Chili Cheese Cornbread

Cornbread was something that I never had very often until I moved to the South.  Cornmeal was not a standard baking ingredient in Philadelphia, other than for an occasional batch of cornmeal muffins.

I then went to college in Virginia where I was exposed to more cornbread than I could handle and most of it was not very good.  That was in the 70’s and 80’s when cornbread was made with pretty basic and overly processed cornmeal or even cornmeal mix.  Much of it was dry and tasteless, while other versions were cloyingly sweet and rich.  In other words…I was not a fan of cornbread.

Times have certainly changed since the olden days then and cornbread is now a much more interesting quick bread that is often combined with sweet or savory ingredients for a bit of a twist.  Many upscale restaurants that focus on “New Southern” cuisine often serve cornbread in their bread baskets and it is now pretty tasty stuff, in my opinion.

If you are not all that familiar with cornbread or cornmeal, cornmeal is produced by grinding dry raw corn grains.  If you grind it finer, you will end up with that other mostly Southern staple, grits. Grits are the coarser grain that is produced after sifting the ground corn mixture through a screen.

The now wide availability of stone ground cornmeal for both chefs and home cooks has made it easier to make a more substantial and flavorful quick bread.  I like the texture, the taste and the “graininess” of the stone ground cornmeal over more widely used brands.

This recipe for Chili Cheese Cornbread takes us even further South with a little South of the Border influence.  This is the kind of cornbread that we really enjoy at our home.  It is very moist, has a bit of heat and is savory with the addition of cheddar cheese.  I grate some of the cheese, but also leave some of it in larger pieces so that you can see the ingredients as well as taste them in the cornbread.

This particular recipe is not sweet, so if you like your cornbread with a bit more sugar, you might want to make that adjustment.  You could also add a bit more heat by using a hotter pepper (like jalapeños).  I used an organic, medium-grain stone ground cornmeal from Bob’s Red Mill.  The cornbread is better the next day and holds quite well for several days when wrapped and stored properly, that is, if you haven’t eaten it all before then! 😉

A savory cornbread like this is perfect served with all the chili, soups and stews that we are all preparing this time of year.  If you have never been a big fan of cornbread, this recipe just might change your mind!

Chili Cheese Cornbread

You can make this bread a little spicier by using different peppers (like jalapenos). I grate most of the cheddar cheese, but also add some small chunks of cheese in the batter so that you get a few nice cheesy bites in the slices of cornbread. The required cooking time for the bread was 45 minutes, however, my bread cooked in 30 minutes, so I have used that as a guide. Be sure to check for doneness before removing to a wire rack to cool.


3 poblano chilies (about 7 ounces total)

1 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably organic and stone ground)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup (packed) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese with small pieces of the cheddar cheese mixed in (about 5-6 ounces total) * I used the larger grater holes to grate the cheese
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled


Char chilies over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag; let stand 10 minutes. Peel, seed and chop chilies.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter 9 x 5 x 2 3/4-inch metal loaf pan. Whisk cornmeal and next 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Stir in cheese. Whisk buttermilk, eggs and butter in another medium bowl to blend. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until blended. Mix in chilies. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake bread until deep golden brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. (* Original recipe called for 45 minutes baking time, however, mine cooked in 30 minutes). Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes. Turn bread out onto rack and cool completely. The cornbread is better the second day and will hold well wrapped and stored properly. (It can be prepared 2 weeks ahead. Wrap in foil; freeze. Unwrap and thaw at room temperature.)

Adapted from Bon Appetit
December 1998

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