A few months ago, I embarked on a quest to make incredible vegan cornbread. My first few tests came out just okay, so I decided to try some popular vegan cornbread recipes (I tried five). They ranged from decent on the strong end to inedible on the weak end. Even the better ones tasted like mild-flavored corn cake, not actual cornbread.
After talking to my recipe tester Hannah and her father-in-law (he’s Southern and takes his cornbread very seriously), I knew I wanted to create something totally different than what I had tried. I wanted a wow-worthy cornbread that was just as good as a classic Southern cornbread.
The result is a crispy-crusted, buttery cornbread that’s bursting with tons of corn flavor, has the perfect amount of crumble, and is mildly but not overly sweet. When eaten warm, it’s basically the best thing ever.
Watch! How to make vegan cornbread
5 Secrets for the Best Vegan Cornbread
In addition to doing days of research on traditional Southern cornbread, reading articles written by cornbread experts, and watching YouTube cooking videos, I also tested this recipe and variations of it 20 times (yes, 20 times).
Here’s what I’ve learned about how to make epic vegan cornbread, cornbread that is moist and buttery with crackly corn bits throughout, and of course, has a crispy golden crust.
Secret #1: Use stone-ground cornmeal
Most cornbread recipes I came across do not specify which cornmeal to use. But there’s quite a range in cornmeals, so it’s important to specify.
Your standard supermarket boxed cornmeal has been industrially processed in steel mills and is finely ground. The corn kernels are degerminated, so they lose some of their fat content and hence moisture. The result is a uniform texture, a muted corn flavor, and a less moist crumb.
In contrast, stone-ground cornmeal (the corn is literally ground between slowly moving stones) retains the hull and germ of the corn. This leaves it with more variation in grains, which results in a cornbread that has more complex dimension and a stronger corn flavor.
Takeaway: I highly recommend using stone-ground cornmeal for the most interesting texture (tender with pleasant crunchy bits of corn grit throughout) and a deep corn flavor. In contrast, fine cornmeal makes for a fairly one-note cornbread with only a mild corn flavor. An easily available stone-ground cornmeal is Bob’s Red Mill medium-grind stone-ground cornmeal.
A note on white cornmeal vs. yellow cornmeal
In my research, I found that many Southern cooks insist on using only white cornmeal. I couldn’t find a true reason for its superiority, aside from it being the cornmeal traditionally used in Southern cornbread. It has a slightly more subtle corn flavor than yellow cornmeal.
It’s pretty difficult to find a stone-ground white cornmeal here in California (I had to order this white cornmeal online), so I stuck with yellow cornmeal. That said, I did test this recipe with two different stone-ground white cornmeal brands and they both came out delicious.
Secret #2: Use more cornmeal than flour
In my research, I noticed that every popular vegan cornbread (and many popular non-vegan recipes) used about a 1:1 cornmeal:flour ratio. But, most of the “authentic” Southern cornbread recipes used significantly more cornmeal than flour and some didn’t use any flour (authentic in air quotes because there’s no single way to make cornbread).
In my recipe tests, I found that using more flour than cornmeal resulted in cornbread with (1) a diluted corn flavor and (2) a cakey texture.
That said, in a vegan cornbread, some flour is necessary to provide structure, as you can’t rely on eggs for structure. But too much flour makes for corn cake, not cornbread. One of my taste testers even remarked that she could taste some of the flour in the standard vegan cornbread (not good!).
Takeaway: Use a 2:1 ratio of cornmeal to flour for the best cornbread texture and flavor. Using more cornmeal than flour helps (a) the corn flavor shine (it’s cornbread!) and (b) produces the classic cornbread texture: it crumbles a little but still holds together; it’s moist but has a slightly grainy texture from the corn grits.
PS: Gluten-free? You can easily make this with gluten-free flour (check out the FAQ section).
Secret #3: Bake cornbread in a hot, buttered cast iron skillet
As you can see in the below photo, this cornbread has a mesmerizing golden crust. It’s crispy, buttery, and SO good. Cornbread is all about the crust, and IMO, it’s non-negotiable.
First, pour your cornbread batter into a sizzling hot skillet. This kickstarts the crunchy crust, just like using a hot baking sheet will give you more caramelization on roasted vegetables. Second, add (vegan) butter to the hot pan to enhance the crispiness (and for that mouthwatering buttery taste). Finally, using a cast iron skillet brings the most deeply golden edges and caramelized crust, as cast iron retains heat better during baking than other metals.
Takeaway: For a crispy-edged cornbread with a crunchy and buttery crust, preheat a cast iron skillet until sizzling hot. Add some vegan butter, and once melted, dust the pan with a bit of cornmeal for enhanced crunchiness. Then, pour the batter into the hot pan.
