The quest for the perfect skillet cornbread

February 10, 2007 at 5:47 pm (AMA, breakfast, Grains, Mom’s recipes, Quick weeknight recipe, Soymilk, unrated, Website / blog)

I have tried many cornbread recipes over the years, but have not yet settled on my favorite recipe. I’ll record below some of the many recipes I’ve tried. All recipes are designed to be made in a 9-inch cast iron skillet, and cut into 12 pieces. Typically, rather than making plain cornbread, I pour the cornbread batter over beans to make tamale pie.

This is my mom’s vegan cornbread recipe:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.


  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2/3 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1-3 Tbl. sugar

Whisk together in a separate bowl, then add to dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup soymilk or 1 1/3 cups plain yogurt + 3 Tbs. water
  • 2-3 Tbl. oil

Pour into cast iron pan or 9 inch square pan. Mix sparingly. Bake about 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

This is a non-vegan but relatively light recipe originally from the AMA cookbook:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat an 8-inch-square baking pan or cast iron skillet with vegetable oil spray.
In a large bowl, mix together:

  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup white flour
  • 1.5 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbl. sugar

Whisk together in a separate bowl:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbs skim milk
  • 3 Tbs oil

Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk gently, until the batter has no lumps. Pour into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in the center of the oven until the corn bread is golden brown on top and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. Cut into 12 pieces and serve hot.

PER PIECE: About 112 cals, 37 cals from fat, 4g total fat, 1g sat fat, 18mg chol, 208mg sodium, 15g total carbs, 1g fiber, 3g protein

My Notes:

I had some yogurt I wanted to use up but no egg, so I tried to improvise by substituting 1 Tbs. oil and 3 Tbs. unsweetened soymilk for the egg. I also used stone ground cornmeal, and added 1/2 cup of frozen corn kernels and 1/2 small can of green chilis to the batter. I poured the batter over beans to make tamale pie. After 20 minutes the top was starting to brown nicely but the underside of the cornbread was totally raw. We left it in for another 20 minutes and it was still a bit underdone but very tasty. I’m not sure what caused it to take so long to cook–the missing egg, the stoneground cornmeal, or the chilis and corn?

Take two: I followed the recipe exactly this time, and used the stone ground cornmeal. It baked up just fine in the specified amount of time. So clearly the issue was the egg or the additions, not the cornmeal.

This is a flour-less, gluten-free, very buttery recipe:

This recipe was given to me by my friend Kathy. She found it posted on epicurious, but it was originally printed in Gourmet magazine, as the recipe of Susan Goss, chef at Zinfandel, in Chicago.

Chef Susan Gross says that the secret here is in her cast-iron skillet. Nonstick pans produce anemic, soft corn bread. This recipe also works well with corn-stick or muffin molds, as long as they’re well-seasoned cast iron. If your pan is hot enough, the batter will immediately rise and start to cook around the edges. (The restaurant’s skillets rarely leave the oven.) At Zinfandel, the corn bread is served with a wonderful spread. To make it, combine 1 stick of softened unsalted butter with 2 tablespoons buckwheat honey (another honey or pure maple syrup can be substituted).

  • 1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • Accompaniment: buckwheat honey butter

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Put a dry, well-seasoned 9- to 9 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet in middle of oven to heat. Stir together cornmeal, baking soda, and salt, crushing any small bits of baking soda. Whisk eggs in another bowl until blended and whisk in buttermilk.
  2. Remove hot skillet from oven carefully and add butter, swirling gently to coat bottom and sides of skillet. (If butter begins to sizzle and brown around edges, so much the better.)
  3. Whisk hot butter into buttermilk mixture and return skillet to oven. Stir cornmeal into buttermilk mixture just until moistened. (The batter doesn’t have to be smooth — a few small lumps are good.)
  4. Scrape batter into hot skillet and bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Invert skillet over a platter and cool bread at least 3 minutes.

Active time: 10 min, total time: 30 min

My notes:

Kathy and Spoons served this at their gluten-free 2006 Spoons’ birthday extravaganza, and it was delicious. Airy but substantial, with great big pieces of stone ground cornmeal and corn kernels (they added this–it’s not in the original recipe). I tried making it with normal fine-ground cornmeal, and it wasn’t that great. The crumb was very fine and it needed more salt (although I might have mis-measured the salt). Definitely not worth all that butter. I’ll have to try it again with stone ground cornmeal and see if it tastes like Kathy’s.

