The holiday season is upon us in full swing! That mean parties galore: work functions, festive friend gathering, and family reunions. No matter who you’re celebrating with or what you celebrate, it’s going to involve food, and lots of it. Don’t be that person that who contributes a mediocre dish, store bought sugar cookies, room temperature beer, or forgets to bring anything altogether. Instead, make this easy and very crowd pleasing Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated recipe for All-Purpose Cornbread. I know that cornbread can be a polarizing topic when it comes to sweetness and corn kernels, but this cheesy and spicy Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread walks that fine line in between, delivering fresh corn flavor, a light crumb, and a crust to die for.
We have all the usual suspects for our Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread- cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, butter, eggs, sugar and leavening agents, but the secret lies in our corn kernels. Having corn kernels is great for the cornbread flavor, but they can leave gaps and extra chewy kernels in the bread. To break down the kernels, we blitz them with the wet ingredients to form a corn slurry, thus creating a uniform texture. We’ll also melt the butter so easily mixes with the corn, eliminating the need to work out lumps in the dry mixture.
Run your knife through the pickled jalapeños so no one gets a whole ring in a single bite. These pickled jalapeños dampen the true heat of the fresh jalapeño, bringing a slight sourness and a little color variation to the cornbread too. The real heat comes from our fresh jalapeño. I store mine in the freezer because I like to grate them directly into whatever I’m making. This partially comes from laziness and not wanting to wash my knife and cutting board, but it also easily breaks down the jalapeño into fine dust. You can certainly store your jalapeños in the fridge like a normal person and finely dice the jalapeño, just be mindful to wash everything afterwards.
If you’re feeling brave, masochistic, or that your jalapeños are just too dang small, add more peppers! You can also control the heat by seeding the jalapeño since the capsaicin is mostly in the membrane and its attached seeds. If you’ve ever eaten something too spicy, you know that you crave ice cold water to dampen the heat, but the real way to quell the pain is with fat. Cheese, butter, and milk are the components in our Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread that will counteract the hot peppers.
Once your dry ingredients are combined, make a well and dump in the corn slurry. Fold the mixture in with a spatula until just barely combined. It will be loose and chunky. Add in the extra goodies until the cheese, diced & pickled jalapeños, and fresh jalapeño are worked uniformly throughout the batter. If you want your cornbread to be extra tasty, (duh), place a 9 inch cast iron skillet on the stove and crank up the heat. I cannot live without my cast iron pans and often find myself reaching for the 9 inch skillet when I bake savory breads. It fits perfectly in our small convection oven, doesn’t have a long handle thats sticks out and makes clean up a breeze. It’s actually part of a dutch oven set, but Lodge Logic was clever enough to make the lid a small skillet! A two for one deal indeed.
Plop a nice pat of butter in the skillet and swirl it around to coat the pan. This will create a dreamy and sinful brown butter crust on the bottom of your Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread. It also makes an amazing sound and smell quite tasty. Once the Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread batter is in the skillet, pop it into a 400 F oven. It will only take about 30 minutes to cook through and turn golden brown. You’ll know it’s done when the top is golden brown & crisp and a toothpick comes out cleanly from the center.
When your cornbread emerges, resist the urge to shovel cheesy and spicy bread into your awaiting mouth. The cast iron is HOT and will continue to stay that way for a while. Be careful to not touch anything with your bare hands!
Let the cornbread sit while you make the cilantro butter. It’s pretty easy- chopped cilantro and salted butter. For easier mixing, let the butter come to room temperature and combine with the cilantro. Spoon the butter onto a long sheet of plastic wrap and roll it up into a log, twisting the ends tightly to shape the butter. Pop the butter log back in the fridge to set and take it out when you are ready to serve your cornbread. Now you have a fancy addition to your cornbread and an excuse to eat butter. How much better can it get than that?
Maybe this cornbread isn’t for you because you hate jalapeños and cheddar cheese. That’s OK, (but what’s wrong with you?). I’ve got another one for you to try. This recipe for Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Cornbread from Deb at Smitten Kitchen is one that I swear by and that shows up regularly on my table. If your tastes are more classic, then make this Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread recipes without all the goodies. Since it’s based on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, it’s mighty tasty just by itself. Other fun variations might include bacon(!), scallions, roasted red peppers, cranberry & orange, or maple pecan. Give them a try and let me know how they are!