Basics: Gluten-free Appalachian cornbread

A cast iron skillet of cornbread, with a slice removed to show texture

This is a very common version these days, using dairy products and egg. One of my great-grandfathers was a bit of a purist, and insisted it was inedible crap if it contained anything but cornmeal, water, salt, and some grease. (And more than one relative suggested he bake himself some to his specs, then. *g*) I will eventually do a post on the vegan, lactose-free classic Native hot water cornbread, but not today. 🙂 Both types are great, IMO, if very different products.

Ah, cornbread! Let’s just say that it’s enough of a staple that when I was looking at new cast iron skillets, I chose one just about the right fit for the size pone two of us can eat. Really.

You can use some other kind of heavy pan (and I even resorted to using a pie plate before I got a proper skillet here), but the crust needs a surface that retains heat well to develop properly. Otherwise, your bread will be soggy rather than crusty on the bottom and will probably stick to the pan in the middle.

The recipe

Ingredients set out on the counter

  • 3-4 tbsp. butter or bacon grease
  • 1.5 c. (350 mL) fairly coarse cornmeal / polenta
  • 1/2 c. (120 mL) some other gluten-free flour — I used sorghum (juwar), in this case. You can use all cornmeal, which I do sometimes, but the bread will be crumblier. This is just to hold it together better.
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 1 tsp. salt — I used a particularly flavorful sea salt for this batch, but any will do>
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. (250mL) buttermilk or  plain yogurt — I used half and half, very thick Greek yogurt and milk, since that’s what I had 🙂
  • Enough water or milk to make a fairly thick batter

Preheat the oven to 375°F / 190°C.

Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the egg and buttermilk. You can either use enough buttermilk to make the batter the right consistency, or make up the difference past a cup (250mL) with water or milk, depending on how tangy and rich you want the bread to be.  Try not to overstir, or it will knock the CO2 out of the batter, and your bread will be heavy. After the batter sits a couple of minutes, it should be about this texture, maybe a bit thinner:

A bowl of batter, being dropped from a spoon

Put the butter or bacon grease into your pan, and heat it until it starts to sizzle in the oven–about 5 minutes.

This butter browned a little much, but it's OK as long as it's not just plain scorched!

Drain about a tablespoon of the fat into the batter, and stir it in well. Then pour/spoon the batter into the hot pan, and smooth out the top some if you need to. It will sizzle and start puffing around the edges–you want this. 🙂

Batter just poured into the hot pan

Plonk the pan back into the oven, and let it bake for about 25 minutes, until it’s nicely browned on top and develops a good crack around it, like so:

Finished bread

A slice of hot cornbread

Let it sit for a few minutes, slice, and dig in!

A split in half wedge of cornbread, with butter melting on it

Just because melting butter makes almost anything look more appealing... 😉

Between the very yellow butter and the sorghum flour, this batch did not turn out as pearly white as it could have made with the white cornmeal. But, it was all wholegrain and delicious too!


2 responses to “Basics: Gluten-free Appalachian cornbread

  1. mmm…yum! love the pouring the batter into the hot butter/fat…sounds like a wonderful added touch!!


  2. This was the first “bread” I made after I was diagnosed with celiac, and it’s a reliable comfort food.

    I use quinoa flour which pretty much tastes like nothing.

    I can turn this into a hearty dessert by adding one cup frozen corn kernels and 1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit to the “dry” mix. I cook it covered for 20 minutes, and then uncover for 10. The end result is more puddingish than bread (but still edible with the fingers).

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