Firecracker Cornbread Recipe

A moist, tender buttermilk cornbread packed with corn kernels and flecked with red pepper flakes. Simple and delicious.

Firecracker Cornbread

If you think you might like a moist, tender buttermilk cornbread packed with corn kernels and flecked with red pepper flakes, this is the recipe to try. Last year I did yeast-raised cornbread for Thanksgiving, and I decided to head in the opposite direction this year. I was after a more traditional cornbread, but added a bit of a spicy twist. I infused a few tablespoons of butter with spicy red pepper flakes, heated them in the pan I would eventually bake the cornbread in, added the batter, baked it off, and ended up with a nice crusty, slightly sweet cornbread with the perfect amount of kick to it.

Firecracker Cornbread Recipe

I actually started thinking about doing a firecracker cornbread around the time I was writing about fire oil in the context of this hummus recipe. Good in lots of things - hummus, muffins....breads. I made a note to self to try it in my next batch of cornbread. I also considered (alternately) doing a spicy simple syrup and using that within the context of the cornbread batter. I decided on the infused butter route because it would help give the cornbread a bit of a butter crust (because it isn't incorporated into the batter)...but think of all the fun thinkings you could do with a spicy simple syrup.

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Firecracker Cornbread Recipe

If you don't stock whole wheat pastry flour, feel free to substitute unbleached all-purpose flour.

3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup instant cornmeal (or instant polenta) or fine-grain cornmeal
1/4 cup natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups corn, fresh (or at room temperature if previously frozen)

more butter for drizzling (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees, with a rack in the middle.

Just before you make the batter, in a small saucepan, melt the butter, stir in the red pepper flakes, and pour into a 9-inch pie tin (I have an enameled cast-iron one that is perfect) or equivalent baking dish. Place in the hot oven.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and corn. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir until just combined. Now very carefully remove the hot pan with butter from the oven. Fill it with the cornbread batter, pushing the batter out to the sides if needed. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until the edges are golden and the center is just set. Remove and drizzle with a bit of melted butter (optional).

Makes 10 slices.

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Thank you for the idea of chili infused syrup- I was trying to ‘Westernize’ my favorite Korean dish, bindaetteok for Thanksgiving, but couldn’t find an appropriate dipping sauce for my red lentil and herb fritters. I ended up infusing maple syrup with dried thai bird chilies and it was a huge hit.


I made this cornbread for Thanksgiving, and it was a huge hit with my Massachusetts dad, Missouri husband, and Pennsylvania/Indiana/Singapore/Arkansas guests. (To Kex, above, I’m a transplant to chili country, myself, and this went well!) Terrific job, Heidi.
The recipe was easy enough for a weeknight side, too, so I imagine it will become a feature in my household. Maybe I’ll infuse several or different spices sometimes…


I made this cornbread for Thanksgiving, and it was a huge hit with my Massachusetts dad, Missouri husband, and Pennsylvania/Indiana/Singapore/Arkansas guests. (To Kex, above, I’m a transplant to chili country, myself, and this went well!) Terrific job, Heidi.
The recipe was easy enough for a weeknight side, too, so I imagine it will become a feature in my household. Maybe I’ll infuse several or different spices sometimes…


I’m looking forward to trying this recipe, but as an adoptive Southerner I’d be afraid to serve it to my deep-south friends. I actually made a little web poll because of this recipe, just to find out who can have some and who I shouldn’t even mention it to. Or maybe I could serve it to them as “spicy corn-based cake.”
To Karen, above — I hate dry cornbread too, but haven’t had a problem with it at home. I use the basic Joy of Cooking recipe with coarse-ground meal in a buttered and preheated cast iron corn stick pan. The small discrete volumes of batter cook quickly in the hot pan, allowing the bread to stay moist. It does dry out after a day or two, but I haven’t experimented with storage.
I buy my meal from the source, but then it takes me a year to go through a bag, so freshness must not be a huge issue.


