Having been raised in the South, I am quite familiar with all-cornmeal recipes for cornbread. To me, cornbread is always baked in a cast-iron skillet so it gets a nice crisp edge, usually has whole kernels of corn tucked away inside, and never, ever, has sugar in the ingredient list.
Southern-style cornbread can tend to the dry side, so in this version, I've included polenta to help bind the bread and keep it moist, as well as strained corn juice to add another layer of corn flavor. Make sure you use freshly cooked polenta, and not the prepared stuff (it needs to be warm and soft). I also use salted butter to give the cornbread that elusive soul food flavor, but you can certainly use unsalted if that's what you've got in your kitchen.
This recipe is scaled to be served, potluck-style, to all of your aunts, uncles, and cousins. —Kate Williams
Test Kitchen Notes
WOW! This recipe was very tasty and the texture was amazing. I cut the recipe in half since I was only feeding two, and it worked fantastically. Sure, there are a few more steps than most typical cornbread recipes, but well worth it. The mixture of polenta, cornmeal and corn kernels gave it a great texture and the absence of sugar and butter made it lighter than most southern style cornbreads. I will definitely make this again -- maybe adding some jalapenos next time to give it a kick. Wonderful recipe. - TheGingerCook —There'sAlwaysPie
Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet in oven and heat oven to 400 degrees.
Using a chef's knife, carefully cut corn kernels from the cob (do this step in a shallow bowl to catch rouge kernels). Measure out 1 cup kernels and set aside. Pulse remaining kernels in a small food processor or blender until they turn into a chunky puree. Transfer the puree to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze juice into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup. You should have between 1/4 and 1/2 cup corn juice, depending on the freshness of the corn. Add enough buttermilk so that the mixture measures 2 1/2 cups.
In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk mixture and polenta, and then whisk in eggs.
Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and add the butter. Return the skillet to the oven.
Gently fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients until combined. Whisk in reserved corn kernels. Carefully remove skillet from oven and pour batter into skillet (butter should be melted and browned by this point).
Bake cornbread until browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before serving. The cornbread is delicious warm or at room temperature, and should be served with plenty of butter.
Bring water to a boil over high heat in a small saucepan. Whisking constantly, slowly stir in polenta. Continue to whisk over high heat until the polenta just starts to thicken. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer polenta, whisking every 3 to 5 minutes, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Measure out 1 cup to use for cornbread, and save the remainder for snacks!