The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

northern versus southern corn bread

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

northern versus southern corn bread

I usually make northern cornbread, with half-flour, providing gluten. But southerners SWEAR by southern cornbread, in which one dare not let wheat flour touch the batter. Now I have no trouble adding bacon drippings, which makes it more southerny but why in the world would anyone like cornbread that is crumbly and almost unsliceable? Is it supposed to be more flavorful? Never noticed that.

Davey1's picture
Davey1

Being a cornbread lover I'll say this - ya can't beat the south for true cornbread (as I know it). If you want to add to it go for it. Why is it called what it is - no idea - but the important thing is - do ya like it? Enjoy!

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

The  point I was making is that I DON'T like southern style cornbread because it is so crumbly. As far as I can tell, adding flour doesn't affect the taste, and it makes for a much more sliceable loaf. What I'm asking is WHY you think the southern style is better. Do you like crumbliness? Do you think the flavor is better?

tpassin's picture
tpassin

The issue of wheat flour in Southern cornbread, and even the matter of whether sugar should be added, are more complex than you suggest.  According the the cookbook "Corn" by Tema Flanagan in the cookbook series "Savor The South", Southern cornbread can indeed include a little wheat flour to help as a binder.  In earlier days poor Southern farmers could only afford or obtain corn, so that's what they used. But now wheat is available, affordable, and so it is used too. The recipe for skillet cornbread on p56 of "Corn" uses 1 cup of cornmeal and 1/3 cup of AP flour.

The matter of sugar, also according to the same cookbook, has to do with the kind of cornmeal (white whole grain being sweeter vs yellow de-germinated being cheaper and better to store) and there was a racial divide between the two (it's easy to guess who had to make do with the less sweet but cheaper variety).

I'm sure that you can find a wide range of opinions of the proper way to make cornbread across the Southern US states, just as you can for barbeque.

Davey1's picture
Davey1

I do like corn - and i like wheat - so there it is. Enjoy

UVCat's picture
UVCat

i grew up with northern cornbread, but having now made both, i strongly prefer southern-style, all-cornmeal bread. cornbread made with significant wheat flour tastes more like a muffin or even a cake to me — northern style recipes often include (more) sugar, as well.

i find corn-only cornbread goes from underbaked to overcooked in a flash. and overcooked cornbread is crumbly. if you’re interested in trying, could cook it less long and see if the texture improves (to you). for me, i find a well-baked cornbread not to be crumbly, but to have a chewy texture that wheat-containing corn bread just does not have.

hard for me to absolutely distinguish flavor from texture, but i think the flavor of corn-only cornbread is better, too. but i like corn and try to use a good-quality stone-ground corn meal. a little butter and honey on top; that is heaven to me.

there is no accounting for taste, of course,

c

tpassin's picture
tpassin

My favorite cornbread is a skillet cornbread where most the of the corn is masa harina, with a little cornmeal, and maybe 25% all-purpose flour, made with buttermilk.  It's neither Northern nor classical Southern but it is purely terrific.

TomP 

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

OK, not clear there are any answers to my question here, but one person is saying that pure corn meal cornbread tastes better. My personal opinion is that it doesn't, though I've never had both at the same time to allow a real taste test. I don't think I'm up to experimentation with over- and under-cooking. The fact that long ago southerners didn't have access to wheat flour doesn't explain why many contemporary southerners actually prefer not to use it when they do have that access. Yes, northern cornbread also includes some sugar, but that's irrelevant to the texture. Now, as to crumbliness, I can eat the stuff as crumbs with a spoon, but it makes it harder to serve it to guests with any decorum. As to the wide range of opinions in the south about how to make cornbread, I'm in the south, and everyone here says CORN MEAL ONLY is the rule, but no one will say why, except maybe to distinguish themselves from northerners. I do like the idea of using masa, though, and will try that, just for flavor enhancement.

tpassin's picture
tpassin

The fact that long ago southerners didn't have access to wheat flour doesn't explain why many contemporary southerners actually prefer not to use it when they do have that access. 