Oh bliss. I’m a complete chilli addict and this is inspired. Tweaked it a bit: put extra corn flour in the place of sugar (mama’s from Texas) and regular whole wheat flour. The texture was deliciously crumbly and quite moist – perhaps could have done with a touch longer in the oven. Only thing I would do differently is make sure to use unsalted butter next time — it was just a touch too much salty. I served it with the vegetarian split pea soup and the whole meal vanished in no time. The two veggies and two non-veggies were equally pleased.


I made this cornbread last night and the two of us ate half the pan! I used both fresh ground corn and whole wheat and cooked it in a cast iron skillet. The only thing I will change next time will be to add at least half of the peppers to the batter; they clumped around the edges when I poured the batter into the hot pan. All in all, the best cornbread recipe I have used and I’ve been trying a lot lately after the purchase of a 50# bag of organic yellow corn. Thanks for a great website!!

Laurie Davidson

OOOHHH!!! Sooo adding this recipe to the ranch reportoire!! Will have to pull it out for a ranch meal sometime and test it out on the local cowboys– hard to pull new ones on them, but once in a while we get away with it and they never know the difference…..Tee, he, he!!


This sounds great. The purist in me can’t call it cornbread, though. Way too much flour and sugar for Tennessee. If it were Corn Bread, maybe.


I made this cornbread this weekend and it was everything I hoped it would be AND MORE! I followed the recipe exactly, except I did not have a cast iron pan and had to cook it in a glass pie pan..but it turned out perfectly. I thought the red pepper would make it too hot and almost didn’t put it in there, but it just added a tiny kick to the cornbread. Another great recipe! Thanks Heidi!


This is an excellent cornbread–I used a 12 inch cast iron pan, and increased the recipe by half and used 2 eggs. I put the pan in the oven to heat, tossed in the butter, waited for it to melt, added the peppers and let it heat while I mixed the batter. I served it with honey butter. The contrast between the heat of the peppers and the honey butter is excellent. I served this bread with beans and it was a hit!!


It’s interesting that you made this recipe…since I actually threw quite a bit of red pepper flakes and rosemary oil into the cornmeal crunch. It was so good that my non-vegetarian, cornbread-averse husband actually loved it, citing it “tasted like it had meat in it” and “all the other stuff going on distracted him from the ‘cornmealiness’ of it.” I’m sure that hurts you, as the vegetarian creator of the recipe that is meant to highlight the cornmeal…but I take what I can get in this house!
And, as a Northern transplant into the South, I find it funny that the Southerners are being such sticklers about the sugar in this cornbread. Maybe you need to save it all to put into your iced tea? *smile* (I hope you can take this comment as the good-natured humor it was meant to be)

All for Veggies

you can add to that recipe, which sounds delish by the way, but, if you buy some cheese w/jalapeno dip in a little jar by the chips at the grocery store, you can heat that up and before serving, drizzle it over the corn bread, and either serve like that or broil for a minute to brown that cheese. I like to use a small propane torch for browning without further cooking on items such as meringue topping and cheeses.


I made some of the olive oil infused with red pepper flakes when you posted the hummos recipe.
Used it just this morning with a very lean dry chorizo for chorizo and eggs.
Gonna use it again in place of the butter and red pepper flakes in this recipe.


Hi Heidi,
Thanks for all your great recipes. Everything about your site is wonderful — photos, recipes, writing etc. I’m not actually posting about this particular recipe so I know this is a bit off-topic, but I just tried your Vegetarian Lentil Burger recipe and wanted to write a quick note about it.
HS: Lily I’m going to move your question and my response to the page for the other recipe 🙂


I’m not exactly a luddite, but this new technology scares the bejesus out of me. I signed on to gmail knowing that they read my emails and send ‘appropriate’ advertising my way. Today, I baked a corn bread. Then I sat down at the computer with a large piece with strawberry jam and a hot cup of black coffee and signed into gmail. The ad for this cornbread popped up. How did it know that? It reads my emails and watches me in the kitchen? Anyway, I like the looks of your cornbread and will try your recipe next time. I guess I won’t have to tell you if I like it, the computer will already have reportd to you, right? Why are you laughing? This is scary stuff. Anyway, I’m volunteering at the temple tomorrow to serve 200 free early thanksgiving meals (non-vegitarian).You know I’ll be looking over my shoulder next time I am in the kitchen to see if you are watching.
HS: Jason once you are logged into your gmail account you can customized the RSS feeds you see up at the top – right now I think you are just seeing the ones that were pre-populated by google along with sponsored links. But yes, it seems that if you are emailing re: the menu for your potluck, you are more likely to see the 101 Cookbooks feed versus the ESPN feed (or whatever they have pre-populated for sports)…contextual links. You can change the links that are in rotation if you like.

