Cornbread is a divisive topic. This recipe just might bring us a little closer together

  • There's a debate over whether cornbread should be made with sugar or not.

    There's a debate over whether cornbread should be made with sugar or not. Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post

 
By Becky Krystal
The Washington Post
Updated 12/12/2018 6:26 AM

There is a lot that divides us as a country. And I'm not talking about politics.

I write about food, which can be just as divisive. Ketchup with fries? Thick- or thin-crust pizza? Does avocado toast signal the end of times? Is a hot dog a sandwich?

 

Even when I've delved into what I thought were neutral topics -- pound cake, cooking with apples and, uh, buckwheat waffles (really!) -- the fists have come out. I don't typically start writing a recipe or how-to guide expecting, much less angling for, a fight.

Until now.

I am confident I am going to alienate about, oh, half of ya'll here who like cornbread. The half of you who think that sugar has absolutely no place in cornbread. Sorry! (The topic has even divided the -- very gracious, I'm sure -- people at Southern Living.)

This is apparently how I like my cornbread, after trying it with and without sugar. My fellow tasters agreed, at least in my recent faceoff.

There have been some pretty interesting takes on how the line in the … sugar is drawn. And it's not necessarily a North-South thing. As Kathleen Purvis explored in the Charlotte News & Observer a few years ago, there are racial divides just among Southern cooks alone.

The type of cornmeal most of us use seems to play a significant role, as Purvis explains. A lot of the grocery store cornmeal we have in our pantries is industrial-milled, yellow, fine-grained and lacking in corn flavor, unlike the coarser, white and, yes, sweeter stuff that used to be more common. Small producers such as Anson Mills specialize in that heritage type of cornmeal, which is why chefs who use it, such as Sean Brock, can get away with a classic sugar-free cornbread. But to say that everyone has easy access to a local mill or online ordering would be a stretch.

When I baked a "Southern" cast-iron skillet cornbread featuring typical store-bought cornmeal without sugar, not to mention flour, we found the flavor a bit dull and the texture too dry and crumbly. The sugar and flour version baked in a regular cake pan had a wonderful moist texture and tasted cornier, like a good sweet corn on the cob. It was well-rounded, not overly saccharine, especially since it was a fairly restrained 1/3 cup of sugar in the whole 8-inch bread. It would be a welcome addition to your Thanksgiving -- or any other -- table.

The quick and easy recipe comes from cookbook author Elinor Klivans, who has contributed some winning recipes to The Washington Post over the years. In my opinion, this one is as well. It might win over some of you sugar skeptics, but hey, as long as you're making a homemade cornbread you love, I call that a win, too.

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