Cornbread is an essential sidekick to a steaming bowl of spice-laden chili. Native Americans learned to dry corn and grind it into a meal for bread and porridge. Also, in the U.S., cornbread became a daily part of the early non-Native Southerner’s meals, whether rich or poor. While wheat was the North's grain of choice, it was too hot in the American South for that crop, so corn was the gift that kept on giving.
North v.s. South Cornbread
There is a big difference between the American cornbread of the South versus the North. Traditional Southern cornbread was made from coarse cornmeal, buttermilk, and a bit of leavener. Into the 20th century, finely ground cornmeal, eggs, and some wheat flour were added for a lighter texture. The Southern cooking goddess, Edna Lewis, didn’t use any flour in her cornbread, however. Finally, most Southern cornbread uses white cornmeal as opposed to the yellow cornmeal used in the North.
Northern cornbread is sweeter, lighter, and more cake-like than the Southern version. Most importantly, it has a much higher wheat flour to cornmeal ratio. Instead of buttermilk, whole milk is the liquid of choice, and the batter is baked in a baking dish rather than a cast-iron skillet.
About this cornbread recipe
This cornbread is more Northern in style because of its proportion of wheat flour to cornmeal—slightly more flour than cornmeal—but it is only lightly sweetened. I grew up in Pennsylvania eating cornbread enriched with sour cream. It was cake-like, tender, and moist. I’ve used that recipe but swapped out the sour cream for Greek-style yogurt because it is lower in fat, and I always have it on hand.
Spice does not necessarily mean heat; it can simply mean full of flavor. I’ve added some basic Indian spices and some vegetables for flavor and vibrant color.
Hot or not ~ Make it your own!
You are in control of how spicy you want your cornbread. Add some chopped green chilies (for less heat, remove the seeds and membranes), more ground red chili powder, or even some chili flakes. Use your favorite ground chili. Instead of Kashmiri chili, both ground chipotle or ancho chili work incredibly well with cornbread.
If you are neutral in the war between cornbreads, stay open to using the ingredients you like (or have on hand). I would keep your add-ins to not much more than one cup, or your batter might get soggy.
Here is what’s to love
- Light, moist, and full of flavor
- Quick and easy to make
- Easily made vegan
- Have it with eggs for breakfast
- Freezes well
- Serve with chili, soups and stews, and barbecue
- Cornbread makes a satisfying snack any time of the day
- Stale cornbread makes great croutons or stuffing
Cornmeal: See the list of the ground of corn to use in the next section.
Ground coriander and half as much cumin provide the warm aromatic notes for this cornbread.
Dry chilies: At the minimum, mix in a half teaspoon of ground Kashmiri red chili ancho or chipotle powders. Your favorite chili powder will also work, though if using cayenne, halve the amount unless you want more heat.
Fresh chilies: Besides the bell pepper, add some minced green chilies: small green Indian chilies, jalapeños, Serrano, or Fresno chilies. You can remove the seeds and white membrane for less heat.
While I call for corn, feel free skip it. I have added chopped scallion greens and red bell peppers for flavor and color. This is the first time I’ve added sweet corn to my cornbread, and I have to say, I am a big fan. The sweet pops of corn are a happy addition.
Greek-style yogurt is key here, but sour cream is a good substitute. And if you want a vegan option, use plant-based yogurt. Do the same with the 1/4 cup of milk. For the egg, replace it with your favorite swap, otherwise, this cornbread will be more crumbly.
The Best Ground Corn to Use
Most cornbread recipes use white cornmeal or fine to medium ground yellow cornmeal. Here are the types of ground corn to use and some to avoid:
The cornmeal to use:
- Fine ground yellow or white cornmeal: Fine white cornmeal is the cornmeal of choice in the Southern U.S.
- Medium ground yellow cornmeal: the easiest cornmeal to find in most of the U.S.
- Coarse yellow cornmeal: also called polenta
- Corn flour: Finely ground yellow corn; this doesn’t have much flavor.
- Cornstarch: A fine white powder with a neutral flavor, most often used to thicken sauces or replace flour in gluten-free cooking.
If you want to try a small-batch of organic cornmeal, try Bob’s Red Mill medium grind cornmeal which can hopefully find in your local stores. I like Anson Mills products but unfortunately, mail order is the only way to get your hands on them. The Anson Mills fine yellow cornmeal is pretty special, however, so you may find it worth the splurge.
How to make Spicy Cornbread
This recipe is made by the classic quick bread or muffin method: mix flour, cornmeal, and some basic East Indian spices.
Dry ingredients: In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.
Wet ingredients: In a separate bowl, whisk the egg well and add the yogurt, milk, ghee (or melted butter), corn, bell pepper, scallions, and chilies, if using.
Add the wet ingredients into the dry mix and mix just until combined.
Gently mix in the vegetables making sure not to overmix.