You underestimate the power of tradition, perhaps.

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

Um, that must be why my neighbors kill rabbits in their backyard to eat.

SueVT's picture
SueVT

Your understanding of why is correct. So you could confound them and maybe impress them by making polenta, since it is still made with corn meal. I like the kind with a little buckwheat thrown in. 

Our Crumb's picture
Our Crumb

Polenta Saracena 👍.  
Perfect and always riding the fork with Spezzatino or Cassœula Milanese. But I’m not sure in corn bread, especially sweeter versions.  Might be at cross-purposes.

Some cornbread formulae include fresh sweet corn kernels. I’ve included dehydrated, powdered sweet corn in corn bread batter and liked it a lot. More assertively corny. And the more butter the better.

t

tpassin's picture
tpassin

Tell us more about the powdered sweet corn, please.  I can sometimes get dehydrated sweet corn kernels, John Cope brand, in my local supermarket. I also know about New Mexican chicos, but neither of them is in the form of a powder.

Our Crumb's picture
Our Crumb

It’s been a few years, but sweet corn is an attractive substrate for dehydrating and powdering into a flavoring.  Many edible veg have fine but dilute flavors that, when concentrated, can be used purely as flavor ingredients.  Think sweet corn, parsnips, carrots.  Tomato paste is halfway there.  Bar Tartine was an inspiration at the time.

Sweet corn doesn’t need to be blanched before dehydrating -- some substrates acquire an old-time freeze-dried camping food note if not. Parsnips come to mind.

I’d just thoroughly dehydrate fresh kernels with mild heat, cool and thoroughly buzz in a Tribest Personal Blender.  That never quite powders substrates as non-starchy as ripe sweet corn kernels, so some sifting and/or further grinding in a Kitchen Aid KGM would finish the job. I would never subject our Komo mill to such a substrate.

Initially I wanted to introduce sweet corn flavor and color into bread doughs   But maize is the enemy of open crumb.  cf, this thread’s theme of crumbly cornbread and adding wheat flour to compensate.  Thus, that objective was never satisfyingly met, except for use in actual corn bread of which we don't eat much.

There remain plenty of unexplored potential uses.  I remember thinking at the time that some charitably funded plant molecular biologist should engineer sweet corn so as to substitute its zein seed storage proteins with wheat's glutens.  Might make for some funny looking ears but -- who's looking? -- might also make sweet corn bread that doesn't need added wheat flour.  And a lot simpler than engineering the biosynthetic pathways of sweet corn aromas into Triticum aestivum.

pmccool's picture
pmccool

Would pureeing the sweet corn kernels be as effective for breads as drying and then grinding them?  There's the obvious difference in moisture content but are thee other factors that need to be considered?  Like fineness?  Or textural effects on the dough?  Flavor?  Other?

Paul

Our Crumb's picture
Our Crumb

Absolutely Paul, no reason why pureed wouldn't work as well or better:  Minimal processing, not as far removed from the original ingredient is preferred for flavor.  As for texture -- hard to say.  Dehydration might irreversibly alter physical properties but who knows and at practical %-ages would be barely detectable.  My run [descent] down the dehydration path [rabbit hole] was part of a larger journey [obsession] with that approach, not chosen because I thought it was best for maize specifically.

Tom

SueVT's picture
SueVT

Yes, that is a thing, but might not appeal to everyone. Here in VT there is a trend to douse cornbread with maple syrup at some point during the baking process. And I think also with the fresh corn thrown in.

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

Staying on topic ... corn kernels sound good but the original issue here was avoiding crumbliness. Corn kernels sure aren't going to hold anything together. You have cornbread that barely holds itself together and you add corn kernels? But in cornbread with flour, yes!

BrianShaw's picture
BrianShaw

Before this discussion peters out… yellow or white cornmeal?

SueVT's picture
SueVT

My husband's family is from Arkansas and Texas. I inherited a large collection of regional cookbooks from his mother, and the cornbread recipes I've seen always include some wheat flour, but little if any sugar. 