Jason Evanstone

I just have to tell you that I made this marvelous cornbread along with chili for dinner and it stole the show. Thank you for such a great recipe.


I’m going to make this later today to bring to a potluck, but I only have corn grits (larger grain cornmeal) and masa harina. Would either of those work?


The cornbread looks absolutely delicious, I will make this for sure some time soon!!
Love your blog, love your book, you have such awesome recipes, thanks for sharing with us!!


What a great winter warmer, yum.

Kitchen crunch

I just made this without any sugar at all. It was very fast and easy and tastes great! I used about 2 cups of canned corn. My only criticism is that it came out a bit salty (Maybe from the canned corn? Or was I supposed to use unsalted butter?) I would probably add 1/4-1/2 tsp less if I made it this way again. Great recipe!


I just made this without any sugar at all. It was very fast and easy and tastes great! I used about 2 cups of canned corn. My only criticism is that it came out a bit salty (Maybe from the canned corn? Or was I supposed to use unsalted butter?) I would probably add 1/4-1/2 tsp less if I made it this way again. Great recipe!


Like Nancy said above – Southerners, the traditional cornbread bakers, do NOT use sugar – cornbread’s sweet from the corn, and most Southerners detest sugared up cornbread. That said, this recipe sounds good. I too would add that the cast iron skillet is your best bet – no transferring your spicy butter to your pan, and best of all, really getting the best ‘crust,’ if you will.
I too am curious – what is the advantage of instant cornmeal over regular? I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen that in any of the stores here.


This is perfect – adding spice to something already delicious=my kind of recipe!


This looks awesome, and I think it will go very well in a stuffing that I am making with a roasted spicy turkey for Thanksgiving.


This looks yummy. I LOVE spicy cornbread. I just wanted to say also that last night I made your “Unfussy Apple Cake” with 2 cups of mashed strawberries that I needed to use up instead of apples. I guess since strawberries aren’t in season mine weren’t very sweet so I added 3 tbsp of maple syrup for flavor and extra sweetness (inspired by your huckleberry coffee cake). It was ready in no time flat and it came out great. I will definitely be holding on to this one to use for times when I have more fresh fruit on hand than I can eat. Thanks for the versatile and “unfussy” recipe.


this looks fantastic. i’ve been trying to decide what kind of bread to serve at thanksgiving dinner…this may be it! i love the whole kernels of corn and the red pepper flakes. texture sounds wonderful. thanks for sharing!


Looks delightful. I can never get enough of cornbread recipes and this one looks like it has a great texture. I’m thinking that some basil might also be nice infused into the butter.


This looks SO GOOD! Especially with the corn kernels.


One word: Yum.
I used what I had on hand in the kitchen as I didn’t have time to shop. With several substitutions this came out of the oven brown and beautiful. (I used whole milk – going to try it with buttermilk next time since I have had a lot of success with buttermilk in other recipes. The regular corn meal was fine; I also only had unbleached flour which also worked well.) It was moist and light and a perfect complement to our homemade chili. Thanks! This will be a regular in our house.


Ohh my goodness, this is wonderful, this is absolutely wonderful. It is cooling down on my stove right now! The red pepper adds a fantastic extra to what is already a wonderful cornbread.


