How To Make the Very Best Sweet Cornbread

updated Oct 24, 2020
4th of july
Cornbread

This easy cornbread has crispy edges and a moist and fluffy center, and is packed with rich, buttery flavor.

Serves15 to 18

Prep20 minutes

Cook25 minutes to 30 minutes

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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Few things are better than tucking into a slice of warm, buttery cornbread. I grew up on the little blue box of Jiffy, which my mom always baked in a cast iron skillet and dressed up with a brush of honey and butter. Then I spent about 10 years in the South, where cornbread of all varieties is a daily staple.

Since then, I’ve been on a quest for a fluffy, slightly sweet cornbread inspired by both those cornbread experiences — a recipe I could bake at home without a mix and have confidence it would turn out perfectly every time. This recipe is it — a golden sheet of tender cornbread with a little bit of sweetness and lots of rich, buttery flavor.

This cornbread recipe uses the muffin mixing method (whisk together dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in the other, then fold the wet into dry) plus some smart prep shortcuts to help it come together quickly. The resulting cornbread is a delightful combination of savory-sweet flavors and tender-crisp deliciousness.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Cornbread: Sweet or Savory?

Whether sugar has a place in cornbread is deeply debated, and varies by region. While many of us associate Southern cornbread with cornmeal-only varieties baked in a cast iron skillet, there’s a sect of Southern cornbread that bakes up sweet and cake-like — though some would also consider this a Northerners cornbread. There’s good reason for the confusion.

The history of cornbread in the South is fraught with issues of race and privilege, but according to miller and scholar Glenn Roberts, as covered by Serious Eats, sweeter versions of Southern cornbread seemingly arose in the early part of the 20th century, when corn milling shifted from a community act (local stone mills) to an industrial one (steel mills). This new process not only stripped the corn of some nutrition and flavor, but the corn used also changed. Stone-milled corn began with “field-ripened” and air-dried corn, while steel mills used corn dried with forced air, which was less sweet. Some Southern cooks adapted to this shift by adding sugar to their recipe.

Today in the South, in both restaurants and home kitchens, you’re likely to encounter both sweet, cake-like versions and savory skillet versions. If you’re looking for a savory cast-iron skillet version, we have one! If you’re in search of a sweeter cornbread, you’ll find that one below.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Key Steps for Sweet, Fluffy Cornbread

  • Use fine cornmeal. Cornmeal varies in grind size from coarse (used to make polenta) to fine (more common for baking). Here, you’ll want to use fine. White or yellow cornmeal works here, although I prefer the vibrant hue that yellow cornmeal provides.
  • Melt the butter. Since we’re using the muffin mixing method, liquid fat (melted butter as opposed to softened) is preferred, and helps create the fine crumb we’re after.
  • Sweeten it two ways. You can certainly use granulated sugar here, but brown sugar adds a deeper, more caramel flavor to the finished cornbread and keeps the bread moist. Honey is added after baking to moisten the top and keep it tender, even if the cornbread is left out uncovered.
  • Use buttermilk for moisture, flavor, and rise. Buttermilk adds flavor (a little acidity) and moisture, plus it works with the baking soda to lift the batter, making for fluffier cornbread.
  • Bake in a baking pan. A baking pan will still give you golden, crispy edges — thanks to the sugar — and can hold considerably more cornbread than most skillets can.
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Finishing and Serving Sweet Cornbread

After baking, you’ll brush the still-hot cornbread with honey. This not only sweetens and moistens the top of the cornbread, but it also gives is a beautiful shine. I’m partial to this cornbread as an afternoon snack with a cup of hot black tea, but it works as a side to even the most savory of dinners. It would also be a great addition to any Thanksgiving spread.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn
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This sweet cornbread is made with a simple mix of pantry staples.

Cornbread

This easy cornbread has crispy edges and a moist and fluffy center, and is packed with rich, buttery flavor.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes to 30 minutes

Serves 15 to 18

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks

    plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 2 cups

    finely ground yellow cornmeal

  • 2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 cups

    buttermilk

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 1/2 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons honey, divided

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • 9x13-inch baking pan

  • Large bowl

  • Whisk

  • Medium mixing bowl or 1-quart liquid measuring cup

  • Spatula

  • Brush

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter for the batter. Place 2 sticks of the unsalted butter in a medium heatproof bowl. Microwave on HIGH until melted, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Set aside to cool while you heat the oven and prepare the rest of the ingredients.

  2. Heat the oven to 375ºF and butter the baking pan. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven 375ºF. While it is heating, place the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a 9x13-inch baking pan and place it in the oven until the butter is melted, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and swirl the melted butter across the bottom and up the sides of the pan; set aside.

  3. Whisk the dry ingredients together. Place 2 cups cornmeal, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large bowl, and whisk to fluff and combine.

  4. Whisk the wet ingredients together. Add 2 cups buttermilk, 2 large eggs, 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar sugar, and 1/4 cup of the honey to the bowl of butter, and whisk until smooth.

  5. Fold the wet into the dry and pour into t pan. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Use a large, wide spatula to gently fold together until combined. Pour the batter into prepared baking pan and smooth the top with the spatula.

  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Bake until the edges are golden brown and the center springs back when pressed, 25 to 30 minutes.

  7. Brush with honey before serving. Place the pan and a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Brush the cornbread with the remaining 2 tablespoons honey. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be well wrapped and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Credit: Kitchn