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traditional skillet cornbread

by Jennifer Justus of Nashville Eats

The funny thing about family recipes is they can be handed down with both too much information and not enough. My grandfather J.J.’s cornbread, passed on from my mother, includes self-rising flour and an additional pinch of baking powder. When I asked Mom why she includes it, she said, “Because J.J. told me to.”

Though he’s no longer around to answer the question firsthand, I asked a professional, Linda Carman of the Martha White Test Kitchen, who said adding a smidgen of extra leavening to self-rising flour sometimes helps offset the acid in buttermilk, which can compromise the leavening.

So the recipe is missing that info—but it did include a long set of instructions on putting out a grease fire (which I have omitted here), as well as a reminder to “call your mother.”

Makes 8 generous servings

1 cup (125 g) self-rising flour
1 cup (140 g) self-rising white cornmeal
Pinch of baking soda
Pinch of baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 large egg, beaten
1 ½ cups (360 ml) buttermilk
¼ cup (60 ml) bacon drippings

Position one oven rack at the bottom and one at the top, then preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Form an indentation in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in first the egg and then 1 ¼ cups (300 ml) of the buttermilk. Stir the ingredients to combine and gradually add the remaining ¼ cup (60 ml) buttermilk until the mixture is smooth and soupy.

Pour the bacon drippings into a cast-iron skillet and place it over medium heat until it is shimmering.

Pour two-thirds of the hot grease into the cornbread mixture and quickly combine. Add the cornmeal mixture to the hot skillet and place it in the oven. Reduce the temperature to 425°F (220°C) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The edges should be caramel-colored and the top golden brown. If the edges begin to brown too quickly during baking, move the skillet to the top rack and continue cooking. Cool the cornbread for 5 to 10 minutes before turning it out of the skillet onto a plate. Slice and serve warm.

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