If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, read the “Frequently Asked Questions” section.
Secret #4: Add enough moisture and fat
A few vegan cornbreads I tried (including the first few ones I made) were so dry I had trouble swallowing. Here’s how I avoided that.
First, you need a fair amount of vegan buttermilk (oat milk mixed with apple cider vinegar). Second, I use a mixture of brown sugar and agave nectar, which both have more moisture than the commonly used white sugar. Finally, since classic cornbread contains whole buttermilk, eggs, and a generous amount of butter, I use a mixture of olive oil (adds lots of moisture) and vegan butter (which brings that essential buttery taste) to replicate that richness.
Takeaway: For cornbread that is perfectly moist, slightly dense and incredibly buttery, you need a decent amount of fat. The vegan butter takes this cornbread over the top in a way that oil alone cannot, so please don’t skip it!
A note on sugar in cornbread. I was surprised to learn that traditionally, Southern cornbread contained no sugar at all (here’s a fascinating read on why Southern cornbread doesn’t have sugar). I did try making vegan cornbread without sugar, but it was significantly worse, so I decided sugar (but not a lot) was needed in this recipe.
Secret #5: Rest the batter to hydrate
Compared to flour, cornmeal needs a bit more hydration, especially larger cornmeal grains. Since this recipe uses medium-grind cornmeal and twice the amount of cornmeal as flour, hydration is key.
If you allow the cornbread batter to rest for just 10 minutes, the cornmeal gets fully hydrated by the liquid. And the acidic nature of the buttermilk also helps tenderize the cornmeal. The result is a tender crumb that still keeps its subtly crackly texture.
Takeaway: Allow the cornbread batter to rest for 10 minutes (while the skillet heats up in the oven), or up to an hour. This hydrates the batter, making the crumb more moist and tender.
How to make the best vegan cornbread
Gather your ingredients!
Stir the oat milk and apple cider vinegar together. Set aside to slightly curdle (this is the buttermilk).
In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder. Whisk well.
Make a well in the dry mix, and then add the buttermilk.
Add the olive oil, melted vegan butter, brown sugar, and agave nectar.
Gently mix with a whisk, and do not over mix. The batter will have some lumps. Fold in the chopped fresh rosemary. Allow the batter to rest for 10 minutes (or up to an hour).
While the batter rests, heat a 9 or 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven at 400ºF for 10 minutes. Remove the hot pan from the oven and 2 tablespoons of vegan butter. Once it melts, dust lightly with cornmeal.
Slowly pour the batter into the hot pan.
Bake for 25-28 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes, then slice and serve warm.
Tips for making the best vegan cornbread
I like using full-fat oat milk (Oatly brand) for the best texture. Oat milk does a great job at browning baked goods, and the fat content helps compensate for the generous amount of fat used in classic cornbread. This recipe would probably work well with soy milk or cashew milk too, but I haven’t tested that.
I add fresh rosemary to the cornbread batter, which adds so much interesting flavor. Many of my taste testers particularly loved this addition.
If you prefer a classic flavored cornbread, you can omit the rosemary. If you love the corn-rosemary flavor combo as much as I do, be sure to try the Sweet Corn Rosemary Cake in my cookbook, The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook.
This cornbread is subtly sweet, but not sweet like cake. It’s meant to be eaten as a side dish, either plain with a pat of vegan butter, or alongside savory foods. That said, if you want additional sweetness, there’s a recipe for a maple butter topping in the recipe card. Or, you could spread some jam on top!
When mixing the batter, use a whisk and don’t be worried that the batter has lumps. The bread won’t be lumpy :) And try to pour the batter fairly slowly; if you pour the batter quickly, it will cause the hot butter to pool up at the surface.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! We tested this with King Arthur’s measure-for-measure gluten-free flour (affiliate link) and it worked great. I’m no expert at gluten-free baking, but this brand has xanthan gum, which I think is helpful for binding and structure.
(1) Use the same amount of flour (3/4 cup GF flour). (2) Since GF flour absorbs more liquid, add an extra 1/4 cup (60 mL) oat milk. (3) Given the extra moisture, allow the cornbread to rest for a bit longer (30 minutes) before slicing.
Our gluten-free cornbread turned out slightly more moist and more crumbly than the original, so if you can tolerate gluten, I recommend using regular flour. But if you can’t, the gluten-free version was still the best damn vegan and gluten-free cornbread I could imagine.
Here are the brands I’ve tried in this recipe with delicious results (affiliate links). Bob’s Red Mill is the most widely available, found at several grocery stores (Whole Foods, Vons/Safeway, Ralph’s, and health grocery stores). I had to order the other cornmeals online.