I personally prefer Northern style, but for making cornbread dressing, you have to break out the ancient, smooth cast-iron skillet and the fraying copy of the Presbyterian Cookbook. 

tpassin's picture
tpassin

for making cornbread dressing, you have to break out the ancient, smooth cast-iron skillet 

Not so ... I have baked cornbread in my carbon steel skillet and it comes out the same as when I use a cast-iron one.

SueVT's picture
SueVT

I'm not saying that the batter knows which metal is conducting heat into it, but it's a matter of using the family skillet. 

;-)

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

We're not talking about cornbread dressing. That's a casserole, not a bread.

SueVT's picture
SueVT

At Thanksgiving, first you have to make the cornbread. Then it dries out while you get everything else ready. Then you make the cornbread dressing to go with the turkey.

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

Let's see, so for dressing, crumbly cornbread is actually helpful. But that's what I'm trying to avoid.

tpassin's picture
tpassin

Yes, OK, but I meant I've cooked skillet cornbread (baked in the oven) in my carbon steel pan and it works fine.

charbono's picture
charbono

To avoid a crumbly corn bread, I use corn flour, not meal. (Yellow is best for nutrition.) One egg per 2 cups flour helps to bind. I prefer 100% corn for flavor; but 75% is OK in a pinch. When using corn flour, not meal, a mere 1 tsp sugar per cup of flour seems to enhance the corn flavor. Masa is a whole different thing.

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

Interesting idea, using corn flour, though again, I don't see what the disadvantage is of using wheat flour which is a lot easier to come by. I'm not convinced that wheat flour impacts the taste. I was enthused about masa for the unconventional taste it would impart and yes, that would be a whole different thing. Might not taste much like regular corn bread.

tpassin's picture
tpassin

I'm not sure about cornbread, but when I tried making corn tortillas with some wheat flour for binding and strength, the flavor of a good corn tortilla just wasn't there.  I forget just how much wheat I used, but less than half.

dlassiter's picture
dlassiter

No question that wheat tortilla don't taste like corn tortillas.

tpassin's picture
tpassin

Corn flour with an admixture of cornmeal for grittiness is a good combination.  And replacing the corn flour with masa harina makes it even better.

charbono's picture
charbono

I mill my own corn flour, but it's available from Bob's Red Mill and others.

I once bought a package of commonly available BRM medium grind whole grain cornmeal and sifted it. 44% passed a #20 sieve. It looked like BRM had not removed any flour. Another 11% rode a #14 sieve. If you decide to separate flour from grits that way, I recommend you skim the floating chaff when making polenta.

rainydaybread's picture
rainydaybread

My Southern mother made skillet cornbread using white cornmeal, buttermilk, egg, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and a little neutral oil. No sugar. No flour. I don’t think it is any more crumbly than a Northern cornbread muffin. If everything is fresh, it can rise nicely. I think the egg(s) help hold it together.

And why no sugar or flour? Because I like it that way. With a ton of butter or margarine slathered on it, it is sinfully delicious. I also think Northern cornbread is made with yellow cornmeal and Southern cornbread is made with white cornmeal. I think that makes a difference in the taste at least.  Don't know if it affects crumbliness.  

bestbreadmakerst's picture
bestbreadmakerst

When it comes to the debate of northern versus southern cornbread, opinions are often passionately divided. I usually make northern cornbread, which includes half flour to provide gluten, giving it a firmer texture. However, southerners swear by their version of cornbread, where wheat flour is a strict no-no. Instead, they rely on cornmeal alone, resulting in a crumbly and almost unsliceable texture.

Personally, I don’t mind adding bacon drippings to my cornbread, which certainly gives it a more southern flair. But I’ve always wondered why anyone would prefer cornbread that falls apart so easily. Is it supposed to be more flavorful? From my experience, I haven’t noticed a significant difference in flavor. It seems to be more about tradition and texture preference than anything else.