Three Layer Cornbread


IMG_3264Recently I was discussing a lemon dessert recipe with a friend and she said every time she makes it, it turns out a little different but always delicious.  This reminded me of a recipe I have made for decades that also turns out different every time.  It was then we realized we both own very worn copies of “The Tassajara Bread Book”, written by Edward Espe Brown, Chief Priest, Zen Center in San Franciso, originally published in 1970. IMG_3235 It is not a hyperbole when I say this book is well used.  It is full of simple and delicious creations containing the unspoken secret ingredient of all good recipes, LOVE. It is unspoken yet very present throughout the book.   On page two there is a Composite of Kitchen Necessities that begins with,

Bringing food alive with your loving presence.

 To have compassion, to have respect for fresh foods, for broken bowls, for dirty napkins, and little bugs.

To take care of leftovers, not saying, oh that’s all right, we have plenty, we can throw that away.

Just to make deepest love all the time, concentrating not on the food, but on yourself:  making the best effort to allow things to fulfill their functions.  In this way everything is deliciously full of warmth and kindness.

This may seem a bit esoteric for a cookbook but I love that it was written with such thoughtfulness and it has endured the test of time.

OK, let’s get on to the cornbread.  I know I have made this hundreds of times.IMG_3237  Just look at the book and its pages!  This is truly the easiest recipe ever!  No joke!  Need a quick dish for a potluck?  This is it!  Always good and loved by all.  The mixing literally takes minutes.  It bakes for about 50 minutes (just time enough to get dressed and ready) and unlike most cornbread, it stays moist and fresh for days.

Let’s get baking.


1 c coarse ground cornmeal

1/2 c whole wheat flour

1/2 c unbleached white flour

2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

1 egg

1/4 – 1/2 c honey or molasses

1/4 c oil

3 c milk or buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. Combine dry ingredients.
  2. Combine wet ingredients
  3. Mix together.  Mixture will quite watery.
  4. Pour into a greased 9 x 9 inch pan.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes or until top is springy when gently touched.

That’s it!  I always make this with 1/4 c of honey but adjust amount to desired sweetness.  I also prefer buttermilk to milk as it adds a tanginess that I really like.IMG_3227

What makes the three layers?  It states in the book that this recipe was discovered quite by accident.  The corn meal settles to the bottom, the bran from the whole wheat flour rises, leaving an egg-custardy layer in the middle.  Here’s the thing, though.  It doesn’t always turn out with the three distinct layers but it is always delicious. What makes the difference?  Who knows, but I suspect it has to do with the coarseness of the cornmeal and the amount of bran present in the whole wheat flour.  The moisture content of the egg could also alter the outcome.  So have no fear and just know that layered or not it is worth making and everyone loves it!


I cannot leave this post without giving you one more quote from the book.  I should preface it by saying I find it really annoying when people are so protective and refuse to share recipes.  What is that about?  Family secrets?  If you think about it, most recipes that people hold so dear are not original.  They become family recipes because they are associated with the love that goes into them and the sharing with loved ones.  If you do your research you will most likely find that Aunt Shirley’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe came from the back of the Nestle chip bag or Grandma’s pie dough is from a recipe on the Crisco can.  No joke!  I believe the book says it all.

“A recipe doesn’t belong to anyone.  Given to me, I give it to you.  Only a guide, only a skeletal framework.  You must fill in the flesh according to your nature and desire.  Your life, your love will bring these words into full creation.  This cannot be taught.  You already know.  So please cook, love, feel, create.”


I hope you will check out this little gem of a cookbook.  It contains many good, healthy recipes and morsels of wisdom.  For sure the cornbread is a must do.  In the spirit of the above message, try adding jalapeno or bacon to the batter.  In other words, let it reflect you.  Perhaps this will become one of your family’s treasures, but remember, don’t keep it a secret!  Thoughts?


