Get the Recipe
As Sean Brock says in the introduction to this recipe in his new cookbook, Heritage, the perfect cornbread is the subject of much debate. My mother, who was from the southern Appalachians, always made the distinction between Southern cornbread (made with flour and sugar) and Mountain cornbread (no flour, no sugar), though frequently the sweeter, cakier version is called Northern cornbread. Brock's version is of the no-flour-no-sugar ilk, which is what I grew up on and prefer.
He makes his with Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse Yellow Cornmeal, and if you can wait for it to be delivered, I would whole-heartedly recommend you order just that (otherwise look for another stone-ground cornmeal). He uses buttermilk for tang and a single egg, which leaves it light and corny. He also adds crisp crumbles of bacon (preferably Benton's) to the batter, as well as some of the bacon grease, to give the bread a vague and pleasant smokiness and decidedly savory edge. It's a very classic cornbread that would be as at home with a country supper as gracing the table at Husk.
Why I picked this recipe: I can't resist when an extraordinarily gifted chef turns their talents to perfecting the basics.
What worked: This is my kind of cornbread: waxy, savory, with an amazingly crunchy crust.
What didn't: I encountered a few problems along the way to this lovely loaf: First, the minced bacon took about 20 minutes longer to reach a rendered, crispy state than indicated in the recipe (four to five minutes over medium-low heat). I also only got about three tablespoons of bacon grease out of my bacon, though the recipe requires five tablespoons. Finally, probably because I couldn't wait for the Anson Mills cornmeal and used another brand, the coarsely ground corn didn't hydrate fully and resulted in crunchy bits throughout the cornbread.
Suggested tweaks: Just cook the bacon until crispy, disregarding the suggested time. Make up any discrepancy in the amount of bacon grease (which will vary based on the fattiness of your bacon) with canola oil. And plan ahead and order Anson Mills cornmeal.
Thanks to our friends at Artisan, we have 5 copies of Heritage to give away this week.