Sunday, January 22, 2012
Morgan's Country Cornbread: Coloring Outside the Lines
The Setting: It's twenty-nine degrees Fahrenheit and overcast outside, but my apartment smells like Thanksgiving, and the place is cleaner than it was when I woke up, so it's a good day.
The Soundtrack: A very full washing machine.
On The Stove-top: Turkey Stock.
The Scenario: Sometimes different is good.
When Hoosband and I decided to roast our post-Thanksgiving, discount turkey yesterday afternoon, I naturally got to work on some cornbread so we could make a little dressing to go with the bird.
But as the sweet and savory aromas of cornmeal, butter, honey, and a kiss of bacon grease filled the air, I questioned my resolve to transform those ingredients any further.
Pulling the steaming pan of golden goodness out of the oven, I thought, "Now this is alchemy."
Unable to resist taking a bite before dinner, I realized this recipe was simply too good not to share.
But I had some reservations:
While the results are medal-worthy, this recipe has all the finesse of a figure-skating hippopotamus.
The methods are not streamlined or logical or familiar.
The ingredients are contentious.
But I've tried to make my cornbread conform many times before, and, darn it, my way's better.
So read the recipe, ask me questions if you'd like, and try it if you dare.
Morgan's Country Cornbread
Southerners will argue for days over cornbread, as it is one of THE Southern staples. Many folks say the true Southern stuff is strictly savory, calling sweeter versions Yankee, but I find my lightly honey-sweetened cornbread somehow sings of The South even more than the solitarily savory, cast-iron-skillet cornbread I grew up on. Sweet or savory, it's the crispy, bacon-kissed crust and moist, buttery crumb of this perfectly balanced cornbread that makes it a Southern country classic worth trying wherever you live.
3 T melted rendered bacon fat, plus any little browned bits, the fresher the better
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow stone-ground cornmeal (I use Bob's Red Mill)
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup honey
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place the bacon fat in a 7"x11" pan, and gently shake to coat evenly.
In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
Place the whole stick of butter in a microwave-safe glass and microwave for 30 seconds (butter should be half-melted).
In a smaller bowl or 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup, whisk together milk, honey, and all of the butter. This is where things get weird.
The butter should start to separate and get clumped up in the whisk. Gently tap off any excess liquid on the side of the bowl, and then transfer the butter clumps to the cornmeal mixture, knocking the whisk on the side of the cornmeal bowl to help release them. Repeat to retrieve any large remaining butter clumps if necessary. Set the milk mixture aside.
Use the whisk to cut the butter clumps into the dry ingredients, knocking large clumps out against the side of the bowl as necessary, until the mixture is the consistency of coarse sand and the largest pieces are roughly pea-sized. Make a well in the center of the bowl.
Whisk the egg into the milk mixture.
Pour the milk mixture into the cornmeal mixture, using a wooden spoon or rubber spoonula to combine. Mixture should be a little lumpy but there should be no visible dry patches--do not over mix.
Transfer mixture to the greased pan and bake at 425 degrees F for 18-20 minutes or until the top is gently domed and light golden, the edges are deep golden, and the center is set. You will be tempted to cut into it immediately, but it will be even better if you let it cool completely.