12 responses to “Three Layer Cornbread

  1. I know I sound like a broken record because I say the same things after each of your recipes and posts … but I LOVE cornbread!! I used to make it quite often when the girls were young but I find myself making it rarely these days (except when I have chili on the menu!) Anyway, I’ll try this version soon ~

    Otherwise this post just made me smile … the stuff about sharing recipes brings so many thoughts to mind!! When I got married I couldn’t cook at all. Crazy coming from a large family. It was so much easier for my mom to shew everyone out of the kitchen and just do her own thing! Anyway, Matt’s mom was an absolutely wonderful cook ~ just amazing! I was always asking for help in cooking and for her recipes …. my versions never turned out. I know she left key ingredients out and I wasn’t savvy enough to substitute. I know because I now own quite a few of her recipe boxes filled with 1000s of recipes …. and I see the “missing” ingredients!! ha, ha, ha~

    Thanks for my daily boost of cooking humor 🙂

    • Thanks, Dawn. I think the idea of leaving out ingredients is mean spirited and petty. I love to share my recipes because I take comfort in the idea that they will live on and be enjoyed by others. I have found that many people, especially older ones, don’t have written recipes so they have to pull them from memory. In cases like that I can understand how ingredients get left out.
      So glad all your girls like to cook. Wishing you and your family a very Happy New Year. Keep cooking! QJ

  2. I agree with you about sharing recipes – the more the merrier right?? This cornbread is definitely going on my to-do list!

  3. Thanks, Maggie. You will like this cornbread for sure. I know, secret family recipe? I think it is crazy. Recipes are for sharing otherwise they die. What’s the point of that? Happy New Year! QJ

  4. Beautiful thoughts, as always queenjeanne. Cornbread is a staple in my kitchen, but I’ve never made it with whole wheat flour. I’m going to try this. If any of you cooks are looking for something to do on New Year’s Eve, Annie at Baraboo’s Village Booksmith is hosting a night filled with board games, conversation, fun,and a 9:00 potluck. Bring one of your recipes.

  5. Thanks, Terri. This is exceptionally moist cornbread that holds for several days. I know you will like it. Wishing you and your family a very Happy New Year. May we all share many blessings in 2013.

  6. Speaking of sharing recipes, I made your mom’s Lemon Cake Pie the other night for Tristan and my dad and it was soooooooooo good. You should blog that! The way it separates in the oven and makes that curd-like layer is so cool!

  7. Thanks, Maggie. I will make a point of blogging about the lemon pie. So glad you enjoyed it. It is a very old recipe that came from my mother;s family. I appreciate the feedback. Happy New Year!

  8. I’ve read a few posts here and I can actually relate. I am in love with Marie Callender’s cornbread. They are simple to make and super yummy, especially with honey butter. I’ve been a fan of MC’s ever since
    I was a little girl, and have fond memories of eating it with my family back in San Jose, CA. Check out their website to order your cornbread mix. They also stock a variety of gourmet products I’m sure you will enjoy.

    • Hi Anna: Thank you for your comments and the website. I usually cook from scratch and do not use mixes but on your recommendation I will check this out. Thanks again. Jeanne

  9. I’ve been making this three-layer cornbread for 35 years. I still have my copy of the Tassajara Bread Book from all those years ago. I’m not sure if there was a second edition of the book, but there is another version of this recipe floating around online that is quite a bit different. The one posted here is the original one.
    When I have milk that needs to be used up in a hurry, I will make a double batch, using six cups of milk! I’ve never used buttermilk, but I did substitute with plain yogurt once, and I didn’t like it!. I always use the larger amount of sweetener, and I do use sugar (preferably organic) if I don’t have honey, but it seems to separate out better with the honey. For part of the cornmeal I like to use a coarse grind, which, if you look carefully, actually makes four layers!

    • Thanks, Nell. I cherish that book and continue to love the recipe. I thank you for your comments and hope you will subscribe and read my blog. I love when my readers send me their ideas, comments and experiences. Thanks again, Jeanne

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