The single most vivid taste memory I associate with Thanksgiving is the flavor of crisp turkey skin. I almost always get first dibs on the wing tips and sneak into the kitchen to peel off the crispiest pieces of golden, salt-and-peppery cracklins before the carvers go to work. The intensity of flavor means it doesn’t take a lot of skins to satisfy my craving, but by the end of the meal, I usually find myself yearning for just one more piece.
This bacon cornbread is designed to take the pressure off that yearning, substituting the smoky, salty flavor of crackly bacon for the turkey skin. However, I often make a variation of this, buying a half-pound of chicken or turkey skins from the butcher, laying them out on a sheet pan, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and baking at 350°F (175°C) until they render their fat and become very crisp and crumbly, just like bacon.
The use of sugar, honey, buttermilk, lots of corn kernels, and polenta-grind cornmeal (rather than the usual finely ground cornmeal) gives this corn bread moisture, texture, and sweet yet tart flavor bursts. The bacon (or cracklings) on the top is the final payoff, complementing any Thanksgiving dinner or re-creating Thanksgiving flavor memories throughout the year.
I have an ongoing love affair with good cornbread. By good I mean moist and sweet, with crunch and texture. This recipe is my favorite, and it is the best corn bread I have ever made or eaten. I just don’t think it gets any better than this.–Peter Reinhart
LC Cornbread Caprice Note
If, like some of us, you love the crusty corner pieces of cornbread–you know, the ones with the contrast of crunchy exterior to moist interior–you may wish to consider increasing the exterior surface area of each serving by making muffins with this batter. Just fill a dozen or so buttered muffin cups and bake at 350°F (175°C) for about 30 minutes, until the center of each muffin is springy.
Bacon Cornbread Recipe
Hands-On Time: 30 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, not including soaking | Makes one 10-inch bread
- 1 cup (6 ounces) coarse cornmeal (also packaged as “polenta’)
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 8 ounces (approximately 10 slices) bacon
- 1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 1/2 cups (16 ounces) fresh or frozen corn
- 2 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil
- 1. The night before baking the cornbread, soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight.
- 2. The next day, to prepare the bacon, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
- 3. Place the bacon on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bacon is crisp. Using tongs or a fork, transfer the pieces to a plate lined with paper towels. Drain the fat from the skillet into a stainless-steel bowl and save for greasing the pan. When the bacon has cooled, crumble it into coarse pieces.
- 4. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F (175°C). Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir in the granulated and brown sugars. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Dissolve the honey in the melted butter and then stir the warm honey-butter mixture into the eggs. Add this to the soaked cornmeal mixture. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a large spoon or whisk until all the ingredients are evenly distributed and the batter is blended and smooth. It should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Stir in the corn kernels until they are evenly distributed.
- 5. Place 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat into a 10-inch round cake pan (you can also use a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or a 12-inch square pan). Place the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the fat gets quite hot. Using pot holders or oven mitts, remove the pan, and tilt it to coat all the corners and sides. Pour in the cornbread batter, spreading it from the center of the pan to the edges. Sprinkle the crumbled bacon pieces evenly over the top over the cornbread, gently pressing them into the batter.
- 6. Bake the cornbread for about 30 minutes, or until the bread is firm and springy (the baking time will depend on the size of the pan) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The top will be a medium golden brown. The internal temperature at the center of the cornbread should register at least 185°F (85°C).
- 7. Allow the cornbread to cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before slicing it into squares or wedges. Serve warm.
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Bacon Cornbread Recipe © 2001 Peter Reinhart. Photo © 2001 Ron Manville. All rights reserved.