms).
In any case, the resulting cornbread uses 100 percent cornmeal (making it gluten-free) that gets a brief soak in buttermilk. It makes a good cornbread. But then we added the kernels from a couple of ears of sweet corn, puréed and cooked down just a bit into a sort of “corn butter.” It’s an extra step, but vaults this good cornbread into the territory of great and makes savvy use of this season’s sweet corn.
The Cook’s Country recipe works because the cornmeal softens in the buttermilk, making a moist bread with no graininess. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe works because puréeing the kernels avoids those weird chewy pockets in the bread, or corn that grows tough in the oven’s heat.
The recipes split on the sugar question, but we sided with leaving out the sweetener. That’s what a bit of honey is for, right?
If you have a cast-iron or other oven-proof skillet, please use that. But a regular 9- by 9-inch metal pan works well, too. Preheating either pan creates the crispiest crust. And if you want to swap in bacon fat for the butter, y’all go ahead.
After all, the idea is to ensure that a nation of cornbread of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth. Nor from our plates.