Heidi, this recipe was great! I have never tried cornbread with whole corn kernels in it, and I went into cooking with trepidation. I am glad to say that the recipe pleasantly surprised me. The pepper flakes gave a kick to what could otherwise be a pretty bland recipe.
I used the only cornmeal I could find at my local grocery store, which was a very finely ground cornmeal. It worked like a charm.
Hayley, I am with you on the cranberry idea. Next attempt I will forgo the pepper flakes and corn kernels, and throw in some cranberries to get things all tarted up! 😉


You’ve got a winner here. I can usually spot a great recipe as I have been cooking for a few years now(55) and some of it professionally. Right now I am playing around with baking breads(all Types). Have found that the best tasting breads take about 3 to 4 days to have that flavor that is good enough to write home about. I’m talking about yeast breads(not Sourdough). Am planning on playing with sourdough and starters after the first of the year.


to Blue-Hearted Oakie,
The best cornbread I ever made was in a wood stove in the Black Hills of SD. I don’t know how high the temp was, but it must have been considerable, as it baked in 10 minutes and was oh, so tender.


I love sweet cornbreads…perhaps make it even sweeter by leaving out the red pepper flakes and substituting some of the corn kernels with fresh cranberries? Toasted walnuts would also be great.


This looks amazing! I love corn bread with corn kernels in it. Instead of the sugar, I’ll try it with Splenda. (I’m diabetic.) While I don’t have pepper flakes, I do have some fire oil to brush on the bottom of the cast iron skillet.
I truly love your posts and just wanted to say thank you. You put a lot of hard work into helping us eat beautiful, healthy food.


This looks amazing. I’m going to try using regular polenta, since that is what I have on hand, and will let you know how it turns out. Thanks!

Ellie from Kitchen Caravan

quick question – can one substitute white whole wheat flour for the whole wheat pastry? thanks for any input.


this sounds fabulous. Do you have any suggestions for a gluten free substitute for the wheat flour? Do you think a specific flour or blend would work best? A combo of amaranth, tapioca, and quinoa, perhaps?


Hi Heidi,
Just discovered your site and really love it. I think this looks like a great recipe. I have two thoughts: 1) on the sugar issue, I prefer less sweet also, but I do like that sugar makes a browner bread — I’m wondering if you can get the golden crust with less sugar by baking differently, i.e., start out quite hot then lower the heat? and 2) on instant versus regular, I think you can reduce grit and still use regular by soaking the cornmeal in the buttermilk for 10 minutes or so before adding in the egg and corn, then folding in the dry. The great thing about cornbread is that there are endless varieties! Thanks for sharing and love your photos.

Blue-Hearted Oakie

This looks amazing – it reminds me of the jalapeno cornbread I used to get at Heaven on Seven in Chicago when I worked across the street.
I’d have to leave the crushed red pepper out for my hubby, but I will definitely make this for me!
Thanks Heidi!


i have been eating corn bread all my life–yours has too much sugar in it for me—-but i have never used buttermilk without adding some baking soda + the baking powder–also i like to add heat in tiny pieces of pepper rather than in the fat so it is like a suprise rather than an all over flavor–i use a preheated square 80 yr old iron frying pan- slips out easily– just a few thoughts– leslie

leslie schupak

yes! I have been waiting, rather my newly seasoned cast iron skillet has been waiting for some cornbread. I am into agave for the touch of sweetness… thanks for the iseas!

Organic Goodness

I have a variation of this up my sleeve.
It has a shredded onion, shredded cheese and diced jalapeno peppers as well as corn kernels.
It is divine!


I’m in need of a good homemade cornbread, yours looks wonderful. No butter goes into the actual cornbread? It’s just used to crisp and spice up the bottom? Really interesting recipe, I may bring this to one of the three potlucks I have for over the next three weekends.


I love your recipes and your site so much that I created my own food blog:
thank you Heidi

vini souza

Lots I like in this recipe, but I’ll have to experiment to see if I can leave out the sugar. I’m from the deep South, and sugar or other sweeteners just don’t fit in my family’s idea of cornbread. The whole-wheat flour and the red-pepper flakes, those sound great!


adding smoked gouda!!! mmmmmm then it would be my perfect cornbread!!


I am in love with cornbread. It goes so well with stews or chilis- sort of. Here’s the thing though… It always comes out so DRY. Maybe that’s why it goes well with things that take some of the grit out of it. A friend recently suggested to me that it might be the cornmeal itself I am using and not so much the recipe.
How does this recipe fair? Does it come out a bit more moist or kind of on the gritty side?
HS: quite moist Karen. The instant cornmeal/polenta keeps the grit under control, and the buttermilk keeps things nice, moist and tender.


