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Practicing the basics: corn bread

Corn bread is the ultimate in American comfort food. The recipe below originates from Durgin-Park, a historic Boston restaurant where famously surly waitresses served up New England comfort food to die for. Sadly, the restaurant closed in 2019, but I’m glad I can help one of their signature menu items to live on.

Corn bread is a classic non-yeast bread; it uses a different leavener (in this case, baking powder) to generate bubbles that will cause the bread to rise as it bakes. Since the rise is based on chemistry, not biology (like yeast), non-yeast breads can be a little fussy with the exact proportions of ingredients, so it’s god to be a bit more careful with measuring ingredients.

This is also a great example of classic rule of baking: mix the dry ingredients together first, and the wet ingredients together, then combine them. It’s also a great example of when you might need to make an exception to that rule: for example, when you’re working with melted butter (mixing it in with cold liquids will cause it to solidify again).

You can bake this in an 8×12 baking pan, or in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet that has an oven-safe handle. If you use a skillet, preheat it first before pouring in the batter (just stick the skillet in the oven while it’s preheating, then carefully remove it, fill it, and put it back in the oven). Cast-iron skillets can take several minutes for the heat to penetrate all the way through, so if you don’t pre-heat it then the top of your bread will get about a five-minute head start on the bottom and it might bake unevenly. Metal and Pyrex baking pans heat through much faster.

Suggested reading:


  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, heated to 100 degrees F
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. If using a cast-iron skillet, place it in the oven to preheat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. For the purposes of many baking recipes, sugar is sort of a liquid. It dissolves well in other liquids, so it’s often included in the “mix the liquids together” step.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir a few times to ensure the baking powder and salt are well distributed. Ensuring that the dry ingredients are all well distributed is much easier to do before you add liquid, thus the “mix all the dry ingredients together” step.
  4. Add the egg/sugar mixture to the flour mixture, and stir to combine. This will result in a dry, flaky mess. That’s fine.
  5. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. The butter will stay melted long enough to evenly distribute throughout the mixture and get absorbed into the flour.
  6. Add the milk, and stir well until you have a thin batter. It’s ok if there are still some small lumps in it. Mostly just make sure there isn’t a big clump of flour in the bottom of the bowl.
  7. Add the cornmeal and stir until just combined and there are no pockets of dry flour or cornmeal remaining. This is very common in non-leavened baking recipes: lumps are ok, just make sure everything is wet.
  8. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Removing it from the pan is important if you’re using a cast-iron or metal pan. With all the butter and cornmeal, the cornbread isn’t going to stick to the pan. But if you’re using a cast-iron skillet, the heat it retains will continue to bake the bottom of the cornbread for some time after you remove it from the oven. Also, trying to cut the cornbread while it’s still in a metal pan will likely ruin the nonstick coating.You’re better off moving it to a cooling rack, or directly to a cutting board. Also, serve it hot or warm so that when you spread butter on it, the butter melts.

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