Corn is a gluten-free alternative to wheat that's not pricey. Some cornbread recipes use wheat as well; others use only corn. This one uses sorghum flour: its natural sweetness goes well with corn.

Four-pepper Iron-skillet Cornbread

Clockwise from upper left: cornbread batter, slices of cornbread, peppers being sauteed on the fire, cornbread in the pan. - cew-me -- Attribution/Share Alike
Clockwise from upper left: cornbread batter, slices of cornbread, peppers being sauteed on the fire, cornbread in the pan. - cew-me -- Attribution/Share Alike


If you are a Southerner (and perhaps even if not), there's nothing like hot cornbread from the skillet with some fresh white peas, or a bowl of split pea soup. The smewhat sweet taste of sorghum flour works especially well with cornmeal, but the bulk of the recipe is cornmeal, of course.


Dairy-free, Egg-free

I decided to try making an egg-free, dairy-free bread as well, and so instead of traditional buttermilk, used coconut milk, gluten-free beer, and a bit of cider vinegar. Coconut milk is sweet and delicious in cornbread, but you can use ordinary buttermilk. Whatever you use, this recipe calls for a a bit more than a pint of liquid. If you use an egg however (instead of the xanthum gum I use), use just a pint of liquid, as the egg provides some liquid too.

The special ingredients (sorghum flour, flax seed, xanthum gum, and soy yogurt) can be found in most health food stores. The remaining ingredients can be found on most grocery shelves, but if you can't find gluten-free beer there, try a health food store.

Corn: Health Benefits

Corn is inexpensive, and of course gluten-free. Alas, it has a high glycemic index when compared to wheat. The glycemic load for the two grains may be about the same, however, because wheat has more carbohydrates according to David Mendosa's online information on diabetes. In addition corn fiber can help "smooth out" digestion of the sugars and thus make sugar uptake easier. The fiber in corn also supports the growth of "friendly bacteria" in the gut.

Corn is a relatively low protein food, while high in fiber and carbohydrates. Low protein may not sound good, but it's often recommended for kidney disease.

Tips for Lighter Cornbread

When I revised Lisa Fain's cornbread recipe (Homesick Texan, "Iron Pan, Perfect Cornbread," 2007) to make it wheat-free (and totally vegan), the results came out heavy and dense. I finally discovered that there was perhaps just a bit too much cornmeal in my loaf. But not enough can be a problem too: if the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients is too high, your bread will rise, but shortly after it rises, its middle with fall, and the result will end up dense and soggy.

Along with reducing slightly the total amount of cornmeal, I replaced a tiny bit of it with tapioca starch, which is very light, and is tastier than cornstarch. Another trick is to use finely ground cornmeal. Even cornmeal with the germ still in it comes finely ground. Finally, to make sure your cornbread rises properly, use only very fresh baking soda.

Corn Germ, Density, Flavor

Using cornmeal with germ may make the bread a bit denser, but it also improves flavor; this recipe calls for mostly cornmeal without germ but I have used mostly cornmeal with germ too (slightly over a cup), which makes really delicious cornbread, but not so light.

Xanthum Gum

Cornbread without an egg is often crumbly, but eggs have too much cholesterol for me (if I eat them regularly). What holds this loaf together is xanthum gum. At just over $12.00 U.S. for eight ounces, it seems expensive, but this recipe uses only a quarter teaspoon, while "Homesick Texan" calls for a whole egg. Thus it seems likely that, ultimately, xanthum gum will come out cheaper than eggs. What's more, it keeps forever.

Gluten-free Beer

I love making bread with beer. The bread comes out great with a bit of gluten-free beer used along with other non-dairy liquids. I used New Grist's Sorghum Beer, but there is also Anheuser-Busch's Redbridge, and Bard's Gold, and several other varieties. As noted, if you prefer, or if you don't have access to all the non-dairy goodies (gluten-free beer, coconut water, and soy yogurt), buttermilk will work fine too, in which case you should use two cups of it and omit the soy yogurt.

