Nothing beats bacon for a corncake.
The temptation as a food writer, and food lover in general, is to fancy food up. It's just too hard to resist trying to take something good and make it better. And sometimes there's nothing wrong with that. Experimenting and tweaking can lead to some marvelous dishes. What if nobody had ever tried putting tomatoes and cheese together? But sometimes you should just leave well enough alone. I learned that recently when I challenged my husband to a corncake cookoff.
Fresh from a visit to Connersville Mills (check out the October issue for more on them!) I had a bag of freshly milled Kentucky Proud cornmeal that I was just dying to cook up. I couldn't wait to get online and search for recipes, while my husband Brian argued that we should make it with the basic recipe the mill provided. We couldn't agree, so, my competitive side coming out, I suggested we each make our own.
I chose a fancy-pants Mark Bittman recipe from the New York Times with vanilla, pine nuts, and honey, because, really, how can you go wrong with those ingredients? Meanwhile Brian raided our stash of bacon grease we keep in the fridge, and we set to work.
I knew I was beat before we even sat down to eat. His cakes fried up round and perfect, a little fluffy, and redolent of bacon. Mine fell apart in the pan, wouldn't flip, and cooked unevenly. The delicate pine nuts were overwhelmed by the rich cornmeal flavor, and as far as vanilla, I couldn't event tell it was in there. I eyed Brian's cakes with envy as I slathered mine with butter and drizzled them with honey. Mine didn't taste bad at all – after all, it was delicious cornmeal. But his, I had to admit, were way better.
Luckily, he's a good sport, and shared his winning corncakes with me and didn't say a word about my attempt to outshine him in the kitchen We both know next time I'll side with him, and with tradition, when it comes to a tried-and-true dish like corncakes.
If you have access to good, fresh, cornmeal, try this recipe for “Mother's Cornbread” from Connersville Mill.
2 cups corn meal
¾ tsp salt
½ cup flour
½ tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
3 Tbsp bacon drippings
1 beaten egg
2 cups buttermilk
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put drippings in 10 inch iron skillet and heat while mixing batter. Mix remaining ingredients well. Pour batter into hot skillet, bake 20-25 minutes until it begins to brown on top. Turn over to broil for a few minutes. Remove from oven and turn onto plate.
OR: prepare as Brian did, by pouring batter the size of pancakes into a hot skillet on the stove top, with generous quantities of bacon grease.