Young and Hungry

Corn Bread Is Not A Dessert

Until I moved to the District, I presumed corn bread was, by and large, a savory product, punctuated perhaps with bits of jalapeno and/or cheddar cheese. But in the years since I moved here, I've only found the sweet version in restaurants. Most recently, I had some sweet corn muffins at Ardeo in Cleveland Park as part of its dinner bread service. They were fine—if I wanted them for breakfast.

Frankly, I'm tired of all the sweet corn breads around these parts. Can't someone serve a spicier, more savory version on occasion, just to satisfy those of us who don't want to choke on all that sugar? This weekend, out of nostalgia for the jalapeno corn bread I used to wolf down at Goode Company Barbecue, I made a batch of skillet corn bread loaded down with more diced jalapenos than allowed by Maryland law.

I started with the recipe for jalapeno corn bread in Robb Walsh's The Texas Cowboy Cookbook. (Full recipe below). I made only one real change: I cut down the sugar by half a tablespoon, just because I wanted to make sure these babies were gonna be hot, not sweet.

They were indeed hot—well, at least semi-hot—but they were also too dry for my tastes. My home oven, a bastard that I've bitched about before, was partly to blame, but I'd also point a finger to my cast-iron skillet, which is larger than the 10-inch one that Walsh calls for. The extra skillet surface meant that my corn bread was thinner than usual—and therefore more sensitive to heat. I had cut the suggested cooking time by about 10 minutes, but I should have cut it even further. Lesson learned.

The Shitheads who sampled my cornbread didn't complain too much, especially when they covered them in Shithead Judy's amazing baked beans.

Jalapeno Corn Bread

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 1/3 cups cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/2 tbs sugar

4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup butter, melted

2 large eggs

3 jalapenos, seeded and minced

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degree F. Lightly grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with vegetable oil and place it in the oven.

In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small separate bowl, beat the buttermilk, butter, and eggs together. Pour the egg mixture into the center of the dry mixture along with the jalapenos and black pepper. Stir with a fork until well blended. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour the batter into it.

Bake in the center of the oven for 35 minutes, or until the edges pull away from the sides of the skillet and the top is lightly browned. Remove the corn bread from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

  • Carrie the Red

    Amen to this. Every time I get cornbread in this city, it turns out to be almost like yellow cake: moist, sweet, and with very little corn flavor at all. It is sad, but you really have to make your own to get a classic Texas version. Or even a less peppery sort. Even in the Deep South -- where we LOVES us some sugar --my fam never got cornbread so treacley as the D.C. versions.

  • Lou

    Whole Foods, who started in Austin, is a major sinner when it comes to sweet corn bread. It's like corn candy.

    And it's mushy too.

  • Kelly in the Big Blind

    Having spent many formative years in the South I feel suitably qualified to comment on this most important of foodstuffs. Corn Bread goes both ways. You've got your very savory, slightly dry and nutty, crusty skillet corn bread, you've got your slightly sweet Corn Stick (a perfect side), and the aforementioned nearly dessert course style corn muffins. Corn meal is one of those great chameleon like comestibles, such as sweet potatoes and the humble egg, that plays well in any course.

    I will agree that the sweet style corn bread seems to win out around here but personally I don't have a problem with that. I will concur that many of the offerings around the city don't feature enough corn flavor or texture. Gotts to be stone ground meal to do it right now.

  • xcanuck

    Gonna give this a try tonite. Looks mighty tasty. But only *3* jalapenos? And seeded???? Wussy boy.... :=)

  • Tim Carman

    It all depends on how hot those babies are, my man. As you no doubt know, the heat from a jalapeno can vary a ton from pepper to pepper.

    Let me know how the cornbread turns out.

  • Tim Carman

    Welcome aboard, Kelly.

    You know, I'm all for diversity in the Corn Bread Nation. But D.C. doesn't have any. We have here the corn bread equivalent of a gated community, one that needs to be smacked down by those of us who prefer variety in our corn meal breads.

  • Michael Birchenall

    OK, my wife and I don't eat cornbread except at home ... we hate the sweet, cake versions ... mine is 1 to 1 on corn meal to flour but we think the key is Bob's Red Mill "Medium" grind corn meal ... it gives a chew/bite that has some oomph. Great stuff. As a matter of personal preference, we add nothing else to the batter ... just gobs of butter as it comes out of the oven.

  • Kelly in the Big Blind

    Tim, I'm all for diversity too so I'll jump on the More Savory Here campaign. No if we want true diversity we should discuss what passes for "Mexican" food around most this area, though I will grant you I am fully in the Southern California version of "Mexican" camp.

  • Cisneros

    "I am fully in the Southern California version of “Mexican” camp."

    I'm with you on that Kelly. Growing up in & around L.A., I took it all for granted. Still searching the area, but I found some winners so far. Great chorizo & egg burrito (refried beans, no rice) and good menudo at Mixtec, great tongue tacos at Super Tacos (formerly Pepito's) and maybe the best Mexican dinner I've had at an East Coast restaurant: mole over pork roast, beans/rice, corn tortillas, etc at Napa 1015 on H street. They have (had?) a Mexican menu on Thursdays. I loved it, reminded me of home.

  • xcanuck

    Finally got around to making it yesterday, paired up with a white bean and chicken chili. I may have left it in the oven too long (35 mins). A little too crisp on the bottom and a tad dry. That's my fault for not keeping an eye on it. Delicious flavour. BTW - 4 jalapenos with membrane but no seeds resulted in it not being hot enough. No more Mr Nice Guy, next time. I'm replacing them with habaneros.

  • Tim Carman


    You're a cook after my own heart. You know, I think there may be a small dryness problem with the recipe. I think I'll try it again by increasing both the heat and the buttermilk. Of course, I want my corn bread a tad bit dry, so it serves as a sponge to baked beans or chili or some sort of sauce. But perhaps not as dry as this one.

  • anita

    its dry because you didn't replace the sugar with another liquid...yes, sugar is a liquid (in the baking world). add a tad more butter milk and it should do it. changing the pan, temp etc won't help. ps...keep the seeds or why bother!!