The Peppers

The four peppers in this bread make an incredible splash of color as well as flavor. Jalapeno is the "hottest" of the four, but poblano is actually my favorite because of its warm but piquant flavor. This recipe calls for a whole poblano. It's pretty "peppery." If you are unsure about using so many peppers, try using only half of each kind of pepper, except for the sweet red Fresno chile, which adds color. It's supposedly as hot as the jalapeno, but I have not found it to be so. Remove any soft or brown spots from the peppers before mincing them.

Lime?

I always eat corn or peppers with lime. So a bit is squeezed into the batter.

The Recipe

For this recipe, you'll need a 9" or 10" cast iron skillet with a lid. Although the "Homesick Texan" recipe requires an oven, I manged to cook my cornbread over a fire. You can still use an oven if you prefer.

Ingredients

Steps

  1. Sift together all the dry ingredients (cornmeal, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, xanthum gum, cream of tartar, and baking soda) except the flax seed. Set aside.
  2. Splash a bit of the coconut water over the ground flax seed (this softens the flax seed a bit). Set aside.
  3. Heat the 2 tbsps plus 1 tsp oil in the iron skillet till hot. Now stir in the minced peppers and sautee just till the peppers get soft but remain sort of green (some will start to turn golden, but don't burn them). When they start to soften, set them on a warm stove or near the fire, away from direct heat.
  4. While the peppers are cooking, measure out the molasses or honey, using the same tablespoon you used to measure the oil (the oil left on the tablespoon helps to keep the honey from sticking). Stir the molasses (or honey) into the dry ingredients, along with the softened flax seed.
  5. Now stir in the coconut milk, soy yogurt, beer, lime juice, and vinegar (measure the vinegar with the same tablespoon you used to measure the molasses/honey and oil and your tablespoon will come out almost clean).
  6. Stir in the hot peppers and oil.
  7. Take a piece of parchment-lined foil (plain parchment paper will do if plan to use an oven and no fire) big enough to cover the inside of the skillet, line the skillet with it, and trim the edges. To make sure your bread browns evenly, line this with a second layer of parchment paper (no need to use parchment-lined foil for this and using plain parchment for the inner layer is better for the flavor). If you like, wipe a drop of oil all over the inside layer to make sure that nothing sticks (parchment paper itself is fairly "non-stick" of course, so don't use too much oil, not even a fourth teaspoon).
  8. Pour in the cornbread batter.
  9. Put a lid on the skillet.
  10. To cook on a fire, cook the cornbread just a bit more than an inch above the coals. It will take at least twenty minutes till the bottom is golden brown and the top is somewhat firm. To make sure all browns evenly, every seven-to-ten minutes gently rotate the skillet over the coals. If you like, after browning the bottom paper, and then flip the bread and brown the top paper, take off the outer layer of paper and replace it with a new paper wrap and brown some more. Whatever, about twenty-to-twenty-five minutes of cooking for the bottom and a bit less for the top.
  11. As soon as the cornbread is firm, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit just a few more minutes, then carefully turn the corn bread over and cook about ten minutes more, just till the other side is golden brown. If using an oven, make sure to remove any wooden handles from the skillet, then cook the cornbread 20 or 25 minutes at around 425 degrees, then remove the lid and lightly broil the top a few minutes.

The cooked cornbread should be golden brown on the outside, light and and not mushy inside. Serve it hot.

Notes

I have been playing off-and-on with the vegan version of this recipe and have not gotten it right; it seems the egg is essential; some recipes call for two. Someday I will try using a small mashed potato (about 1/4 cup mashed) instead beaten well to give the bread some air (if I do I'll have to reduce the tapioca or gluten-free flour by 1/4 cup). Also I've started omitting the flax seed, and have decreased slightly the sorghum flour and increased the gluten-free flour. Also the bread may keep better with a bit more salt. And I found many recipes using more oil, up to 1/4 or even 1/3 cup should be o.k., but about 2 tbsps for sauteeing the peppers.

Sources