Cracklin' Corn Bread 8.000

Excerpted from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright 2014. Photo by Peter Frank Edwards.

Jan 28, 2015

Sean Brock's corn bread is known for two things: its crunchy exterior, thanks to a piping-hot cast-iron skillet, and its pure corn flavor, thanks to the lack of sugar or flour and the use of a freshly milled heirloom cornmeal, such as that made by Anson Mills. It also gets a dose of smoke from its batter's infusion of one of the smokiest bacons around, Tennessee maker Allan Benton's.

Bake it right before you want to eat it.

Where to Buy: Order Anson Mills cornmeal at www.ansonmills.com, or look for coarse yellow cornmeal milled regularly near you. Find Allan Benton bacon at shop.bentonscountryham.com or at Harvey's Market (www.harveysmarketdc.com, 202-544-0400) and full-fat buttermilk at Trickling Springs Creamery (www.tricklingspringscreamery.com, 202-544-0300), both in Union Market (1309 Fifth St. NE).


Servings:
8

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 8 servings; makes one 8-to-9-inch round bread

Ingredients
  • 4 ounces bacon, preferably Benton's (see "Where to Buy"), plus more if needed
  • 2 cups coarse cornmeal, preferably Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse Yellow Cornmeal (see "Where to Buy")
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups whole-fat buttermilk (see "Where to Buy"; may substitute buttermilk), plus more if needed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put a deep 8- or 9-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat for at least 10 minutes, leaving it there while you prepare the batter.

Run the bacon through a meat grinder, or chop it very fine. Put the bacon in a skillet large enough to hold it in one layer, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently so it doesn't burn, until the fat is rendered and the bits of bacon are crispy, 5 to 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bits of bacon to a paper towel to drain, reserving the fat. (You'll need 5 tablespoons of bacon fat for this recipe; if you come up short, fry another slice or two of bacon for the grease, and reserve the slices for another use.)

Whisk together the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, baking powder and bits of bacon in a medium bowl, making sure the baking soda and powder are evenly distributed. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat and combine the remaining 4 tablespoons of fat with the buttermilk and egg in a small bowl. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients just to combine; do not overmix. The batter should be loose and pourable; if it's too thick to pour easily, stir in a little more buttermilk.

Move the cast-iron skillet from the oven to the stove, placing it over high heat. Add the reserved tablespoon of bacon fat and swirl to coat the skillet, getting it up the sides of the skillet if possible. Pour the batter into the center of the skillet (it should sizzle) and let it distribute without touching it. Let it cook for a minute or two on the stove top, then transfer it to the oven.

Bake the corn bread for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and while the corn bread is still hot, place a plate upside down over the skillet and carefully invert skillet and plate together so the corn bread drops onto the plate. Slide the corn bread back into the skillet; the crunchy bottom edge will now be on top. Serve warm from the skillet.

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Recipe Source

Adapted from "Heritage," by Sean Brock (Artisan, 2014).

Tested by Joe Yonan.

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