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When was the last time you made cornbread? Did you use a commercial mix or did you pull out a favorite cookbook and make your batter from scratch?

Even if you’ve never made cornbread before, it is one of the easiest things to prepare well. Both novice and experienced cooks feel a great deal of satisfaction when making cornbread from scratch, as it is really hard to mess it up. It’s easy, forgiving and delicious.

With a three-day weekend coming up, now is a good time to give it a try if you are reluctant to bake from scratch during the week. But, honestly, it doesn’t take long.

If you’ve had cornmeal sitting in the back of a cupboard for a few years, you want to toss it out and start anew, as its flavor will have declined. You can find it in bulk at such local markets such as Oliver’s (in Santa Rosa, Cotati and Windsor), Andy’s (in Sebastopol) and Shed (in Healdsburg). I prefer stone-ground, medium-grind cornmeal but you should use whatever you prefer. The smaller the grind, the smoother the cornbread will be.

Cornbread will keep for several days properly wrapped; to enjoy it after the first day, heat it in a warm oven first.

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To make the very best cornbread, you must bake it in a cast iron pan that has been preheated; there is no other way to get the right sort of crust on it. Enjoy it neat or alongside black bean soup, red beans and rice, chili Colorado, fried chicken, barbecued ribs or braised greens. It is also delicious slathered with either plain butter or maple syrup butter.

Buttermilk Cornbread

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups medium-ground cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

4 eggs, at room temperature

2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted

— Maple Syrup Butter, recipe follows, optional

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Rub the 2 tablespoons of butter over the inside of a 10-inch cast-iron pan and set it on the middle rack of the oven.

Put the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl and mix with a fork. Set aside.

Put the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk very well, until light a creamy. Whisk in the buttermilk and melted butter.

Working quickly, remove the hot pan from the oven (be sure to protect your hands with heavy pot holders) and set it on top of the stove.

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and use a large rubber spatula to combine the ingredients in a few quick strokes; do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the hot pan, using the rubber spatula to scrape all of it from the bowl.

Quickly return the pan to the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Test the cornbread by pressing lightly on the center; it should feel firm. Alternately, insert a bamboo skewer into the center of the cornbread and if it comes out clean, it is done.

Remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes. Use a very thin knife or spatula to loosen the cornbread from the sides of the pan, if necessary. Invert onto a plate and then turn right side up onto a cooling rack.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature, with the maple butter alongside.

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This simple flavored butter is easy to make and keeps well when covered and refrigerated. Enjoy it with cornbread or atop pancakes, waffles and French toast.

Maple Syrup Butter

Makes about 1/2 cup

1 stick (8 tablespoons, 1/2 cup) local butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon kosher salt

— White pepper in a mill

Using a small food processor or a hand-held mixer, combine the butter, maple syrup, salt and several turns of white butter until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust for sweetness, adding more syrup if you prefer a sweeter butter.

Use a rubber spatula to transfer the butter into a small glass jar or other container. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

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Allowing the cornmeal to rest in the boiling water and in the buttermilk is what gives this spoonbread its invitingly velvety texture.

Velvet Spoonbread

Makes 6 to 8 servings

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup medium-ground cornmeal

11/2 cups boiling water

3 large eggs, separated

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rub the inside of a 2-quart baking dish with butter, using about 2 tablespoons of it.

Put the cornmeal into a large stainless steel bowl, pour the boiling water over it and whisk until smooth.

Add the remaining butter and set aside.

Put the egg yolks, sugar and salt into a small bowl, whisk well and stir into the cornmeal mixture.

Gradually whisk in the buttermilk and set aside for 20 minutes.

Using a sturdy whisk or an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

Fold the egg whites into the cornmeal batter after it has rested for the full 20 minutes. Pour the batter into the baking dish, set on the middle rack of the oven, close the oven door and reduce the heat to 350 degrees.

Bake for about 55 minutes, test to see that the spoonbread is set and, if it has not, cook for another 10 minutes or so.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before enjoying warm.

Use a large spoon to serve the spoonbread.

Michele Anna Jordan is author of 24 books to date. Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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