Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • Preheating the pan and coating it with butter creates a dark crust with a light, nutty flavor.
  • Using sour cream along with buttermilk increases the mild tanginess and overall flavor of the bread.
  • Adding a little oil to the batter results in a more cake-like moistness.

Back in college, I celebrated a cousin's birthday at the low-cost rotisserie chicken 'n' ribs jointDallas BBQ. Don't let the name fool you, you won't find old-fashioned wood-burning pits out back at this New York-based institution—it was the "Texas-sized" frozen margaritas that were our main draw. As the meal came to an end, we requested a cake and candle (little more than an excuse for our inebriated group to sing "Happy Birthday" as loudly and off-key as possible). The waiter promptly returned with a slice of cornbread, topped with whipped cream and a sole lit candle. We all kind of laughed at the "cake," but as we ate it, it didn't feel so out of place.

Their cornbread was sweet, moist, tender, and springy—very much like a cake after all. The namesake corn flavor was there, but not in a way that made a dollop of whipped cream feel out of place. Actually, as a Northerner, it was the type of cornbread I grew up on.

In my early days of barbecuing, I thought I needed to go for authenticity and started experimenting with Southern-style cornbread for my cookouts. But those denser, drier, and more intensely corn-flavored loaves never sat quite right with me. So I abandoned them pretty quickly and instead fully embraced the Northern-style cornbread that I know and love, in all of its sugary glory.

Corny Beginnings

I have a trusty cornbread recipe that I've relied on for years. But while consistent, it's far from the best, and lacks the flavor and lightness that define my ideal cornbread. I finally decided it was time to aim a little higher and really perfect it.

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (1)

I started with the basic makings of a Northern-style cornbread. A 50/50 mix of yellow cornmeal and flour gave it the right flavor, color, and consistency; buttermilk added a nice tang; baking powder and soda created lift; and eggs were required for structure. I put my first recipe together by combining the dry ingredients in one bowl—cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and about a quarter cup of sugar—and the wet ingredients in the other—buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter.

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (2)

Meanwhile, I had a 10-inch cast iron pan preheating in a 425°F (220°C) oven, to capture the part of Southern-style cornbread that's really great: the crust. An almost crackling, deeply browned, flavorful crust is definitely key to my ideal cornbread, and a cast iron skillet is a traditional, and attractive, way to achieve this.

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (3)

Once the pan was as hot as it was going to get, I combined the wet ingredients with the dry, removed the skillet from the oven, and dropped in a tablespoon of butter. The butter quickly melted and browned as I swirled it around; once the pan was well coated in butter, I poured in the batter.

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (4)

In the short time between adding the batter and returning the pan to the oven, the edges of the cornbread had already begun to set, which was exactly what I wanted to see.

It took about 20 minutes in the hot oven for the cornbread to fully cook—I tested doneness by inserting a skewer into the middle and checking to see if it came out clean. I let it cool in the pan for five minutes to give it some time to firm up, and then used an offset spatula to lift it out of the pan and onto a wire rack. I let it rest another 10 minutes, during which the crust cooled nicely while the bread itself stayed pretty hot.

The result was agoodcornbread, but not a great one. First, it didn't rise enough. It was moist, but not as tender as I'd hoped. It also lacked the signature sweetness I was looking for, while the corn flavor was very prominent. The crust was perfect though—crisp with a little nutty flavor from the browned butter.

Let Me Eat Cake

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (6)

The first attempt just wasn't cakey enough, so I went full-on cake for my next test. I upped the sugar to half a cup and swapped the all-purpose flour for cake flour, which I hoped would give it a more tender crumb. I also switched from buttermilk to sour cream—a trick I've been using with my biscuits. The higher acidity of sour cream adds a tangier flavor, and helps the baking soda achieve an even greater rise. Its extra fat content serves to keep things moist and tender. I also wondered if the denseness of the earlier bread may have been caused by the cooking method, so I started this one off in a cool, greased skillet, more like a cake.

As I watched this loaf bake, I saw it rise dramatically higher than the first, and felt I was on to a good thing. With lean, yeast-risen doughs like pizza or bread, high heat is essential for a good rise—it's what causes the interior bubbles to rapidly expand before the dough can set.

But with moist batters that rely on baking soda or baking powder for leavening, the opposite tack is the way to go: With a slower bake, you give the chemical leaveners more time to produce bubbles of gas. Meanwhile, you don't need to worry about the batter setting too quickly, as its high moisture content ensures that it'll stay soft and inflatable for far longer than a typical bread dough.

