In Defense of Cornbread Muffins (And Yes, We Use Sugar)
We're stirring up the cornbread debate once again.
Other than religion, politics, or football, it's hard to find a more divisive topic in the South than cornbread. For generations, the debate continues to rage on about the type and color of cornmeal to use (white or yellow, stone-ground or fine), the amount of sugar (bring it on, just a little, none whatsoever), and the type of fat used (butter, oil, lard).
According to our test kitchen, cornbread should be made with yellow cornmeal and a touch of sugar (just a touch!), in a screaming hot cast-iron skillet. The sugar helps the bottom of the cornbread caramelize into a beautiful dark golden brown and balances out the savory flavor of the cornmeal and eggs. And the cast-iron skillet gives the crust its irresistibly crunchy texture—which is one of the best parts of a wedge of cornbread and why our test kitchen swears by cast-iron.
WATCH: The Southern History of Cornbread
That said, we're aware that traditions vary across the South and you probably like your cornbread the way your Mama made it. My Mama liked to make cornbread in a muffin pan, so that is my original memory. And while I opt for our test kitchen's classic method in my trusty skillet, I still have a soft spot for cornbread muffins. A metal muffin pan can't produce that delicious crust, but it makes cornbread that's fluffy, tender, and a bit more portable for a bread basket, especially if you've used muffin liners—but that's another debate entirely.
For the best of both worlds, swap out your metal muffin pan for a cast-iron muffin pan, or better yet, a cornstick pan, the old-fashioned cast-iron baking pan with those cute little corn cob-shaped cavities. Either pan will make cornbread muffins with a crisp crust—and who can resist cornbread that's shaped like corn? Looks like I've figured out my mom's Christmas gift…