Pour into a prepared baking pan and bake until the edges are browned, and a toothpick comes out clean.
My favorite way to eat cornbread is warm from the oven with a generous pat of butter and a drizzle of honey. Beyond that, make my cozy Indian chili, because it is a match made in heaven. Come to think of it, any soup loves a side of cornbread. Beyond cold-weather comfort, cornbread is the perfect accompaniment at a summer cookout too!
FAQ: Spicy Cornbread Questions
This recipe will work beautifully if you are wanting plain cornbread.
Yes, that is what I usually have on hand. Just make sure to defrost the corn first before mixing it into the batter.
Yes, sub out ghee/butter with your favorite oil and use plant-based milk and yogurt.
No, but without any egg replacer (1 T flaxseed mixed with 3 T water, for example), your cornbread will be more crumbly.
o This recipe was formulated for either an 8-inch or 9-inch square or round pan, with the larger pan producing a slightly thinner cornbread. When baking in glass pans, the edges tend to get brown before the center is cooked. This is not always a good thing, depending on what you are making, but for cornbread, it works well because those brown edges are one of the best parts.
o If you are using a glass pan, you need to bake the cornbread at 400°F (200°C). A metal pan needs a slightly higher heat, so use an oven temperature of 425°F (220°C).
o If you have the same size cast iron skillet, that would certainly work. Heat the pan in your oven while it is preheating to 400°F (200°C). When ready to bake, carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven, melt one tablespoon of butter in the pan, then pour in the cornbread batter—Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Yes, this batter winds up being approximately 3 1/2 cups, which will make 12 regular size muffins. Pour the batter into greased or lined cupcake pans, filling about them 2/3 full. Bake at 425°F (220°C) for 14-18 minutes.
Make this cornbread
If you've never made cornbread, you are in for a treat. Your kitchen will smell heavenly, and this quick bread can be ready in 30 minutes. As usual, make this recipe your own with the heat level and any add-ins that work for you. Spicy cornbread is welcome with any winter soup or stew and is the perfect side to a summer cookout. Your family and friends will love this spicy cornbread with corn reicpe! If you do make it, I would love to hear from you in the comments.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Soup recipes to serve with your cornbread
Spicy Cornbread with Corn
- 3/4 cup cornmeal ~ See Notes below
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 3/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt ~ Or 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar ~ Or honey
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or see Notes below; more to taste
- 1 large egg ~ Well beaten
- 2 tbsp ghee ~ Or melted butter; make ghee
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 cup Greek-style plain yogurt ~ Or sour cream
- 3/4 cup sweet corn ~ Optional; 2 large ears or frozen
- 1/4 cup red bell pepper (capsicum) ~ Optional; minced (green or yellow too)
- 2 tbsp scallion greens ~ Optional; chopped
- 1 tbsp green chili ~ Optional; see Notes below; more or less to taste
- Gather all your ingredients and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) for a glass baking dish, or 425°F (220°C) for a metal pan.
- In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg well and add the yogurt, milk, and ghee (or melted butter).
- Add in the corn, bell pepper, scallions, and chilies, if using.
- Add the wet ingredients into the dry mix and mix together just until combined. Be careful not to overmix the batter; you don’t want to activate the gluten or the bread will not be as tender. You will have a thick batter.
- Pour into a prepared baking pan and bake until the edges are browned and a toothpick comes out clean. Start checking at the 18-minute mark and it may take up to 25 minutes.
- Allow the cornbread to cool for 20 to 30 minutes before servings. This cornbread will stay moist for 2 days. If you want to keep it longer, wrap it tightly and freeze for up to two months.
- The cornmeal to use: Most cornbread recipes call for medium grind yellow cornmeal. Fine or coarse cornmeal works as well but avoid corn flour or cornstarch. For more details review the description of ground corn in the post above.
- Dry chilies: At the minimum, mix in a half teaspoon of ground Kashmiri red chili ancho or chipotle powders. Your favorite chili powder will also work, though if using cayenne, halve the amount unless you want some heat.
- Fresh chilies: Besides the bell pepper, add some minced green chilies: small green Indian chilies, jalapeños, Serrano, or Fresno chilies. You can remove the seeds and white membrane for less heat.
- Pan sizes that work for spicy cornbread:
- This recipe was formulated for either an 8-inch or 9-inch square or round pan, with the larger pan producing a slightly thinner cornbread.
- Use the same size cast iron skillet. Heat the pan in your oven while it is preheating to 400°F (200°C). When ready to bake, carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan, then pour in the cornbread batter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Even an 8 x 4 loaf pan will work.
- Muffins: You will have approximately 3 1/2 cups of batter which will make 12 regular-sized muffins. Pour the batter into greased or lined cupcake pans, filling about them 2/3 full. Bake at 425°F (220°C) for 14-18 minutes.