Sunday, February 21, 2010

Grandma's Sweet Buttermilk Cornbread in a Pressure Cooker

There are hundreds of different cornbread recipes, and each family has their own cherished version, so you've probably been baking cornbread for years. Me too!

There was a hot pan of cornbread on our supper table almost every night… except that ours might have been cooked in the pressure cooker just as often as in the oven. It's one of the recipes that didn't make it into my cookbook. Judging from all the requests I get for about cooking cakes and bread in the pressure cooker, its time to correct that.

I learned how to cook standing on a chair beside my grandmother in her big farm kitchen. As with so many of the foods she prepared, there was no written recipe and the ingredients often varied according to what she had on hand, and cornbread was no exception.

Use a large enough insert pan to allow plenty of extra
room for your cornbread to rise.

This type of quick bread is very popular throughout the United States, and if you're like me, you have lots of good memories of eating warm, buttery cornbread with the big bowl of hot soup or beans on cold winter days. Depending on where your roots are, cornbread recipes may have a mixture of flour and cornmeal or only cornmeal, many include buttermilk, and then there's white or yellow cornmeal, and bacon drippings or butter, and the endless debate about sugar.

There's serious dispute amongst cornbread connoisseurs about the origins of sweetened, cornbread… and even if such a concoction should be called cornbread or corn-cake. Self-styled experts claim that "real" Southern style cornbread has no sugar, and that it was "them dang Northerners" that adulterated the purity of genuine cornbread with the horrid addition of sugar.

The lid transforms the insert pan into a mini oven within the
pressure cooker when it is elevated above the waterline.

Now, my family has deep Southern roots, and my crotchety old kin folks were great authorities on the local lore, the quaint old customs and the odd bits of historical trivia. "Pshaw!" grandpa Gaylord said indignantly. "We always made sweet cornbread cuz we had tons of cheap sugar. North of the Mason Dixon line, they made cornbread plain 'cause they couldn't get sugar until after the Civil War."

There you have it; sweet cornbread is indeed a fine old Southern heritage recipe, and it must be true cuz my elderlies say it's so!

The lid also protects the delicately crisp crust on the cornbread
from droplets of condensation that form as the pressure cooker
cools during the Natural Release cycle.

If I remember my grade school geography lessons, I suspect that my grandpa was right. Since the pre-civil war days, sugar cane has always been a vital crop in the South. With sugar so cheap and plentiful, naturally it would have been used in great quantities in southern kitchens, but perhaps not so much in the North where it had to be imported and shipped at some considerable expense. Sugar would have become quite scarce as the war between the North and South raged on, so it's probably unlikely that it would have been a common ingredient in Yankee-style cornbread.

Back in the 50s, my grandma would often entertain us younguns with stories about the 'olden days'. She maneuvered around her kitchen like a commanding general, brandishing her big old wooden spoon as she went about tasting, stirring, and learnin' us cookin' while dispensing lessons in life along with the colorful oral history about our family roots. Her recipes reflect many favorites of Southern cuisine, and they document a long-standing -- and insane -- love affair with sugar. Anyone who's ever sampled Southern cooking knows that vast amounts of sugar is poured into everything from Sweet Tea, to sticky barbecued foods, and its even sprinkled on corn on the cob and watermelon!

Cooked without any additional zero-pressure steaming period,
my finished cornbread has nearly doubled in height,
rising high despite cooking at 15psi.

Now that I've settled the great debate about sweet cornbread, let me show you another great cooking technique for the pressure cooker: BAKING. This recipe uses the PIP (Pan In Pot) cooking method to actually bake the cornbread. I rate this recipe for Intermediate pressure cooker users. If you are already using my PIP recipes, then you'll have no problem trying this. Okay, lets get us some cornbread cookin' in that pressure cooker!
Start by pouring the cornmeal batter into a greased metal pan that will fit inside your pressure cooker. You can also cook this recipe in a silicone baking pan, but a metal pan will give the cornbread a light, delicate crust that I really like.

Let's get on with the recipe:

For this recipe, I have placed my cornbread pan inside a steamer tray so it would be easy to remove using the handle on the steamer. The steamer tray has built in feet so I didn't have to use a separate cooking rack or trivet. If your pressure cooker didn't include a steamer tray then just use the foil Helper Handles under the pan.

Here's my lovely, piping hot cornbread with a nice,
crisp crust around the side.

Choose a pan with a lid, it doesn't matter if its a lid from another pan if it fits. Even if you don't have a lid, just use a sheet of foil. This creates a mini-oven within the pressure cooker to bake the cornbread rather than steam it. The lid also acts as a shield against condensation droplets than can occur as the cooker cools down during the natural release.

I turned my cornbread out on a rack to rest for 5 minutes or so to let to firm up a bit before cutting.
A slice of cornbread, cut in half,  and buttered, to show
the inner texture. This cornbread is not dry and crumbly,
but more cake-like, so it doesn't fall apart when you pick it up.

So try this cornbread recipe, or use your own recipe, or just go grab a box of Jiffy mix, and use your pressure cooker to "bake" your next batch of cornbread. It's fast, it's easy, and you don't waste money by having a big hot oven heating up your house just to cook a little pan of cornbread.

Grandma's Sweet Buttermilk Cornbread

A recipe for a sweet and delicious cake-like cornbread. My grandma was a very frugal woman, and any leftover cornbread from dinner was re-purposed for breakfast the next morning. I have fond memories of her crumbling cornbread into a big glass of ice cold milk and eating it with spoon. Sometime she would add a glug of molasses or maple syrup, maybe a few fresh berries from the garden, or some of her own canned peaches.

2/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/3 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk.
2 eggs
4 tablespoons bacon drippings, or 1/2 stick butter (not margarine), melted and cooled to room temperature
Choose a round pan with a flat-bottom and a tight fitting lid that with fit inside your pressure cooker. If you don't have a lid to fit the insert then crimp a square of aluminum foil tightly over the top of the pan. Generously grease the pan.

In a small bowl whisk the eggs, and then blend in the drippings and other liquid ingredients. In large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just barely blended. The batter should look a bit lumpy. Pour the batter to the prepared pan, only filling to about 2/3 full to allow room for it to rise. Add 2/3 cup water to the pressure cooker and put a cooking rack or trivet in the bottom. Use foil Helper Handles to place the pan on top of the rack. Lock the lid in place. Bring to 15psi over high heat, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to stabilize and maintain that pressure. Cook 12 minutes. Remove from heat and use the natural release method before opening the lid.

Variations: This recipe can accommodate all kinds of personal touches, so feel free to add about 1 cup of extras in extras like grated sharp cheese, sliced green onions, corn kernels, chopped jalapeƱo peppers, cooked sausage or crumbled bacon. I like a combo of cheese and jalapeƱos.

Cook's Note: No buttermilk? Substitutes are best employed sparingly because they are seldom as good as the genuine thing, but powdered buttermilk seems to be a good thing. You can use other acidic dairy products like plain yogurt, sour cream, or even make your own clabbered milk. To make the well-known fake buttermilk substitute, sour 1 cup of milk by stirring in 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice and letting it stand for 5-10 minutes.

People are always asking me about cooking breads and cakes in their pressure cookers, so why not start learning this technique by cooking this cornbread recipe? Let me know how you like it.


Joy said...

A lovely post and great information for me, an Australian with NO family history of cornmeal! Cheers!

oatsnivy said...

This is perfect! Our old oven quit working and we can't affort a new one just yet, but I'm going to try this for dinner tonight to go with the soup I just made from one of your cookbook recipes. Thank you for posting this.

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