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Breakfast Skillet Cornbread

Cornbread, an iconic American side that graces tables in the Northern, Southern and Southwestern regions of our country, is a type of “quick-bread” that relies on a fast-acting chemical reaction (gases are produced when the buttermilk, an acid, hits the baking powder, an alkali), for leavening.

While there are countless regional variations for cornbread— Arkansas Cornbread, Bacon Cornbread, Buttermilk Skillet Cornbread, Cream Cornbread, Hominy Cornbread, Sweet Milk Cornbread, Crackling Cornbread, Panhandle Cornbread, Breakfast Cornbread and West Texas Cornbread— all cornbread use cornmeal as a base with varying amounts of sugar, eggs, liquids and fats.

Skillet cornbread, which also goes by the moniker “hoecake”, is a signature dish served in many rural parts of the United Sates, especially in the South and Texas. In New Orleans and the Carolinas, a sweet, light and fluffy cornbread, reminiscent of cake, is served. These recipes call for up to ¾ cup of sugar along with a white, fine -ground corn meal (aka corn flour) that’s mixed in equal parts with wheat flour (ratio of 1:1) to lighten its texture. Other states below the Mason–Dixie line prefer a more savory taste— adding very little sugar (or no sugar at all) while using a rougher grind of corn meal (medium or coarse), which plays up the “corny” taste and creates a denser texture in the finished product. Traditional cornbread recipes play up its savory side by greasing the hot skillet with smoky, salty-tasting bacon drippings, while modern renditions use oil, lard or butter. And in Texas, roasted green chiles, creamed, frozen or fresh roasted corn, and a hefty dose of sharp cheddar cheese are added to the mix— all signature flavors that delineate its regional fare.

While cornbread is a fairly straightforward and easy recipe, there are a few tricks you’ll need to follow to ensure its success: all ingredients must be at room temperature before making the batter, and the cast-iron skillet must be hot when the batter is poured into it, which creates that beloved, crispy crust. Also, after the wet ingredients are added to the dry ingredients, the batter must sit for 10-15 minutes before adding it to the skillet, which ensures proper leavening. And, it’s crucial the cast-iron skillet is not searing hot when the batter is poured into it, or the bottom of the crust will burn. While many recipes call for the cast-iron skillet to be heated at a high heat on the stove top until it’s smoking, I had better results heating the skillet in the oven while I prepared the batter, which created that sought-after, perfectly golden brown, crispy crust.

In this recipe, just enough stone-ground, organic, whole grain, medium-grind yellow cornmeal is added to the fine grain, yellow cornmeal and all-purpose wheat flour to impart a “corny” flavor, (too much imparts a slightly bitter aftertaste), 2% fat milk is mixed with low-fat buttermilk to enrich its taste, and roasted Hatch Chiles lend a slightly smoky and spicy grace note. This cornbread has a rich, moist, dense and tender inside with a crispy outside— the perfect pairing for a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs Texas-style breakfast with skillet fried bacon and eggs!

Texas-Style Breakfast Skillet Cornbread with Roasted Hatch Chiles
Image of Texas-Style Breakfast Skillet Cornbread with Roasted Hatch Chiles
1 ½ cups stone-ground, whole grain, fine grind yellow cornmeal (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill brand)
¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill organic, stone-ground, medium grind yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 ½ tsp. kosher flake salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup 2% milk
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 jumbo eggs
2 Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
6 tsp. non-hydrogenated, organic vegetable shortening (I prefer Spectrum brand)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the seasoned, cast-iron skillet on the middle rack in the oven and close the door. Into a large bowl, add the dry ingredients— cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda— and stir with a whisk to remove any lumps. In a second large bowl, add wet ingredients— eggs, milk, buttermilk and canola oil— and mix with a whisk until incorporated. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just blended. Do not overmix. Allow the batter to stand for about 10-15 minutes. Remove the heated cast-iron skillet from the oven and add 2 tablespoons of non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening to the skillet, swirling the melting shortening over the bottom and sides until the all the surfaces have a light film. Pour cornbread batter into the hot, greased cast-iron skillet; then sprinkle the chopped Hatch chiles over the top of the batter. Dot top of batter with 3 tsp. shortening and 3 tsp. unsalted butter, alternating the fats, and placed in a circle about 3 inches from the outer edge of the skillet. Place skillet into the hot oven and bake for 23-26 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center comes out clean.

Author’s Notes:
Leftover cornbread can be frozen with good results—wrap in wax paper followed by foil— and reheat in the toaster oven with a sprinkle of water on top. Pairs great with a bowl of chili, or, can be used in cornbread stuffing.
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