Sour Milk Cornbread

Bread, Gluten-Free, Southern / Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

Biscuits require a little finesse, but cornbread is wonderfully forgiving and practically foolproof.

It’s also cheap, which is why many Southerners have made many meals off cornbread and greens, cornbread and beans, and cornbread crumbled in milk or buttermilk.

There’s no real trick to it – make the batter, melt some butter in your cast-iron skillet, pour the melted butter into the batter, and pour the batter into the skillet –but the cornmeal matters.

If you want a Southern cornbread, you need to use white cornmeal. Preferably something fine-ground, like Martha White®.

The Southern preference for white cornmeal is rooted in agriculture; a century ago, the majority of corn raised here was white. As for leaving the sugar out, it makes sense when you consider the way cornbread is eaten here – not as a separate entity, like a dinner roll, but as an accompaniment. Something to sop up potlikker or crumble into a bowl of soup.

This recipe, dubbed Our Favorite Sour Milk Cornbread by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, makes a light, all-purpose cornbread that’s crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside. The fine crumb makes it just right for a cornbread dressing. Which we’ll be making tomorrow!

Our Favorite Sour Milk Cornbread

Adapted from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s “The Gift of Southern Cooking”

White cornmeal mix contains baking powder and salt, so if that’s all you can find, omit the baking powder and salt in the recipe.

Serves 6-8

  • 1 1/2 cups fine-ground white cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk or soured milk (see note)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In a separate small bowl, whisk the milk and eggs. In batches, pour them over the dry ingredients, stirring vigorously to make a smooth, glossy batter.
  3. Cut the butter in pieces, and put it in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or baking pan. Slide the skillet into the oven, and heat until the butter is melted and foaming. Remove from the oven, and swirl the butter around the skillet to coat the bottom and sides.
  4. Pour the butter from the skillet into the bowl of cornbread batter, and mix well.
  5. Turn the batter into the heated skillet, and put in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown and crusty on top and pulls away from the sides of the skillet.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven, and invert the cornbread onto a plate. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve hot.

Note: If you don’t have any buttermilk, you can make a quick sour milk by stirring together 1 3/4 cups of milk, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar. Let it sit until curdled, about 10 minutes.

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16 thoughts on “Sour Milk Cornbread

  1. If you put two tablespoons of oil in that iron skillet and put it in the oven while it is preheating, so that it gets good and hot, and THEN pour the batter (with the butter or oil), It makes the crispy crust . Eat the crust and pitch the bread ! Have to be careful so you won't burn yourself.

  2. Hello –
    I am a filmmaker in Atlanta. I just wanted to let you know I produced a 21 minute documentary about Miss Edna Lewis. The film is called "Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie".

    It is viewable in its entirety on Internet at a Gourmet Magazine website:

    and at this Library of Virginia website:

    My website,

    has more information about the film and the story of Miss Lewis.

    Bailey Barash

  3. The Lee Bros. were in town yesterday and I went to their class. They said the last time they were here they put sugar (gasp) in the cornbread and thought everyone in the class was going to have a conniption fit. They said they did it on purpose to get a rise out of everyone.

    Please post some of your Thanksgiving dishes! Besides that divine monkey bread. What a great tradition!

  4. what if i have neither a skillet or 10 inch pan? I have multiple pyrex dishes, a springform pan, bread loaf pans…

  5. This is so good and the best – 1) PANTRY STAPLES for me (use the 1 cup milk + 1 T vinegar stand 10 mins trick in place of buttermilk) 2) Not much fat! 2 Ts for a whole loaf, many cornbread recipes I see are FULL of fats or cheeses.

    New cornbread fave from this guy up in Ottawa, ON! (Used yellow cornmeal. Never seen the white stuff @ most stores here but then, I haven't looked for it.)

    Rose – Pyrex or even a thin metal pan ought to work. It may bake up differently as Pyrex won't hold nearly as much heat. So I'd lower the temp by perhaps 50 degrees and bake longer. But the butter trick should still work. DON'T use the loaf pan, this bread needs room to spread.

  6. Hmm…maybe I did something wrong, but I tried this yesterday and it was a little too dense and dry (It looked gorgeous). I was also thinking it might be because there's not much butter or sugar in it compared to most cornbread recipes. Darn healthy stuff.

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