Saturday, February 9, 2013

Jalapeno Popper Cornbread

The background

I was thinking through how I wanted to celebrate my birthday this year and had settled on a barbeque dinner.  Never mind that it is early February, here in central Texas, the weather is most definitely indicative of an early spring.  With daytime temperatures in the mid 70’s and flirting with the 80’s, the weather is perfect for firing up the smoker.  In the grand Texas barbeque tradition, dinner would include smoked brisket, pulled pork and sausage.  To compliment the peppery smoked meats, I served pinto beans, grilled corn on the cob, homemade dinner rolls and Jalapeno Popper Cornbread. 

In the off chance that you haven’t been to a backyard barbeque in the last decade or so, jalapeno poppers are bacon wrapped peppers stuffed with cheese and either battered and fried, or grilled.  I am a fan of the grilled variety, myself.  I like the smoky bacon and slight char on the jalapeno pepper.  In order to mimic these qualities in my cornbread, I relied on my favorite cast iron skillet and the all around goodness of rendered bacon fat. 

I am willing to bet that you can get perfectly acceptable results by adding the three pepper popper ingredients to whatever boxed cornbread mix you already use, baked in a casserole pan, but I have to strongly encourage you to take the time to make this recipe from locally sourced ground corn if at all possible.  Using the best bacon you can find definitely won’t hurt either.  The cast iron skillet also delivers on a nice crisp crust on the bread, which can’t be achieved in a glass dish.

No, you won’t find this recipe in anyone’s healthy eating or diet cookbook.  This should be a splurge for sure, so I don’t recommend getting carried away with healthy swaps like using skim milk, turkey bacon, coconut oil or almond flour.  Enjoy this cornbread with a slathering of real butter guilt-free, just don’t eat the whole pan in one sitting.

2013-02-08 17.14.52

the ingredients

  • 1 Cup Ground Corn Meal (locally sourced and organic)
  • 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour (unbleached and organic)
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 2 Tsp. Baking Powder
  • 2 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/4 Canola Oil
  • 3 Whole Jalapeno Peppers
  • 1 Lb. Smoked Bacon
  • 2 Cup Cheddar Cheese, grated (I prefer a Longhorn Style Medium Cheddar)

making it work

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center position.
  2. Slice the bacon into thin pieces and brown in a cast iron skillet.
  3. While the bacon is browning, slice the jalapenos into 1/4 inch slices.  You will further dice these in a later step, we just want nice slices so that they cook evenly.
  4. When the bacon is browned, remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to remove excess grease.  Pour off most of the bacon grease from the pan, reserving a tablespoon or 2 in the pan.
  5. Sauté the sliced jalapenos in the rendered bacon fat until they soften and start to brown.
  6. Remove the sautéed peppers from the pan and chop them into small pieces.  Set these aside to be added to the batter.
  7. Combine the dry ingredients (corn meal, flour, salt, baking powder, sugar) in a medium size mixing bowl and then stir with a whisk or fork so that they are mixed well.
  8. Add the wet ingredients (oil, milk, and eggs) to the dry ingredients and whisk fully incorporate.
  9. Stir in the bacon, jalapeno peppers and cheddar cheese.
  10. Grease a clean cast iron skillet.  For this purpose, I prefer to use bacon fat, but shortening or vegetable oil will work just fine as well.  I am one of those crazy people that actually keeps rendered bacon fat to use for things like this or for biscuits.
  11. Pour the batter into the greased skillet and bake for 30-35 minutes.  When it is done, the top should be lightly brown and firm to the touch.  You should also see nicely browned edges.

notes and observations

I cut my cornbread into 16 pieces.  This means I end up with 4 very small, triangular pieces that really aren’t big enough to serve.  These are of course made entirely for taste-testing, and naturally are void of calories.

Assuming you have to brown the bacon, this recipe should take about an hour from start to finish.  This does reheat well though, so it can certainly be made early.

Shredding cheese from a block really does make a big difference.  If you have abandoned block cheese for the pre-shredded bagged cheese, please reconsider this.  Here’s a challenge, hand grate some cheddar cheese and taste it side by side with the bagged stuff.  I guarantee you will taste a huge difference.  Even without buying expensive artisan cheddar from the cheese counter, if you will just use even the store brand block cheese you will be surprised by the results.  If your not convinced, read the ingredients on the back of the package.  Yuck.