Maple and Bacon Cornbread
From Call of the Farm by Rochelle Bilow
At Stonehill, we ate cornbread until we were blue in the face—largely because I made it so very often. To my mind, it’s a go-to that’s impossible to resist: easy to pull together, equally at home in a sweet or savory application, and the perfect vehicle for the young farmers’ favorite food group: butter. Here I doctor it up with cumin and hot chiles. We dried our own Thai hot chiles and I would just crumble them right into the batter, but if you don’t have the whole chiles on hand, a dash of red pepper flakes will do just fine.
6 strips fatty bacon
1¼ cups bread flour
1 cup cornmeal
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 dried red chiles, crumbled
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1½ cups buttermilk*
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup
¼ cup butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Heat a 9- to 10½-inch cast iron pan over medium-low. Add the bacon and cook very slowly, until the fat is rendered and the meat is crisp, about 15 minutes, adjusting the heat to low if bacon begins to crisp too quickly. Remove the bacon and place it on a paper towel to cool, then crumble it into pieces. Take the pan off the heat to let it cool slightly.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda and powder, salt, paper, chiles, and cumin. Mix well until combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the gas, buttermilk, ¼ cup of maple syrup, and melted butter, plus any residual rendered bacon fat (leaving a little in the pan). Beat well with a fork, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir in the bacon bits, and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined.
Use a towel to rub the pan down with the leftover bacon grease (be sure to get both the bottom and the sides), then pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Drizzle the last tablespoon of maple syrup over the top while still warm. Let cool before eating.
*If you don’t have buttermilk on hand—and I never do—you can combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice with 1 cup whole milk. Let sit for 10 minutes, then whisk to combine. Proceed as directed.