The color never reached as dark a yellow as other cornbreads I made in the past, but I wasn't sure if that was necessarily a bad thing.

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (7)

After the bread was done and rested, I went to lift it out of the pan, but it was so damn tender that it fell apart.

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (8)

It only took one bite for me to realize this was hardly a "bread"—what I'd made was most definitely corncake. The texture was super light and moist, the flavor sweet, mildly corny, and a little tangy. It was really, really good, but as I chomped down on a few broken pieces, I knew this simply couldn't qualify as cornbread. But I also felt that there was enough going for it that I was a whole lot closer to my ideal.

On Second Thought...

So I wanted my cornbread to have the lightness and moistness of the cake without it being so, well, cakey. First was the obvious reversion to all-purpose flour. I kept the sour cream, but reduced the amount and increased the buttermilk slightly. Finally, I decided to try adding a couple tablespoons of canola oil, since fat can help keep cakes nice and moist. I also had lost the great crust of the first cornbread, so I went back to using the preheated pan with browned butter, hoping that the alterations in ingredients would help compensate for any loss in rising.

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (9)

Everything looked promising: This one rose higher than the first, although not as much as the second. I got back the golden yellow color too, which made me happy. To keep this one intact, I turned it out onto a plate and then transferred it onto a wire rack.

After letting the crust set up and cool, I dug in and was all too pleased with the results. The cornbread was light, tender, and moist—it perfectly straddled the line between cake and bread, without crossing it. It had a very nice, sweet corn flavor with an undercurrent of tanginess. And the crust was as good as ever, with a crispness and depth of flavor that sealed the deal.

I could have topped this with whipped cream and a birthday candle and it would have worked, but that would have robbed it of its true purpose: sitting next to aplate of ribsor pulled pork, where sweet corn flavor creates the perfect contrast to spicy, tangy smoked meats.

October 2014

Recipe Details

Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe

Active10 mins

Total40 mins

Serves6to 8 servings


  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 3/4 cup sour cream

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

  • 2 large eggs

  • 3 tablespoonsmelted butter, cooled slightly, plus 1 additional tablespoon for pan

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil


  1. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet on middle rack in oven and preheat to 425°F (220°C). In a medium bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together sour cream, buttermilk, eggs, 3 tablespoons melted butter, and canola oil. Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients and whisk until completely combined.

    Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (11)

  2. Using pot holders, carefully remove hot skillet from oven. Place 1 tablespoon butter in skillet and swirl to completely melt and coat inside of pan. Pour in cornbread batter and place in oven. Bake until skewer inserted into middle of cornbread comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let bread cool in pan for 5 minutes, then carefully turn out to wire rack and let cool an additional 10 minutes. Serve immediately. Reheat any leftover cornbread before serving again.

    Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (12)

Special Equipment

10-inch cast iron skillet

  • Cornbread
Sweet and Moist Northern-Style Cornbread Recipe (2024)


What is the difference between northern cornbread and southern cornbread? ›

In contrast to the dryer, less-sweet nature of Southern cornbread, Northern cornbread is much more cakey and sweet. Indeed, colonial Americans made their cornbread with molasses to sweeten it. Also, Northern cornbread sometimes uses milk rather than buttermilk.

What does adding an extra egg to cornbread do? ›

The extra egg which is increased protein and binder makes the cornbread denser and heavier in texture. Can I add flour to Jiffy cornbread to make more batter? When making jiffy mix cornbread, what if I don't have milk? Are there any rules to making the best cornbread?

How do I make sure my cornbread is moist? ›

Melted butter and thick buttermilk keep this cornbread moist. After baking, I like to run a stick of butter over the top of the hot cornbread so that it soaks right in and stays even more moist and buttery.

What ingredient keeps cornbread from crumbling? ›

Adding about 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of extra butter or vegetable oil can increase the moistness of your cornbread. You can do this even if your recipe doesn't call for butter or oil. Replace milk or water with creamed corn. If your recipe calls for milk or water, try replacing it with creamed corn.

Is sweet cornbread northern or southern? ›

Southern cornbread has traditionally been made with little or no sugar and smaller amounts of flour (or no flour), with northern cornbread being sweeter and more cake-like. Southern cornbread traditionally used white cornmeal and buttermilk. Other ingredients such as pork rinds are sometimes used.

