Hopefully this won’t land me in the same category as a certain Kenneth Cole twitter/PR disaster, but I did see a really funny tweet last week:
We Americans do love our cured pork, and even though it’s been predicted that bacon and pork belly are slowly becoming “so last year,” I don’t see our love of the vegetarian-stopper waning anytime soon. I’ll personally admit to enjoying an Elvis doughnut (topped with banana, peanut butter and bacon), having on my dessert-baking to-do list a cornmeal cake with bacon, and being intrigued by David Lebovitz’s candied bacon ice cream. The point being, if we’re willing to throw bacon into our dessert, then who would possibly argue with putting it in cornbread?
So last week, I offered up a pan of this cornbread to serve aside our neighbor’s big pot of chili during the height of Indianapolis’s Ice Storm (#icewhoopin’ & #clusterflake on twitter). After all, outside of ice skating on your back lawn (my neighbor did just that), what more can you do for excitement during an ice-in than change up your go-to cornbread recipe?
I am a Southerner, but more often make “Northern” corn bread, which uses a combination of corn meal and flour, rendering it more cake-y and longer-lasting (Southern corn bread, with its cornmeal-only regime, dries out almost immediately, which is why the leftovers are used for dishes such as cornbread stuffing). I have in recent years used an adaptable recipe for Mexican cornbread from The Moosewood Cookbook; but I find the original recipe too sweet to match up with a hearty dish such as chili. This recipe is a combination of what I like best about both recipes from Moosewood and Joy of Cooking, and is still quite adaptable.
On thing I have learned over the years: the best corn bread is made in a cast-iron pan that has been pre-heated with the required fat from the recipe (butter, lard, or shortening). When you stir the hot fat into the batter at the last second, and then pour it back into the piping-hot pan, you see the edges sizzle and instantly begin to cook. This tells you that the crust on your bread is going to be crunchy and golden-brown rather than soggy and blond. If you don’t have an 8″ or 9″ cast-iron pan, then drop what you’re doing and go get one you can use a glass baking dish.
This cornbread is still mild — it’s not like eating corn-flavored bacon (or corn-flavored cheddar, for that matter). The smoky bacon flavor is intensified by using the rendered fat — so if you love bacon, don’t be afraid of the lard. Leftovers can be toasted the next day, topped with sautéed greens and a poached egg, and bring you lunchtime happiness.
Bacon-Cheddar Corn Bread
If you don’t have a cast iron pan, cook the bacon as desired, and bake bread in a buttered 8″ or 9″ baking dish (do not preheat if dish is glass).
- 4 slices bacon, cut cross-wise into 1/4″ strips
- 1 1/4 cups cornmeal (stone-ground preferred)
- 3/4 cup wheat pastry flour (or unbleached all-purpose)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/2 cup coarsely-grated white cheddar
- 3 Tbsp rendered bacon fat, lard, or vegetable shortening
Preheat oven to 425º.
In an 8″ or 9″ cast-iron pan, cook bacon until crisp. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate, and pour rendered fat into a glass measuring cup. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (cornmeal through salt). In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk (or yogurt), and milk.
When ready to combine wet and dry ingredients, place 3 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat (or lard/shortening) back into the cast-iron pan, and place the pan in the oven to preheat.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring with a rubber spatula until just combined (avoid over-stirring, the batter will be thick). Fold in the cheese and reserved bacon.
When pan in oven is very hot (fat should just start to smoke), remove from oven and very carefully pour the hot fat into the batter. Fold fat into batter, and then pour batter back into the hot pan (an 8″ pan will be quite full). Smooth the batter using spatula, and return pan to oven.
Bake about 25 minutes. The edges should be brown, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread should come out clean.
Let cool about 10 minutes, and cut into wedges, serving from the pan.
related recipe: Beef and Black Bean Chili