After years of doing (and not minding) the Jiffy box cornbread with a little doctoring here and there, this may be the welcome change. I like the contrast with the red pepper flake a lot.


This sounds great. I regularly add jalapenos in my cornbread because I like the kick.

Fit Bottomed Girls

I love a hint of heat and real corn in my cornbread — there are so many possibilities with the stuff (and one of my favorite inspiration sources is Crescent Dragonwagon’s Cornbread Gospels). Thanks for the veggie/vegan list — I will make good use of it this holiday season.

becky and the beanstock

Yum. This looks delicious. Have you thought of adding a little chipolte or ancho chili powder into the bread?


Mmm…spice maple syrup. You’ve got me thinking, indeed! I think that may be a go for the next batch of chili or black bean soup, neither of which can be that far off. I awoke to flurries in Wisconsin this morning! This desert rat will need lots of soup and spicy-sweet cornbread to make it through the next week!

Laurel from Simple Spoonful

I’m wondering about the instant vs. regular cornmeal as well. What’s the difference? I don’t think I’ve ever seen instant. Could this recipe work with the regular kind?

Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?

I have a cast iron skillet I keep around just for making cornbread in. The heavier weight works better than a lighter pie pan would. I make cornbread from scratch all the time and I must say I’ve never used instant corn meal. It’s usually regular polenta, as that’s what I can get here (as opposed to corn meal). My grandmother would spin in her grave if Iever bought the instant 😉 And really, I’ve tasted it, it’s not worth the money.


yeast risen cornbread! I’d better dash off that post immediately…..

Dana McCauley

This is my first time responding! This recipe looks like just the thing for a day like today. Here in Delaware the skies are gray and we have snow flurries gently drifting down. I’ll pair this with vegetarian chili. My family will be warm and toasty tonight! I just want to say that I enjoy this feed. There are very few people in my area that really cook and bake from scratch. I am proud to say that all my children (2 boys and 1 girl) are all tremendous cooks. I’ve been using vegetarian recipes since the mid-70’s (Laurel’s Kitchen) and we’ve been organic gardener’s since that time. I will continue to enjoy your recipes.

Kaleo's Grammy

Can you use cornmeal flour in place of instant cornmeal? I never seen instant cornmeal.
I buy it in the Italian section of various grocery stores. My sense is that you could substitute a very fine grain corn meal and it would be no problem – a bit different, but would still work. If you do the substitution please report back (even better if you can send me a picture), and I can update the post.


wow – this looks amazing! Cornbread that has some spice, can’t wait to try it!!

Tabitha (From Single to Married)

Both my husband and father in law love cornbread with a kick! I will have to try your recipe (with gluten free flour of course). Thanks 🙂


This is an exciting recipe….like the red peppers. I will definatly try this one soon, have always been a big fan of cornbread even though we don´t have a tradition for making them in iceland 🙂 ….but made them now an again. It´s nice to see that you have used whole corn to give a bit of texture. Thanx for this really cool recipe.
best regards
Gudmundur Palmason


This sounds SO good! Cornbread is a real favorite at this time of year – I always make a big batch and save half to crumble into a Thanksgiving-style dressing. Curious, though – is there really such a thing as ‘instant’ cornmeal?


{gasp}… oh… is it true…? am I first? do I really get to be first? wow, what an honor! I’m so excited about being first! I’m even more excited to try this cornbread! I love love love cornbread… being raised in KY. I love all things cornmeal: polenta, grits, cornbread, especially that sweet cornmeal mushy stuff that Chevy’s and some mexican restaurants serve as a side called tamalito. Now that I live in Jersey, Amish country isn’t too far away and there are several varieties of stone ground corn meal that are fantastic. A trick my mom used to use is to heat up a cast iron pan on the stove top for a min with some oil and throw in a handful of corn meal and let it cook until slightly brown; then add your batter. This will give a great sandy, crunchy crust to the bottom of the finished product. I’ve done this with the course ground meal and it’s perfection!


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