This moist and fluffy cast iron skillet cornbread is made with polenta, and topped with jalapenos, cheddar and cotija cheese. It's softer and quite different from traditional Southern cornbread but delicious nonetheless!
Note: You can either make this soft and quiche-like (use instant polenta) or "flaky" like from a boxed mix (use dry polenta). Please make sure to check recipe notes!
The post contains helpful tips and tricks to make sure you're successful in your first attempt. But if you're in a rush, please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end!
💭 Why you'll love this recipe
- Fluffy quiche-like cornbread - I contemplated calling this a cornbread quiche, because it's super soft and fluffy. It's also super forgiving!
- Perfect side for a big family meal - I love having this as a side for a big meal (like at Thanksgiving) because it's scrumptious and disappears in no time
- Great as a make-ahead side - it's super easy to freeze, and you can just pop it in the oven when you're ready to eat it again
⭐ Origin Story
I had some pre-cooked polenta (the type that comes as a log) and I stumbled on an Ottolenghi cornbread recipe using polenta. I was inspired to tweak his recipe to use pre-cooked polenta, and the result was amazing. Fluffy, moist interior + crisp exterior. We're in business, folks!
📋 Ingredients & variations
This recipe uses instant (pre-cooked) polenta as the base. But it works just as well with dry cornmeal for a more traditional texture (see recipe notes for weight substitutions). I use jalapenos, cheddar, and cotija cheese toppings - but you can add corn and red onions!
Substitutions and Variations
My cornbread uses eggs and Greek yogurt and also has flour in it, so it's not gluten free. However, here are some substitutions to accommodate dietary restrictions:
- Make it gluten-free. Use ¾ cup of cornmeal and ¼ cup of rice flour instead of all purpose flour; I’ve found rice flour helps make it more crumbly. The texture is not exactly the same, but it's still darn delicious!
- Make it vegan. Use 1.5 cups of soy milk +2 tsp of lemon juice instead of Greek yogurt or use vegan yogurt (the key is to make sure the batter is soft and fluid, so that the end result is moist and fluffy). Other non-dairy milk works, but soy is probably your best option. For eggs, just use a "flax" egg (1 tbsp of flax meal + 2.5 tbsp of water, rest for 15 minutes per flax egg - so you'll need 2 tbsp of flax meal and 5 tbsp of water)
- Make cornbread muffins. Prepare the batter exactly as described and then instead of dumping it in a skillet, fill a muffin tray about ⅔ of the way to make cornbread muffins instead. This batter should be perfect for 12 muffins.
🥘 Make fluffy cast iron skillet cornbread
Preheat the oven to 375F and pop your cast iron skillet to heat up.
When your cast iron skillet is warm, the bottom will crisp up since it'll cook faster.
Sift or mix dry ingredients together, then add all wet ingredients. Then you fold in the scallions, jalapenos, and cheddar cheese. Your batter is ready.
First, mix all the dry ingredients together (i.e. all purpose flour, baking powder and soda, garlic powder and onion salt). Then add wet ingredients into the dry ingredients (i.e. finely chopped pre-cooked polenta, oil, eggs, and Greek yogurt).
Carefully remove skillet with mitts, pour your batter and top off with toppings
I use the remaining cheddar cheese, jalapenos, and cotija cheese as toppings. But you can also use red onions, charred corn kernels or even just cheddar.
Then, pop back into the oven - in about 40 minutes, your cornbread is ready to go.
⚙️ FAQs and Troubleshooting
This is likely because the pan is not hot enough and the cornbread batter is wet and sticks to the bottom of the pan before it can cook. You can avoid this by doing two things: when you preheat the oven, pop cast iron skillet in there to warm up. Then, before you add batter, smear a tablespoon of vegetable oil and evenly coat the skillet. Be careful to use an oven mitt when you pull your cast iron skillet out!
This typically happens because your oven is too hot. So, the crust will cook faster than the inside, but as the insides cook, they push the crust out, hence making it crack. Most ovens are slightly different from the temperature they display - this is not a deal breaker, so don’t worry too much about it.
🍴 Storage and serving suggestions
Storage: I highly recommend eating this recipe the day it's made, or the day after it's made. Just cover with beeswax wrap and leave it at room temperature to store. When ready to eat, pop into the oven at 350F for 5 minutes to reheat (ideally still in the skillet).
That said, you can also freeze the cornbread for a month. Make sure that you transfer to an airtight container, cool down and then pop in the freezer. When you want to eat it, thaw first for about 30 minutes then pop into the oven at 350 for 10 minutes. Top off with some extra cheese for some extra deliciousness.
The skillet cornbread is great to be had by itself or with some fresh avocados on top. It also goes great with any type of chili, stew or rich, hearty vegetable or meat dishes. If you make muffins, they are great for a savory breakfast.
If you loved this recipe, check out some of my other sides recipes you'll love:
Dry ingredients to mix together first:
- 2 cups all purpose flour, see post for gluten-free option
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp onion salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
Wet ingredients to add to dry ingredients:
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ package of instant polenta, slice into small cubes, as small as you can get
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, see post for vegan substitution
- ½ cup oil, olive oil or vegetable oil both work fine!
- 4 - 6 scallions, ends cut off and chopped into small pieces
- 1 jalapeno, chopped into small pieces (omit if too spicy)
- 1 tbsp cheddar cheese, shredded or grated fresh
For the toppings:
- 2 jalapenos, sliced into small rounds (adjust to spice tolerance)
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded or grated fresh
- 1 cup cotija cheese, crumbled, can substitute with feta!
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice, The secret ingredient!
- Chop up scallions and jalapeno (1 into small pieces for batter, 2 into rounds for topping) - set aside
- Preheat the oven to 375F and pop the cast iron skillet in there to warm up
- Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, onion salt and garlic powder) together in a mixing bowl (or in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer)
- Chop the polenta into small cubes, and add that, eggs, Greek yogurt, and oil to the dry ingredients
- Either using a rubber spatula or the paddle attachment in the stand mixer, mix well to combine - the batter should be fluid and moist, and well combined
- Add scallions, jalapenos and cheddar - fold them into the batter
- Remove cast iron skillet using oven mitts - coat both base and sides evenly with some oil
- Dump the batter and spread it evenly across the skillet
- Line up the jalapenos evenly in a circle, add the cheddar and cotija or feta cheese on top, and finally squeeze a small bit of lemon juice (1 tsp) on top
- Pop in oven for 40 minutes (fork should come out clean when you insert into cornbread)
- Wait for 10 minutes and serve hot (or if you're like me and can't wait, dig right in!)
- Important note: this recipe is for a softer, almost quiche like polenta (if you use the "log" of polenta). For a more traditional flaky cornbread, measure about 1 cup of polenta and 1 cup of all purpose flour instead of the polenta log, and keep the rest of the ingredients the same.
- To make cornbread muffins: oil a muffin tray and spoon batter (before you add toppings) about ⅔ full - add the cheese and jalapenos on top and bake for 35 minutes in the oven at 375F. No need to preheat the muffin tray, of course!
- Make sure you pre-heat the skillet and oil the base and sides to prevent the cornbread from sticking to the sides or the base
Note: This recipe was first published on 25 April 2020 and updated on September 27, 2020 to add a few FAQs and variations to help make the recipe perfectly each time.