For the second week in a row, the Bread Baker’s Apprentice has taken on a couple of family-favorite foods. I have to admit, when I saw cornbread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I was immediately skeptical. This cornbread was baked in the oven in a cake pan, had tons of sugar in it, used four bowls, whole corn kernels, and was made by a dude from California. With my typical bullheaded-ness, I wondered how it could be corn bread if it wasn’t: made on the stove top in a cast iron skillet, having anything more than the merest pinch of sugar, using a single bowl, smooth in texture, and made by my grandfather. The saving grace of this recipe in the beginning was the liberal use of bacon and the greasing of the pan in bacon grease.
Once I resigned myself to making the recipe as written, I made the most of its use of corn. Sweet, white corn is in season right now, so it was the perfect side dish to some beautiful fried pork chops I made. The leftover corn got trimmed from the cob and saved in the fridge for the cornbread. The night before I made the cornbread, I proceeded to make the soaker out of polenta and buttermilk. A two day process for cornbread? Really, now, it seems excessive. But, I tried not to be a skeptic.
On the day of the cornbread making I pulled out my package of perfect, thick-cut bacon. I prepared to bake it in the oven– which shocked me. However, after 20 minutes, I had crispy strips of bacon and lots of bacon grease. YAY. It crumbled up really easily, so that was great for this recipe. I tend to prefer chewy bacon, so I’m still not convinced of this bacon-in-the-oven business for singular consumption. However, it was perfect for the recipe. Just look at it.
While the bacon crisped up, I proceeded to sift (SIFT! all this work…) the dry ingredients together in a bowl. I love the way sifting looks. So fluffy.
Then you ruin it by plunking in the brown sugar. (I thought this looked really cool).
Look at all that sugar. In cornbread! So, you’ve got all these lovely dried ingredients in a large mixing bowl, you’ve got some crisped bacon hanging out and draining on a plate, a buttermilk-polenta soaker going on in something (I used a huge measuring cup so I could measure the buttermilk then mix the polenta right in), oh– and your bacon grease reserved in a stainless steel bowl. And then, then you get to start making some more dirty dishes.
In a small bowl, you dissolve honey into melted butter. In a medium bowl, you lightly beat some eggs. Then, you slowly whisk the honey-butter mixture into the eggs (temper it first!). After you whisk the honey, butter, and eggs up, you stir them into the polenta soaker. At last, you have your wet ingredients ready. And no, you can’t just go ahead and mix the honey, butter, and eggs in the same bowl unless you want some scrambled eggs.
Finally, you whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ones, then stir in the corn kernels. It ends up about like pancake batter, so it’s really easy to make by hand. Here’s the final batter:
Next comes the fun part: greasing the pan. Reinhart suggests you heat the bacon grease up in the baking dish in the oven until it’s really hot, then tilt it around (while wearing super-duper oven mitts) to coat the pan.
Um, no. I am WAY too klutzy for that.
So, I brushed the entire pan liberally with bacon grease and heated it up until it was nice and hot in the oven. Very easy. Minimal burn risk. Look at that bacon grease. My heart is just racing with excitement (or hypertension).
After your pan is well-greased, pour in the batter. Get it all in there, then sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the top of the batter. Oh, MAN, now I’m starting to forget about all that sugar and get excited!
Bake the cornbread in a 350º oven until it registers at 190º in the center. I used a 9″ x 13″ baking pan for the cornbread, so my baking time was twice as long as that listed in the book for a 10″ cake pan. When it’s ready, pull that goodness out and admire your work.
Look at that bacony goodness! Those golden, crusty edges! But wait, aren’t I supposed to skeptical?
Well, no. No, not really. It was awesome. It’s tender and mildly sweet. The buttermilk soaker gives the bread tang, and the bacon and bacon grease add a strong salty note. I didn’t mind the corn kernels at all. This was really, really delicious. It might not be my grandpa’s cornbread, but this would be great for holidays. It would also be a great way to dress up a Southern meal and make a plate of simpler fare a little more special. Was it worth all the dishes? YES.
This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.