Cornbread has been a staple in the American diet since colonial days when corn was far more plentiful than wheat, which was typically imported from England. Several hundred years of making cornbread has allowed cooks to evolve the recipe into a wide variety of iterations, each one claiming to be "authentic" cornbread. Some versions are sweet and some savory, some are fried and others baked; some use a flour-and-cornmeal mix, while others swear by cornmeal alone. Among the baked varieties, one of the crispiest types of cornbread is produced by using a cast-iron mold that cooks each serving of bread individually, maximizing crust surface area.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Divide the butter or vegetable shortening among the wells of your cast-iron mold pan, and place it in the preheating oven to melt the fat, leaving it in the oven for four or five minutes -- or long enough to heat the fat without browning it.
Beat the egg and about 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk together with a fork in a small mixing bowl, reserving the remaining 1/2 cup of buttermilk for later.
Sift together the corn meal, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate mixing bowl, until they are well incorporated.
Add the egg and buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and stir them until they are just combined, which will yield a lumpy batter. The mixture should be thick, but thin enough to pour. If it is too thick, add some of the remaining buttermilk and stir again until the desired consistency is reached, being careful not to overmix the batter.
Pour the batter into the hot fat in the wells of the cast-iron mold. It is important to have plenty of grease in the molds because the batter sticks easily to all of the small details on the mold, so tip the pan from side to side in order to coat each well before pouring the batter. Add more fat if necessary.
Bake the cornbread for about 15 to 18 minutes or until it is golden brown.
Tip the cast iron mold pan over a towel or serving dish to remove the hot cornbread as soon as it comes out of the oven and either serve it hot or keep it covered with a towel to preserve warmth until dinner is served.