Let’s start a fight. K. Cornbread. Everyone has their own opinion on it. It’s family based. It’s geography. It’s whatever momma or granny made. Some like it sweet and moist, some like it dry AF and zero sugar. Some people make a whole loaf while others will only eat it in muffin form.
This recipe is a little bit of all of it. There’s some sweetness but it’s not like Paula Dean sweet. That woman loves her sugar. But it’s just enough sweet to satisfy a Texan but not sweet enough to make a Michiganer happy. Oh. And it’s vegan.
Cornbread is super simple to make, and it was one of my first solo baked goods when I was growing up. I remember thinking I was hella clever when I used my finger to draw a heart in the shortening in the bottom of the pan so that it would bake a heart into the loaf. Clever. Right. I was like 9 okay.
Cornbread goes way back in history because ancient civilizations in the Americas were making corn cakes and tamales and tortillas for basically ever. But the history of cornbread, as we know it, has an interesting history that originates in the South. Native Americans, settlers, slaves, and other inhabitants in the South treated corn like gold because it was a bountiful crop that could handle the unique southern US climate. The rest of the country thrived on wheat and other grains, but the southern states were far too wet and/or dry for a crop that prefers evenly moist soil. So, people turned to corn and made just about everything from it. The Aztecs and Mayans and Native American tribes are noted to have made a cornbread but it was simply ground corn mixed with water then baked. It would have resembled grits or polenta. When settlers started to arrive and then the British they brought with them European baking ingredients like butter and eggs and leaveners like baking soda. They melded their ingredients with the cooked corn meal, and now we have cornbread! It went from a meal of necessity and scarcity into what it is today which is a common side dish to any Southern meal.
True Southern cornbread is going to use bacon grease or a rendered fat which gives the cornbread a distinct flavor that’s a little smoky and salty. Over the years I’ve worked on how to veganize this in a simple way and I’ve nailed it, but I just keep forgetting to type out a blog post. Ya. I’m a terrible blogger. So, to kind of mimic bacon fat I use three ingredients: butter, liquid smoke, salt. You could get really complex with it, but no one has that kind of time when it comes to making a cornbread. I have it written in the instructions, but I’ll add it here too.
Heat your 12″ cast iron skilled over medium heat until it’s hot enough to melt a pad of butter within a few seconds of contact. You don’t want it smoking hot, just hot enough to melt the butter quickly and give it a little bit of a dark color. Once it’s hot enough you’ll put the whole recipe’s worth of butter into the skillet, add the liquid smoke and salt, then swirl the butter around the pan to both coat it and melt it. Then you’ll transfer it to your other ingredients. Cooking it burns a little of the fat which makes it darker, adds flavor, and paired with the hint of liquid smoke you’ll have a pretty good bacon grease substitute without getting overly complex.
There are a lot of vegan butters out there but my absolute favorite is Earth Balance because it’s easy to find, not expensive, and melts down like dairy butter without looking like pure oil. The olive oil based vegan butters are a really low smoke point and I think have too much olive oil flavor for baked goods. I’m not sponsored by Earth Balance or anything. I promote them because it’s what I use and I have no need for $20 butter in my life that I need to special order. Also, you’re going to be heating this, mixing it with a bunch of other things, and then baking it. Expensive butter is going to get lost in all that.
Why a skillet? Well. That goes back to the history of cornbread. Cast iron skillets are the original metal based baking and cooking tool. They have been a part of human history ever since smelting was figured out back in 5th century China. From there it eventually made its way to Europe and the US and the first noted cast iron cookware as we know it now is from the early 1700s. They get better with age because the cooked on oil and fat and food creates a non-stick surface that also adds a distinct flavor. Plus, cast iron is made of…iron…which does add flavor to your food and you don’t have to worry about flakes of metal or chemicals like you do with non-stick pans. Cast iron cookware is essentially indestructible. If you can break a cast iron anything…kudos Hulk. They last for generations and, in terms of production, are are easy to make.