Why is Southern cornbread not sweet? ›

The most common theory is a change in cornmeal itself. Until early in the 20th century, Southern cornmeal was made with sweeter white corn and it was water-ground. When industrial milling came along, that changed. The steel-roller mills used yellow corn that was harvested before it was ripe, so it had less sugar.

What happens if I use 1 egg instead of 2? ›

Using too few eggs will make your desserts dense, but using too many will make them rubbery. The explanation for this lies in the fact that eggs are made up of protein. As Fine Cooking explains, when the protein in eggs combines with the protein in flour, they produce the overall structure of the baked good.

Can you put too many eggs in cornbread? ›

If there isn't enough egg, your batter or dough may not be able to hold its structure or could end up overly dry or dense. On the other hand, if there is too much egg, your baked goods could lose their shape due to excess liquid, or have a rubbery (or even overly cakey) texture depending on the recipe.

Can I leave the egg out of cornbread? ›

Yes, but we recommend using an egg substitute, like applesauce. Eggs, or egg substitutes help add structure to the cornbread. Without an egg or substitute, the cornbread may crumble and fall apart easily.

What happens if you use water instead of milk in cornbread? ›

You can substitute water for milk on a one to one basis in your recipe. It won't be quite as rich, but it will be cornbread. There are plenty of recipes for hot water cornbread. The batter is made with cornmeal, salt, sugar, and boiling water.

What is the best cornmeal for cornbread? ›

As for the best cornmeal for cornbread, either fine- or medium-grind cornmeal is a great choice. Medium-grind cornmeal will bring slightly more texture and grittiness to the batter, which you may or may not want (it's up to you!). You can use fine or medium cornmeal in these extra corny muffins.

Is cornbread batter supposed to be thick or runny? ›

The batter should be thick, but still pourable. Add more milk or buttermilk if necessary. Remove the skillet from the oven and tilt the pan so the butter coats the bottom and sides of pan.

Should you let cornbread batter rest? ›

Let the batter sit before baking.

We found that if you leave the batter to sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before baking it, the cornmeal has some extra time to absorb flavor from the other ingredients and the leaveners (baking powder and baking soda) get a head start.

Why does my cornbread always sink in the middle? ›

While not a professional chef, my experience with corn bread, be it packaged or made from scratch is if you over mix it, it's gonna fall! Also, let it sit for 4-5 minutes after gently scraping it into the pan and let the ingredients start their magic reactions. No peeking while baking!! That can make it fall too.

Should you soak cornmeal before making cornbread? ›

Soaking the cornmeal in buttermilk for a few hours, or even overnight, tenderizes the large grains of cornmeal, making the bread more moist and tender. This step is optional, however, and the bread is still delicious without the soaking step.

What is different about Southern cornbread? ›

Northern cornbreads tend to be more cake-like, on the sweet side, with a finer crumb due to more flour in the mixture. Southern cornbread is flavored with bacon grease, and cooked in a cast iron skillet, a perfect side for barbecues, or chili. It also tends to be rather crumbly.

What is the difference between southern cornbread and New York cornbread? ›

The Difference In Cornbread Lies In These Key Ingredients

Also, Southern-style cornbread should contain very little sugar and flour, and if you can, get your hands on stone-ground cornmeal. If you favor moist, sweet Northern-style cornbread, use flour and sugar liberally in your mix.

Do they eat cornbread up north? ›

Although many people associate cornbread with the South and Southwest, it's a popular quick bread served all over the US with many regional variations. If you have Southern roots, you are probably familiar with an unsweetened, skillet cornbread with a crunchy, crispy crust.

Is traditional Southern cornbread sweet? ›

What is the sugar content in a batch of homemade Southern style cornbread recipe? It SHOULDN'T have sugar in it. That's Yankee style southern cornbread. It should be made with an egg, buttermilk, baking soda, a dash of salt, a little flour, and finally cornmeal- preferably the yellow.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jeremiah Abshire

Last Updated:

Views: 5358

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jeremiah Abshire

Birthday: 1993-09-14

Address: Apt. 425 92748 Jannie Centers, Port Nikitaville, VT 82110

Phone: +8096210939894

Job: Lead Healthcare Manager

Hobby: Watching movies, Watching movies, Knapping, LARPing, Coffee roasting, Lacemaking, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Jeremiah Abshire, I am a outstanding, kind, clever, hilarious, curious, hilarious, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.