Introduction: Cornbread

About: I helped start Instructables, previously worked in biotech and academic research labs, and have a degree in biology from MIT. Currently head of Product helping young startups at Alchemist Accelerator, previous…

Cornbread is a versatile dish, equally good with a big bowl of chili and as a holiday side dish for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

I've tried lots of different cornbread recipes, both plain and stuffed full of lots of different ingredients, but always come back to my favorite: those Jiffy boxed mixes. The little blue boxes are dirt cheap, and the slightly sweet flavor works well plain or with additives.

In this Instructable I've made a spicy southwest-style cornbread, but you can substitute most any combination of cheese, herbs, and vegetables - just be sure to modify the liquid balance accordingly.

I'll give some more ideas for alternate versions in the last step: it's dead easy. Just combine your favorite cheese + herbs/spices, and add a vegetable if you like. You'll end up with a classy dish that complements most any style of meal.

Step 1: Basic Recipe - From the Box

The basic recipe from the back of the box is simple:

1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
1/3 cup milk
1 egg

Stir together, and cook at 350F in a greased/buttered pan until the center is set. (Exact time varies on size/shape of the pan.)

Here I'm using two boxes, so 2/3 cup milk and 2 eggs.

Step 2: Additional Ingredients

I'll cover some other seasoning options in the last step, but since we're going for a vaguely southwest-style cornbread here, I've assembled the following ingredients:

1 onion, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 serrano chilis, minced
1/4 c roasted tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 c jack cheese, chopped or grated
2 T pesto

Since there's a bit of liquid in the tomatoes and pesto, I added slightly less milk than the 2/3 c usually called for in a two-box situation. This isn't a big deal - just eyeball it. If your mix is too dry you'll notice. If it's too wet, worst case scenario it just won't rise quite as high. We're aiming for a thick, goopy mixture. Lumps are normal, so don't worry about beating the batter perfectly smooth.

Other southwest-ish ingredients you may like to include:
corn (canned is fine - about 1/4 cup)
1 T chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1-2 Tany other type of marinated and/or roasted peppers, chopped
1 T green onions (scallions), chopped
pinch oregano
anything else you particularly like and have on hand

Step 3: Bake

Pour your mix into a greased pan, or lined muffin cups.

I used an 8x8" square Pyrex pan for my double batch, producing a roughly 1 1/2" tall result when baked. If you'd like your cornbread thicker or thinner, adjust pan size accordingly. Figure it will rise to approximately 1.5 times the height of your batter.

Bake at 350-400 F until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean1, and the top is just becoming golden brown.

1 When I say "clean" I don't mean perfectly clean - there will still be moisture and some small crumbs sticking to the skewer. But it will look significantly different from the gloppy mess that will stick to your skewer if the center is still uncooked.

Step 4: Cool and Serve

Set your cornbread aside to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. This will allow the still slightly soft center to harden enough to cut cleanly, and help you avoid the ignominy of steam burns.

Cut into squares, and serve hot with a side of butter.

Leftovers are excellent split and toasted, with a bit of butter and/or cheese on top.

Step 5: Alternate Versions - Theory and Practice

My standard approach to modifying cornbread is to figure out what else we're eating, and find a mixture of cheese and herbs/spices and sometimes vegetables that will complement the meal. Just pick one from each category (Cheese, Herbs/Spices, Vegetables/Meat) and you're set to go.

Here's what I've tried:

Brie, cheddar, feta, chevre (goat cheese), parmesan, blue, swiss, mozzerella, gouda, colby, cream cheese, manchego, pepper jack, and probably others that I can't recall. Really, any cheese will that's not too runny will be a good match. I'd stay away from cottage cheese and ricotta, but that's about it.

Fresh herbs of any type are excellent, particularly rosemary, basil, parsley, sage, oregano, chives, or thyme - most anything you've got growing outdoors. Dried spices are a fine substitute, but be sure to give them a sniff for staleness, as there's nothing like musty rosemary to throw off the whole taste.

Chili powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, mace, mustard, paprika. Anything that works well with savory foods. I would stay away from delicate spices like cardamom, as it will have trouble standing up against the strong flavor of cornbread.

Corn (canned or fresh), roasted peppers, hot peppers, fresh or cooked onions, fresh or roasted garlic, roasted or sun-dried tomatoes (fresh are too watery), green onion, roasted sweet potato, etc. Most anything with complementary flavor will work, provided you pre-cook it and chop it into smallish chunks.

Bacon! This can be a tasty addition to most any dish. Non-vegetarian, but tasty. Ham and other pre-cooked meat and/or lunchmeats will work well too.

Some recommended combinations:

Sun-dried tomatoes, rosemary, and brie
Corn, roasted peppers, basil, and mozzerella cheese
Roasted garlic, thyme, and chevre
Bacon, sage, and swiss cheese

Try it out, and see what you like! There's really no way to go wrong.