Achiote Cornbread

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I’m not a huge cornbread lover. For one thing, when I first tried it after I moved to Texas a million years ago, it was way too sweet. And unnecessarily sweet. So I stayed away from it for years. But then I started making it from scratch, and ignoring the sugar. I like it much better sugar-free – besides, corn is already sweet!

But, the great thing I’ve learned about making cornbread is that you can do so many different things to it to make it your own, and really compliment whatever entrée you’re serving with it. Cornbread can be Southwestern with the addition of chile peppers, or it can be Mediterranean with the addition of olives. You can herb it up in the summer, or add any kind of flavor during the winter months like sun-dried tomato pesto. And, of course, you can always add cheese!!!

Today I wanted my cornbread fairly plain, but I wanted a little flavor enhancement and beautiful color from achiote oil. So here’s my recipe for Skillet Cornbread with Achiote Oil.

Achiote Cornbread

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Wet Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons achiote oil, plus a little more
6 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Have a 10 – 12″ iron skillet on your stove.

Get your dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Then place the buttermilk, eggs, and achiote oil in a medium bowl. Whisk until smooth. Have your melted butter handy.

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When your oven has preheated, turn on the heat under your skillet and let it pre-heat.

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Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients, whisking just until smooth.

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Using a little extra achiote oil, grease the skillet. Then pour the batter into the hot skillet, an immediately place it in the oven.

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Bake for 18 minutes. It should be nice and golden and the middle should be somewhat firm to the touch.

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Remove the skillet from the oven and let the cornbread cool a little for about ten minutes. Loosen the sides, then remove the cornbread onto a cutting board.

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Slice into wedges and serve warm!

Achiote Oil

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If you’ve never made achiote oil before, it’s really fun to do and it’s a very handy ingredient to have on hand. This is especially true if you cook Latin American and Mexican cuisines. The oil is made from beautiful red Annato seeds, which are about the same size as cardamom seeds. Why this oil is not called annato oil, I’ll never know. For some reason the seeds have their own name, and the oil, a different one.

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I purchase the annato seeds in packages so I always have them when I need them. But a jar of achiote oil will keep in the fridge for quite a while, so you don’t have to have pounds of the seeds on hand. I just like to have every possible seed and herb and spice in storage – it’s just what I do!

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To make the oil, crush the annato seeds slightly – I do this in my wonderful little Magic Bullet, but it could even be done with a knife. Be careful, though. The yellow-orange of these seeds will stain your fingers and everything else.

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Penzey’s, where I buy my annato seeds, suggests 1/4 cup of annato seeds to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil. I don’t remember what ratio I’ve used before, but today I used more oil. You will still get that lovely color, as well as the smoky annato flavor. And a little goes a long way.

Bring the oil with the seeds in it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Let the oil become infused with the flavor and color of the annato seeds, until the oil is cool enough to handle.

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Using a fairly fine sieve, strain the crushed seeds from the oil. Store the oil in the refrigerator.

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This oil can be used in absolutely any dish, either as part of the oil for sautéeing aromatics, or as a little drizzle on top of a finished dish like a soup or stew. Try it in a rice or risotto dish, in any stew, or rub a pork loin with it!

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note: Do not “cook” the annato seeds in the oil. Simply heat the oil to a light boil and then remove from the heat. If you prefer, just warm the oil, and then let it sit overnight or for a few hours. Once I accidentally boiled the annato seeds, and the oil came out very bitter and nasty. Don’t do that!