Didja know that no two cast irons are exactly the same? The way they are made creates unique imperfections that don’t affect the pan’s quality but does give them essentially a fingerprint. Another fun fact about cast iron. Until the mid 1900s each pan was hand made and then polished, at least the inside, using small rocks. The cast iron pans from pre 1950s are lighter than modern pans because each mold was hand made, which allowed for unique designs, and then polished. Modern cast iron is made in a mold filled with sand, powdered clay, and water and then sold without any polishing which leaves a textured surface. You might think that the smooth surface is preferable, but you’re wrong! The rough surface is actually better for holding on to the seasoning, cooked on oil, and they are more non-stick than their smooth counterparts. So, don’t waste your money buying a fancy, expensive smooth cast iron. You’re better off getting a standard Lodge (or really any cast iron because )
Have you tried this recipe yet? My “Veganized Hamburger Helper” because if you haven’t then you need to. It’s delicious and easy. Check it out, or just keep scrolling for more info on this cornbread!
Veganized Hamburger Helper
I’m an 80s kid, and I learned to “cook” in the 90s at the height of the Hamburger Helper era. Fry up some greasy ground chuck, toss in a flavor packet, cook with those cardboard noodles. Yum. Well, the other day I was feeling nostalgic and decided I needed to relive my childhood. I tossed…
I need to stop myself before I really go full on cast iron nerd here, but there’s just so much cool stuff about cast iron cookware! It’s a whole community online even of people finding and restoring old pots and pans that have been left to rust in paw paw’s barn. Each pan is cast with a marker to denote brand, location of creation, and sometimes the year. There’s enough research out there that if you find the code on your pan (bottom or under the handle) you can Google it and figure out where your pan came from and approximately when it was cast. I found a 10″ skillet years ago at a Salvation Army that was cast between 1890-1920! Cast iron was and is made to last forever.
Okay. Well. You’ve put up with me rambling for long enough. I could go full blogger on and you and tell you about some new sweatpants I just bought, or how I saw someone at the grocery store the other day that I knew, or my favorite brand of socks. But, meh. Maybe next time. Also, I never run into people I know at the store and I can’t remember the brand of socks I’m wearing. So, you get to just skip ahead to the recipe. Enjoy!
Skillet Southern Style Cornbread
- 9-10" cast iron skillet
- 1 1/2 cups oat milk (or other non-dairy)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons golden ground flax (see notes for substitutes)
- 1/4 cup water
- 8 tablespoons vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
- 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
- 1 1/4 cups coarse corn meal
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour (or whole wheat)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- In a measuring cup whisk together the oat milk and apple cider vinegar. Set aside. You are making "buttermilk" with this step.
- In a small bowl, mix together the water and ground flax. Let this sit while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Soaking the flax allows it to gel which will work to stabilize your batter much like an egg.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda. Pour in the oat milk and vinegar mix. Fold a couple of times. Add in the soaked flax. Fold a couple of times. Let sit while you go on to the next step.
- Heat your cast iron skillet over medium high heat until a small pad of butter will quickly melt. This usually takes about 5 minutes of heating. Add in the butter and tilt the pan to move the butter around so that it melts and coats the bottom and sides. Add in the liquid smoke and salt. Stir using a spatula or spoon. Once the butter has completely melted let the pan sit over medium high heat for 1 minute. Remove immediately after 1 minute and pour the melted butter into the batter and use a spatula to scrape out the rest leaving behind just a thin layer of melted butter.
- Fold the melted butter into the batter until it is fully incorporated. About 10-12 folds. Pour the batter into the still hot skillet and make sure it is spread out evenly. Place skillet on middle rack of oven. TURN DOWN the heat to 375°F. Bake for 22-25 minutes. Use a toothpick or cake tester to check doneness at the 22 minute mark. Should be cooked all the way through and have a golden top.
- Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Let cool completely if storing leftovers. Wrap cornbread in foil or in a Ziploc and store on the counter or freeze. Refrigerating bread will dry it out too much.
- 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 1/2 cup soft silken style tofu, mixed until smooth
- 2 eggs worth of egg substitute
- 2 tablespoons corn starch mixed with 4 tablespoons water (not the best sub but does work in a pinch)
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