Calling all cornbread lovers! This easy buttermilk cornbread recipe combines the best of Northern and Southern-style traditions into an incredibly moreish round that you can serve at any meal from breakfast to dessert.
I love a good loaf of cornbread. Served warm. With a smidge (or more) of whipped butter slowly melting over the top of each tender, crumbly slice. Honestly, I could make an entire meal out of it.
Sweet vs. Savory Cornbread
Having both grown up in the North and lived in the South for a few years, I’ve met cornbread of all varieties.
My childhood knew Northern cornbread that was sweet, fluffy and cake-like. We ate it with chili, soups, and stews, but it could’ve equally doubled as a dessert (and did many times).
As an adult, I got to know the tradition of unsweetened, cornmeal-forward Southern recipes, made with buttermilk, and many times, without wheat flour. Baked in bacon grease in a cast iron skillet, these golden-crusted savory cornbreads just beg to be slathered with butter.
Opinions can be strong in the savory vs. sweet cornbread debate, but I’ve never been able to choose a favorite. I have room in my heart (and stomach) for all the cornbread.
I wrote this buttermilk cornbread recipe as a hybrid. For me, it’s some of the best of the Northern and Southern traditions wrapped up into one.
What Goes in Buttermilk Cornbread
You’ll need a few standard baking staples for this recipe: all purpose flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, eggs, and butter.
For cornbread that’s both fluffy and crumbly, but not dry, I use a combination of buttermilk and sour cream in my batter. Paired with an unapologetic stick of melted butter, this cornbread has a moist texture, and a lightly-sweet, rich flavor.
Whole Buttermilk vs. Low-Fat
Whenever possible, I like to use whole buttermilk. Years ago, I could only buy it from a local dairy farm, but I’ve been seeing it stocked more frequently in the regular grocery stores lately. Look for it near organic dairy.
If you can’t find whole buttermilk, you can absolutely use the more widely-distributed low-fat varieties. The cornbread will have a slightly lighter crumb, but the sour cream and butter will still give it richness.
What Kind of Cornmeal Should I Use?
Of course, cornbread needs cornmeal! I like to use yellow, whole grain cornmeal that’s ground on the finer side.
I’ve found that degerminated cornmeal creates too compact a crumb in this recipe, and medium- to coarse- ground cornmeal too rustic a texture.
Read more about cornmeal varieties and how they differ in Which Cornmeal is Which? from Fine Cooking.
My favorite organic yellow cornmeal to use for this particular recipe is Arrowhead Mills. I most often pick it up at Whole Foods, but you can also order it online.
In testing many (many!) batches of cornbread over the years, this cornmeal produces the most tender crumb, with just enough texture to give it a little crunch.
Do you have a favorite brand of cornmeal to use for making cornbread? Tell me in the comments below!
How to Make Buttermilk Cornbread
While this cornbread isn’t a one-bowl recipe, it is easy to make on a whim. The batter comes together in the time it takes to preheat the oven, mixing the wet and dry ingredients separately before combining them.
Tip: For the best texture, don’t overmix the batter when adding the wet ingredients to the dry. A few streaks of flour here and there are ok.
For the Best Crust: Bake in a Skillet
Borrowing from the Southern tradition, I bake my buttermilk cornbread in a cast iron skillet. The pan’s heat conductivity gives the bread a golden, crisp crust to contrast the fluffy interior. The best!
I use an 8- to 9-inch skillet for this recipe. To develop the best crust on your cornbread, it’s important to preheat the skillet with the oven. Just place it in the cold oven when you turn it on, and the skillet will heat up by the time the oven reaches baking temperature.
When the oven is heated and your batter is mixed, add a tablespoon of cold butter to the hot skillet. It will immediately start melting and foam up.
Swirl the butter around the skillet, and the residual heat will brown the milk solids, lending the most wonderful toasty, nutty aroma and flavor to the recipe.
When you pour the batter into the hot skillet, you’ll see that it will start to bubble up and set around the edges. This is key to the development of that enviable crust.
Tip: Once you’ve poured the batter into the hot pan, don’t dawdle! Smooth it out in the skillet and bake immediately for the best results.
Can I Make This Buttermilk Cornbread Without a Cast Iron Skillet?
You can, understanding that the cornbread won’t develop as deeply-colored or flavorful a crust. Instead of an 8 to 9-inch skillet, use a round or square baking pan of the same size.
Serving and Storing Your Cornbread
This cornbread is best served the day’s baked. I like to let it cool for about 15 minutes before slicing it into wedges and serving it, warm, directly from the skillet.
A simple slathering of whipped salted butter is usually my go-to accompaniment. We also love topping this cornbread with honey butter, maple butter, or something with a little kick, like roasted jalapeño butter or a drizzle of hot honey.
It all depends on the main dish I’m serving the cornbread with, and whether I’m looking to enhance the recipe’s sweet or savory components on that particular day.
Can I Make This Recipe Ahead?
Yes and no. You can store this cornbread, tightly-wrapped, at room temperature for a day, but the texture will be denser and drier as it sits. (This is preferable if you’re using it to make something like my Cornbread and Sausage Stuffing.)
If you find yourself with leftovers, this cornbread can also be frozen for 2-3 months. I often like to slice it into portioned wedges before freezing so I can easily grab a slice without having to defrost the rest of the round.
To freeze, let the cornbread cool completely before wrapping it in a double layer of plastic wrap and/or foil. To serve, fully defrost the cornbread, re-wrap in fresh foil, and heat in a 350 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes to warm.
Recipes to Serve with Cornbread:
- 1 cup fine-grind yellow cornmeal (whole grain)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar (depending on how sweet you like your cornbread)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2/3 cup buttermilk (preferably, whole, but low-fat can be substituted)
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 2 large eggs
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter , divided
- Place an 8- to 9-inch cast iron skillet in a cold oven (rack in middle position) and preheat to 400 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
- Melt and cool 7 tablespoons of butter (cooling is important). In a bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, and sour cream. Whisk in melted butter. The mixture will look a little curdled–this is the butter chilling into tiny clumps and is the desired result.
- Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. For tender cornbread, don't overmix.
- Remove the heated skillet from the oven and immediately add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Use a heat-safe basting brush to swirl it around the pan's bottom and sides. When fully melted and foaming subsides, pour the cornbread batter into the skillet, spreading it into an even layer. It will immediately start to set on the edges.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.
- Cool cornbread for about 15 minutes, slice into wedges, and serve warm with whipped butter, honey butter, or maple butter.