Buying ingredients for cornbread should entail more than walking into the grocery store and blindly picking any bag that says "cornmeal" from the shelves.
According to Bon Appetit's senior food editor Rick Martinez, one size fits all isn't a rule that applies to cornmeal. The variations in grain size can revolutionize (or destroy) your bread.
Cornmeal is available on a spectrum of grind sizes, ranging from fine to medium to coarse.
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Cornbread is supposed to be a textural experience—it's half the reason you're eating it instead of fluffy and elastic wheat bread, so you might as well make it count. Instead of most recipes, which call for about 50% wheat flour and 50% cornmeal, Martinez likes to lean a little closer to 60 to 70% cornmeal, where the wheat flour gives the bread a subtle airy lift.
Go big or go home?
If you're going all out for Thanksgiving, cornmeals from beloved supermarket brands are the reliable rocks on which years and years of holiday traditions have rested. But live a little. Martinez says this is the time to splurge on a fancy, stone-ground cornmeal, from Anson Mills or Geechie Boy. The flavor is often more vibrant. The texture of the corn grains can be more varied, and give your bread extra dimension.
Don't shy away from colorful corn
Good coarse-grind cornmeal versus the fine stuff is like the difference between steel cut oats and rolled oats—you get all of this wonderful texture in every bite. Sometimes, that fancier cornmeal can even add some new colors to the equation. Purple! Red! All the pretty colors!
The skillet cornbread at The Dabney in Washington, D.C. is a shining example. It has a grainy texture, courtesy of stone-milled cornmeal from Anson Mills, where each bite is loaded with maximum impact.
In other words, paying attention to your cornmeal pays off. Consider it one of the few times size, shape, and type actually do matter.