Jalpeño cheese cornbread
Most southern cornbread is fairly sweet and has a cake-like crumb – too sweet and too cakey for my taste. The base recipe for this cornbread comes from the Betty Crocker 1950 Picture Cookbook, which says it’s from Ohio. Regardless of where it originated, it’s my hands-down all-time favorite cornbread – with or without the jalapeños and cheese. It’s quick to put together, bakes in minutes, and has a delectably crunchy crust and moist interior.
• 1/4 to 1/3 fresh jalapeños, stems, seeds and pith removed, cut into small dice
• 1 T. plus 1/4 c. bacon fat, preferred, or unhydrogenated lard, or butter, plus additional for buttering the skillet or pan.
• 1 1/2 c. buttermilk
• 1 egg
• 1/2 tsp. baking soda
• 1 T. baking powder, preferably one without aluminum, such as Rumford
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 T. sugar
• 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 cups medium or coarse stone-ground cornmeal, preferably NOT degerminated
• 1 c. loosely packed, coarsely grated cheddar cheese* See note.
Preheat the oven to 450°. Put a 9-inch iron skillet or other 9-inch baking dish in the oven.
The amount of jalapeños you use should depend on your own heat preference level, as well as the jalapeños’ heat level.
Melt the tablespoon of bacon fat in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the diced jalapeños and stir to coat them, then sauté until they are softened and have lost their bright green color, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
Put the 1/4 c. bacon fat in a large microwavable bowl and microwave a few minutes until it is melted. Add the buttermilk, and microwave again just until it is lukewarm. Add the egg and the jalapeños. Beat until the egg is completely incorporated and the jalapeño pieces aren’t clumped together.
In a separate bowl, combine the baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, flour and cornmeal and stir until combined. With a rubber spatula, make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and stir in the buttermilk mixture. Combine with a few swift strokes, then add the grated cheese, and stir just until everything is incorporated. Do not overmix.
Remove the hot skillet from the oven, and quickly coat the bottom and sides with additional bacon fat or other fat, using a heatproof brush or folded paper towels. Add the cornbread mixture (it should sizzle when it hits the skillet), spread it evenly, then immediately return the skillet to the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
The cornbread can be served at room temperature, but is best served hot (or at least still warm) from the oven.
*Note: Pre-grated cheese is coated with cellulose, a harmless substance that keeps the shreds separate. If you grate the cheese yourself, toss the shreds with a tablespoon of the combined dry ingredients before adding it to the batter.
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