Update Feb 2012:  I made this gluten-free cornbread again using half masa harina and half “polenta”–a much coarser grind than normal cornmeal.  I cut the butter down to two Tablespoons and didn’t mix it into the batter, just left it on the bottom of the pan.  Instead of buttermilk I used about 1.5 cups whole milk yogurt plus 1/4 cup of water.  I added 2/3 tsp. of Morton kosher salt.  The cornbread came out well.  It had a nice texture and was crisp on the outside.  The flavor was salty and eggy, but pleasantly so.  (I might go back to 1/2 tsp. salt next time though.)  I’ll also add fresh corn next time!

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Tamale pie (Cornbread pie)

February 10, 2007 at 5:18 pm (Alma's faves, B plus (3 stars, like a lot), Beans, Derek's faves, Mexican & S. American, My brain) ()

Look in just about any vegetarian cookbook from the 70’s or 80’s and you’ll find a recipe for Tamale pie. True tamale pie is made with masa, but more often the topping is a simple cornbread. This is a great one-dish meal that’s healthy, filling, and hits the spot when then windchill is -15 and you’re in the mood for some comfort food.

Update 7/7/2019:

I made cornbread pie for lunch yesterday and it was a pretty big success. Everyone liked it, including Alma (at almost 4.5 years). I followed this AMA cookbook cornbread recipe for the cornbread portion, but I didn’t follow a recipe for the bean portion. I first sauteed up some red onion, garlic, green bell pepper, then added some finely chopped tomatoes and frozen corn, and seasoned the whole thing with cumin and a little chili powder and a little crumbled feta cheese, then added 6 cups of (already pretty nicely seasoned) pinto beans including the thick goo (essentially reduced cooking liquid) that surrounded them. I added the cornbread mixture when the beans were simmering, then I baked it in the oven for 20 minutes, following the cornbread instructions. The cornbread pie turned out well. The cornbread wasn’t soggy on the bottom, like it sometimes gets (presumably because the beans were hot when I added the batter, so it cooked the bottom).

In the past I’ve often felt like there was way too much cornbread in comparison to beans, but this time the ratio seemed right, because I added more beans and made a slightly smaller cornbread (only 1.5 cups of total flour not 2 cups). The only problem was that my cast iron skillet was so full it started boiling over a bit in the oven. Luckily I had put it on a baking sheet. But next time I think I will use slightly less beans—3 cups is clearly not enough, but 6 cups was a bit overfull. Maybe 4.5 or 5 cups? This time the cast iron skillet was almost completely full even before I added the cornbread. Next time I want there to be a tiny bit more space. Alternatively, I could try cooking it in cast iron my dutch oven.

The “recipe” as written above made a lot, maybe 8 servings? Derek and Alma and I ate it for brunch and there was more than half left.

Original post from 2/10/2017:

I don’t quite have a “recipe” yet–I tend to just eyeball it. But here’s approximately what I did last night:

  • 1/2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 cups of homemade, lightly salted, black beans, with their juice filling in the measuring cup
  • about 1 cup of Frontera salsa
  • 1/2 can diced green chilies (I put the other half in the cornbread)
  • ground cumin, maybe 2 tsp?
  • chipotle powder, maybe 1 tsp?
  • 3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
  1. I sauteed the garlic in my cast iron pan (I usually add onions too but I was out). Then I added the black beans and mashed them a bit with a potato masher. I added the other ingredients and just let the beans simmer while I made the cornbread.
  2. I preheated the oven to 425, then made the cornbread (I’ll post recipes in a separate post). I poured the batter on top, using a spatula to spread it out evenly. I baked for about 30 minutes.

This came out quite well–the beans were especially tasty. I usually use pintos but the black beans were nice as well. Derek thought the bean to cornbread recipe was too low, but I actually thought it was perfect. Maybe a compromise is to make extra beans and take them out before adding the cornbread, so Derek can have extra beans on the side?

Obviously, this “recipe” needs work, but I think it has great potential.

I made it again using 4.5 cups of canned beans and it still didn’t have enough beans.  I think next time I’ll try 6 cups of beans, and cut the cornbread recipe down from 3/4 cup of cornmeal and flour each to 1/2 cup.

Rating: B
Derek: A-

Historical tidbit: When I made fast food at my co-op in college, this was a regular. I’d get out all our cast iron pans (we had about 5 of them, and some were huge). I’d make an enormous pot of beans and tons of cornbread then fill them all up and bake them in batches. They were always popular, except for one time… I found some cute little red and yellow peppers in the fridge. They were tiny, colorful, and adorable. I thought they were some kind of mini bell pepper, so I threw them into the beans even though I’d already added jalepenos and chipotle powder. I discovered only after making all five enormous cornbread pies, that the peppers were actually habaneros. Many of the members of the co-op prided themselves on their love of (and tolerance for) spicy foods. But no one could down more than one bite of these cornbread pies. Sadly, they all ended up in the trash.

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