Don't be afraid to experiment with cornbread

It's the perfect time to ponder cornbread construction because it makes such a dynamic accompaniment to chili. And who isn't hankering for chili this month?

The editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine devoted five whole pages to turning out stellar batches of cornbread in their ambitious cookbook, "The Best Recipe," which just goes to show it's a controversial concept. At the most basic level, they claim, Southerners like their cornbread on the crumbly, dry and flat side of the spectrum. Northerners lean toward a sweeter, lighter and more golden style.

My personal preference is moist, dense and flavorful. And I get especially excited when the character is achieved from interesting additions, such as honey, sauteed onions and/or bacon, shredded cheese and sour cream or buttermilk. If I want the cornbread to turn out particularly crusty, then I'll opt for my iron skillet, which I'll preheat in the oven, along with a dollop of butter so that when I pour in the batter, it sizzles and smokes.

The kind of cornmeal you use is another way to affect the outcome. Stone-ground cornmeal is usually a bit coarser than cornmeal processed through steel rollers. Recognized by its light and dark flecks, stone-ground produces a texture that is, in my estimation, more interesting.

But most important of all, I think, is to have a sort of freewheeling attitude for the entire process. Don't be afraid to experiment. After all, eating such failures is definitely part of the fun.

Bon appetit.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at

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