From America's Test Kitchen Season 5: Texas Rib House
Classic Southern corn bread is made in a ripping hot skillet greased with bacon fat, which causes it to develop a thin, crispy crust as the bread bakes. The resulting bread is moist and tender, with the aroma of toasted corn and the subtle flavor of dairy. Traditionally, Southern-style corn bread is made from white cornmeal and has only trace amounts of sugar and flour. We wanted to perfect the proportions of ingredients and come up with our own crusty, savory Southern-style corn bread baked in a cast-iron skillet. Departing from tradition, we chose yellow cornmeal over white—corn breads made with yellow cornmeal consistently had a more potent corn flavor than those made with white cornmeal. We chose a rustic method to incorporate the cornmeal—combining part of the cornmeal with boiling water to create a cornmeal “mush.” Corn bread that started with some mush had the most corn flavor, and it also produced a fine, moist crumb. We then stirred the buttermilk and egg into the mush before adding the remaining cornmeal and other dry ingredients. As for sugar, a small amount enhanced the natural sweetness of the corn. Finally, we poured the batter into a hot, greased cast-iron skillet to bake until crusty and fragrant.
Makes one 8-inch skillet of bread
Unlike its sweet, cakey Northern counterpart, Southern cornbread is thin, crusty, and decidedly savory. Though some styles of Southern cornbread are dry and crumbly, I favor this dense, moist, tender version. Cornmeal mush of just the right texture is essential to this bread. Though I prefer to make cornbread in a preheated cast-iron skillet, a 9-inch round cake pan or 9-inch square baking pan, greased lightly with butter and not preheated, will also produce acceptable results if you double the recipe and bake the bread for 25 minutes.