grandma estelle’s cornbread dressing

There are some recipes that must always appear at holiday dinners simply because of tradition. Somewhere along the line, my husband’s grandmother’s cornbread dressing showed up at their holiday dinner table, and it was there to stay.

grandma markham

Sam’s grandmother, always known to the entire family as Grandma, was the essential home cook. Grandma prepared one big meal each and every day, and this meal was the dinner meal. And in true Southern tradition, dinner was served around noon. The evening meal, supper, was much lighter fare, typically without much fuss. Supper usually consisted of leftovers, soup, or sandwiches.

As Grandma became older and more frail, my sister-in-law was diligent about compiling and documenting the famous family recipes. You see, Grandma was the type of cook who had been doing it for so long that she didn’t follow recipes. She added a bit of this and a little of that, and the dish always came out just right.

grandma estelle's cornbread dressing | the merry gourmet

Grandma died in 1993 when she was in her late 80s, but we still have her cornbread dressing at every Thanksgiving meal. For the last several years, I have been making her recipe, following the instructions to a tee.

I’m often tempted to tweak recipes to make them my own, but I just can’t do that with Grandma’s cornbread dressing. Her recipe calls for cornbread mix – but not Jiffy (because it’s too sweet) – and refrigerated biscuit mix. I’ve been tempted to make my own cornbread or bake my own biscuits for the recipe. But I haven’t.

Part of the beauty of this recipe is that, in addition to the flavors of this savory dressing, we also taste memories when we eat it. I don’t want to mess with that.

cornbread dressing | the merry gourmet

Yield: Serves 8-10.

Cook Time: 60 minutes

Grandma Estelle's Cornbread Dressing

This recipe has graced our Thanksgiving table for years, and when you try it, you'll understand why.

Cook's Notes:
-- For best results, use Martha White cornbread mix; avoid Jiffy -- it's too sweet.
-- The recipe works even better if the biscuits and cornbread are made at least one day in advance. In fact, I often bake the biscuits and cornbread two days in advance and do the rest of the prep one day in advance, refrigerating the ready-to-bake dressing in a tightly-covered container until the next day.
-- If you can't find a 5.5 ounce can of biscuits, a 7.5 ounce can will do just fine.


2 (6 oz) packages cornbread mix (Martha White brand preferred)
1 (5.5 oz) can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup butter
5 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade chicken stock)
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoon sage
1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Kosher salt


Prepare cornbread mix and biscuits according to package directions and let cool. Crumble cornbread and biscuits in a large bowl, set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter then sauté onion and celery until translucent and tender, stirring frequently.

Add celery and onion, chicken broth (or stock), and remaining ingredients to cornbread and biscuit mixture. Stir well until combined.

Spoon mixture into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until golden brown and set.

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25 Responses to “a good day and tres leches cake”

  1. Adriana — April 27, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

    Loved the story of the donkey farm. In one of my first trips out to California, I had a friend stop the car so I could take a picture of farmed ostrich, which I had never seen before. I didn’t try to reach out for them, but it was awesome just stopping and seeing them in all their tall, live glory. If I had fun and didn’t even get to see one at arm’s length, I can only imagine how happy your kids were! I love tres leches cake, but haven’t tried to make it myself. So many people do a great job with it around these parts! My favorite version is actually called ‘Cuatro Leches’, which also has dulce de leche in it.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 27th, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

      Oh, I bet you have access to some amazing versions of this cake. I cannot imagine adding dulce de leche to this cake – I might never stop eating it.

  2. Amy | She Wears Many Hats — April 27, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

    I’ve yet to make a tres leches cake yet, and I don’t know why. It does look mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 27th, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

      Oh, you should totally make one, Amy.

  3. First off, the story of Oliver wanting to see Eyeore made me smile ear-to-ear… those photos are so cute. Second, tres leches cake has been on my list for several months to make. After this ringing endorsement, I might just have to tackle it this weekend!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 27th, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

      You won’t be disappointed, Kimmy. I promise. 🙂

  4. Brian @ A Thought For Food — April 27, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    So adorable! What a cute story!

    And now you have me drooling over this cake. How divine that looks!

  5. DessertForTwo — April 27, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

    Tres leches and pineapple upside down cake fight for #1 cake in my book. Yours looks great!!

  6. Donna — April 27, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

    Thank you so much for posting the tres leches cake recipe and delictable photos. For Easter I made my totally trashing (but delicious) cake that we call “Orgasmic Coconut Cake.” The original name of the cake was “Decadent Coconut Cake” but at some point my cousin got confused and now the misnomer has stuck. At Christmas I made tres leches and on Sunday two of my nieces asked for the recipe. All I had to do was direct them to your blog for both the recipe and photos. Perfect timing!

  7. This cake looks phenomenal! So moist! I completely agree with you about homemade whipped cream (I say this right after I posted a cake with cool whip frosting-ha).

  8. So wonderful that you had perfect day! The cake looks amazing and just wish I had a slice in front of me right now.

  9. Adora's Box — April 28, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    Aren’t donkeys just so cute. Now that my children are grown, I really miss those squeals of delight when they see animals. We are not in tune with tres leches cake here in the UK although I’ve heard of it. Gosh, that sounds really decadent and wicked. Three kinds of milk and heavy cream! Wow!

  10. Lynda — April 28, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    This cake sounds and looks sublime. Lovely post!

  11. Lora @cakeduchess — April 28, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    Oliver is adorable petting the eeyore. I am also never as happy as when my children are:)Such a sweet post. Your tres leches cake is making me HUNGRY! Looks fantastic MJ:)

  12. Joy — April 28, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

    I love love tres leche cake. That looks wonderful.

  13. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — April 28, 2011 @ 11:12 pm

    Sounds like an amazing day… And, the cake looks equally perfect! Can’t wait to give the recipe a try.

  14. marla — April 29, 2011 @ 8:06 am

    Your tres leches cake looks wonderful, but that time with your family is precious and priceless. Love that you found the Eeyore farm for your son 🙂

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 29th, 2011 @ 10:26 am

      Thanks, Marla. Yes – you’re right. The day with the family was just wonderful. One of those seemingly-rare days when everyone is in a good mood and there’s very little bickering. And then the donkeys were the icing on the cake. 🙂

  15. Anita Menon — April 30, 2011 @ 7:09 am

    A lovely day out with family. Nothing beats that!
    The tres leches cake seems like the best thing in the world right now. I have book marked it. thank you for sharing:-)

  16. Aggie — April 30, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    That Eeyore story has got to be the sweetest story ever. How awesome to run into a couple of Eeyore’s on the side of the road…

    And the cake. I can seriously just taste it. Even though I am not even sure I’ve ever had it or know what it would taste like. I’m going to save this recipe for a special treat, I have a feeling it will wow anyone I serve it to.

  17. Katty's Kitchen — April 30, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

    I love this story–and what is NOT to love about tres leches cake! I refer to myself in Eeyore terms when I’m having a gloomy day and say I need to nail my tail back on just as soon as I can find it! 🙂 A good day for you and Oliver, too!

  18. Mauna — May 1, 2011 @ 12:16 am

    James just made this for my parents. It was a huge hit with everyone. My mom deemed him the ultimate son-in-law!

  19. TheGourmetCoffeeGuy — May 5, 2011 @ 12:47 am

    Delightful story. Donkeys are actually very intelligent animals and have some characteristics that make them excellent companions for farmers in many parts of the world. The Tres Leches Cake sounds incredible, moist and hard to put down… Nice photos, thank you for sharing.

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