– Bob’s Red Mill stone-ground yellow cornmeal (medium-grind)
– Marsh Hen Mill stone-ground yellow cornmeal (finer texture than Bob’s Red Mill)
– Marsh Hen Mill stone-ground white cornmeal (previously known as Geechie Boy Mill)
– Anson Mills stone-ground yellow cornmeal (coarse ground)
– Palmetto Farms stone-ground white cornmeal (interestingly, the recipe turned out dry with this same brand’s yellow cornmeal; would not recommend)
Use a 9×9 metal baking pan instead. The crust didn’t get as crispy or crunchy as it did with the cast iron skillet, but it was still very good. If using this method, add only 1 tablespoon of butter to the hot cast iron skillet (instead of 2). And it may need an extra 5 minutes bake time to get nicely golden.
Sorry, no. I worked really hard to make this the closest thing to a Southern-style crispy-crusted, buttery cornbread, and it just wouldn’t be the same thing without the vegan butter and oil.
Cornbread is the best on day 1, but leftovers will stay good up to 3 days (the texture will be a bit softer). Store in an airtight container, not in a reusable bag (it will get soggy), for up to 3 days.
To reheat cornbread, reheat in the oven at 375ºF/190ºC. Reheat for 10-15 minutes, either (1) unwrapped on a baking sheet – this returns some of the crispiness; or (2) wrapped in foil – this makes it softer and moister.
That’s everything you need to know about how to make *incredible* vegan cornbread! I hope you’ll love this recipe as much as we do. If you do, please rate and review the recipe below :)
- 1 ½ cups (360 mL) full-fat oat milk**
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 ½ cups (195g) stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal (medium-grind is my preference)***
- 3/4 cup (94g) all-purpose flour****
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Heaping 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons (56g) vegan butter, melted + 2 tablespoons for greasing the skillet
- ¼ cup (56g) extra virgin olive oil or neutral-flavored oil of choice
- 1/4 cup (40g) organic brown sugar*****
- 1/4 cup (84g) agave nectar
- 1 heaping tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary (4g)
For serving (optional)
- Softened vegan butter; OR
- Maple Butter: 2 tablespoons vegan butter + 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF/204ºC and arrange a middle rack in the oven. Stir the vinegar into the oat milk and set aside for 5-10 minutes to slightly curdle.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Whisk well to break up any clumps.
- Make a well in the center and pour in the 4 tablespoons melted vegan butter, oil, brown sugar, agave, and buttermilk. Gently mix with a whisk until just smooth, taking care to not overmix – there will be lumps, that’s okay!
- Fold in the rosemary using a silicone spatula. Allow the batter to rest for 10 minutes, or up to 1 hour. It should look somewhat like a pancake batter.
- Meanwhile, transfer a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet to the pre-heated oven to heat up for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven (use oven mitts!) and add the 2 tablespoons of vegan butter. It will start melting almost immediately. Dust the pan lightly with a sprinkle of cornmeal, about 1 teaspoon.
- Pour the cornbread batter into the hot skillet (but not too quickly or the butter will pool up to the top). Bake for 25 to 28 minutes (check at 25 minutes), until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is golden brown.
- Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing. Serve warm, or with a pat of softened vegan butter on top of each slice, if desired. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days on the counter.
- If making the maple butter, add the softened butter to a small bowl and whisk vigorously until it starts to get fluffy. Add the maple syrup and whisk until well combined and smooth.
What to serve cornbread with
You can serve cornbread plain or with a pat of softened vegan butter (we eat it for breakfast like this all the time). Or, if you like it sweeter, with some jam or maple butter (maple butter recipe is in the recipe card).
Cornbread is also excellent served with savory dishes. Some favorite ideas:
- Vegan Chili (honestly the best pairing ever)
- Any kind of hearty stew like this White Bean Stew or this Gambian Peanut Stew
- As part of a BBQ plate, like with this BBQ tempeh
- Creamy or stewed beans, like the Rosemary Garlic White Beans or Frijoles from my cookbook
- With vegan sausage and greens or roasted cabbage
Sources referenced in writing this post:
I referenced a number of posts in writing this post. If you’re interested in learning more, please do give them a read:
- Cornmeal is baked into the history of the Americas… Rebecca Powers for the Washington Post.
- The real reason sugar has no place in cornbread. Robert Moss for Serious Eats.
- Mistakes you’re making with your cornbread. Mashable.
- Southern Cornbread recipe from Grand Baby Cakes.
- There’s more than one way to make ‘authentic’ cornbread. Vaughn Stafford Gray for Life Hacker.
- The secret to bona fide southern cornbread is in the cornmeal. Daniel Gritzer for Serious Eats.