They hunt me down

Come now. You didn't really think we'd make it all the way through November without a single corn bread recipe, did you? You did? That's okay. To be perfectly honest, I did, too. Enough is enough is enough is enough. I thought. But it's no use. These corn breads, they hunt me down. They sneak up out of nowhere and tap me on the shoulder like Eli sometimes does when I'm hunched over my computer writing, only instead of screaming and banging my knee on the desk, I pull out a skillet.

I hope you know that I wouldn't dare crowd our plates with another cornbread if it weren't something special. I may say that about all my corn breads, but that doesn't make it any less true. This one sprang from the pages of Melissa Clark's most recent book, Cook This Nowan endorsement in itself when you consider that Clark is also the source of a certain very special snacking cake that makes me want to applaud every time I bake it. I gave the book to my mother sometime last year, and when I went home to Ohio for the holiday I found it, appropriately stuffed with page markers, on a shelf right by the kitchen. This recipe is one she hadn't gotten to, not yet, but I had a good feeling about it - something having to do with the words "corn" and "bread" and "Melissa" and "Clark" - so I copied it down before I left. Then, at my father's house on our last morning in Ohio, I got down to business.

This honey whole wheat corn bread is a smooth-faced beauty, as you can see. Nothing fancy. It looks like corn bread. But there are some noteworthy things that happen in and around its making and I shall now commence to note them. The name of this bread does some of my work for me, spelling out as it does some of what makes this cornbread this cornbread: the honey and the whole wheat flour. It's up to me, though, to tell you that the whole wheat flour is so sparingly used here that you can think of it almost as a seasoning, adding flavor more than texture to a light and tender crumb. It's the kind of bread that's very easy to chew and swallow, and I appreciate that. Still, I suspect that this recipe would stand up nicely to more whole wheat, and maybe even be the better for it. Melissa Clark herself suggests swapping in whole wheat flour for the white as a variation, and I’m going to do that next time. I'm excited now to tell you about the butter and the way it makes its way into this bread. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. First, you prepare the batter. The dry ingredients, the wet ingredients, everything but the butter. Next, you place your skillet over a high flame and let it get very hot. Here's where things get interesting. Instead of melting your butter the usual way which, for me, means starting it in a cold pan or zapping it in the microwave, you toss it into the already-hot skillet. So in addition to melting, it also browns. Faintly, but enough to taste it later on and feel glad that it's there. If your skillet is hot enough and you've cut your butter into pieces, the browning happens almost at once. Swirl it around, pour it into the batter, and you get a fully-greased skillet for your trouble, too. Not bad, I say. Welcome, newest corn bread. You can stay.

Honey Whole Wheat Corn Bread
Adapted from Cook This Now, by Melissa Clark

This recipe calls for a 9-inch skillet but all we had was a 10-inch, so I used that and really liked the thinner bread with more crust. In fact, the day before I made this cornbread, we made this one in the same 10-inch pan (yes, you read that correctly; two corn breads in two days) and from now on I’m going to choose the larger skillet for that one, too.

1 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
½ cup whole milk
1/3 cup honey
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, sliced into ½ inch pieces

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the cornmeal, flours, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together the sour cream, milk, honey, eggs, and baking soda. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and gently fold until just combined.

Heat a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet over a high flame until very hot. Toss in the butter and swirl to coat the bottom and sides of the skillet. Once the butter is well on its way to fully melted – it will be a matter of seconds, not minutes – remove the skillet from the heat and continue swirling until the butter is completely liquid. Fold the melted butter into the batter, then scrape the batter into the skillet.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden, the edges are crisp and pull away a bit from the sides of the skillet, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.

Serves 8-10.


Ruthy (Omeletta) said...

I love love cornbread and feel like my life definitely needs more. I'm super intrigued by that butter addition! Thanks for this!

In the Farm Kitchen said...

Looks delicious.
Can't go wrong with a whole stick of butter in there ;)
I think I see cornbread in my not too distant future!

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Not that I need an excuse to make cornbread, per se, but the whole wheat flour got me on this one. That and the butter in the pan. Always the butter in the pan. These are the occasions a cast iron skillet lives for.

Megan Gordon said...

Two cornbreads in one day! You're hilarious. I've often eyed this recipe but have yet to make it - love that she doesn't shy away from the butter. Hope you're having a great week + saying warm, m

AngieSue said...

You just reminded me that cornbread is needed for tonight's pork chop dinner. As a child, I loathed cornbread as it was dry and so savory. My mother dislikes sweet cornbread and I discovered, as an adult, that I love some sweetness in my cornbread. I looked up all your recipes and printed them out for future tastings. Thank you!

Hannah said...

My, that's a fine looking corn bread. I can almost taste the buttery, honey-y, crunchy-edged ness of it from here. Bonus: I have this cookbook, but have not tried this, mostly because the NYT skillet cornbread you posted here is so popular at our house! Ha. I guess this is next on the list.

Jess said...

Hi, all! The management appreciates your fierce and ongoing support of so much cornbread.

Ruthy and In the Farm Kitchen - Yes, yes, more cornbread! The butter here definitely makes it.

Plum - And that I live for, too. (I'm so looking forward to upping the whole wheat flour here and seeing how it goes.)

Megan, in my defense, the first cornbread wasn't even my idea. But then, you know, that cornbread got me in the mood for... cornbread. What's a girl to do? (Thinking of you in this home stretch. xo.)

AngieSue - Dry cornbread is the worst! I'm so glad you didn't give up on the genre completely. Happy baking (and baking, and baking, and baking...) to you!

Hannah - What size skillet are you using? At home we baked the NYT one in a 10-inch instead of a 9-inch, as I mentioned, above, and I liked it even more. (More crust.) Oh, and by the way, if your people miss the whole corn kernels in this one, you can add them in.

This American Bire said...

Corn bread in a skillet is a cast iron skillet is my version of heaven.

Sally said...

Was this your very favorite of all of the delicious corn breads? I'm bringing cauliflower soup, roasted brussel sprouts, and bread to a friend who's getting chemo... Blech. Hoping that the food will help a little.

Jess said...

This American Bire - Me too.

Sally - Ooooo, that's a tough call. Each one is different, and I love them all. I can at least narrow it down to three for you: this one, Alana's, or the one from the New York Times. I'd say that Alana's, though it's still a savory bread, is the sweetest of the three. The New York Times bread is the cakiest. This one is the mildest, in a way... The touch of whole wheat and brown butter is very nice. Gosh, I'm no help at all! They're all wonderful and would pair nicely with the menu you're planning. Maybe take a look at the ingredients lists and make whichever one matches what you have on hand? Best wishes to you and your friend, Sally. I'll be thinking of you.

Sally said...

Jess, thank you! NYTimes version is in the oven - I have such fond memories of seeing Chris S cook at East Coast Grill in the mid-90's so how could I resist?

Question - do you measure your skillet at the top or bottom? Thanks :)

ps - silky cauliflower soup made, via Smitten kitchen, and it's DELICIOUS. I highly recommend it.

Jess said...

Sally - You measure across the top. It's weird, because that means a "9-inch skillet" only has about a 7-8 inch span on the bottom. But that's how the manufacturers do it. As I mentioned above, try the NYT recipe in a larger skillet, say, 10-inches (or, as my aunt told me she does, even 12-inches), for more crust per bite.

Jess said...

p.s. And thanks for the soup recommendation!

Sally said...

Thank you! The cornbread was DELICIOUS. My skillet is about 10 1/2 inches across, and next time I'll use my larger one for more crust. My favorite recipe for cornbread to date - thanks!

Jess said...

I'm so glad, Sally.