Combine cornmeal and next 3 ingredients in a bowl; stir in half-and-half and 1 tablespoon oil. Gradually add boiling water, stirring until batter is the consistency of grits.
Pour oil to a depth of 1/2 inch into a large heavy skillet; place over medium-high heat. Scoop batter into a 1/4-cup measure; drop into hot oil, and fry, in batches, 3 minutes on each side or until golden. Drain well on paper towels. Serve immediately with softened butter.
Note: Stone ground (coarsely ground) cornmeal requires more liquid.
Country Ham Hot-Water Cornbread: Stir in 1 to 2 cups finely chopped country ham after adding boiling water.
Bacon-Cheddar Hot-Water Cornbread: Stir in 8 slices cooked and crumbled bacon, 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, and 4 minced green onions after adding boiling water.
Southwestern Hot-Water Cornbread: Stir in 1 seeded and minced jalapeño pepper; 1 cup Mexican cheese blend; 1 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed; and 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro after adding boiling water.
Baked Hot-Water Cornbread: Omit skillet procedure. Pour 1/3 cup vegetable oil into a 15- x 10-inch jellyroll pan, spreading to edges. Drop batter as directed onto pan. Bake at 475° for 12 to 15 minutes. Turn cakes, and bake 5 more minutes or until golden brown.