Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Corn Muffins with Bacon and Cheddar Cheese

Cornbread is a generic name for any number of quick breads (a bread leavened by an acid-base reaction, rather than by yeast) containing cornmeal. It is baked, fried or, rarely, steamed. Steamed cornbreads are mushy, chewier and more akin to cornmeal pudding than what most consider to be traditional cornbread.

In the United States, Northern and Southern corn bread are different because they generally use different types of corn meal and baking techniques. A preference for sweetness and adding sugar or molasses can be found in both regions, but saltier tastes are sometimes more common in the South, and thus favor the addition of frying the bread with such additions as cracklins. Sometimes, cornbread is crumbled and served with cold milk similar to cold cereal. In Texas, the Mexican influence has spawned a hearty cornbread made with fresh or creamed corn kernels, jalapeƱo peppers and topped with shredded cheese.

Skillet-baked cornbread (often simply called skillet bread or hoecake depending on the container it's cooked in) is a traditional staple of rural cuisine in the United States, especially in the Southern United States which involves heating bacon drippings, lard or other oil in a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron skillet in an oven, and then pouring a batter made from cornmeal, egg and buttermilk directly into the hot grease. The mixture is returned to the oven to bake into a large, crumbly and sometimes very moist cake with a crunchy crust. This bread will tend to be dense, meant more as an accompaniment than as a bread meant to stand on its own. In addition to the skillet method, such cornbread can also be made in sticks, muffins or loaves.

A slightly different variety, cooked in a simple baking dish, is associated with northern US cuisine; it tends to be sweeter and lighter than southern-style cornbread; the batter for northern-style cornbread is very similar to and sometimes interchangeable with that of a corn muffin. A typical contemporary northern U.S. cornbread (referred to in the South as "Yankee Cornbread") recipe contains half wheat flour, half cornmeal, milk or buttermilk, eggs, leavening agent, salt, and usually sugar, resulting in a bread that is somewhat lighter and sweeter than its more traditional southern counterpart. In the border states and parts of the Upper South, a cross between the two traditions is known as "light cornbread."

Unlike fried variants of cornbread, baked cornbread is a quick bread that is dependent on an egg-based protein matrix for its structure (though the addition of wheat flour adds gluten to increase its cohesiveness). The baking process gelatinizes the starch in the cornmeal, but still often leaves some hard starch to give the finished product a distinctive sandiness not typical of breads made from other grains.

Corn pone (sometimes referred to as "Indian pone") is a type of cornbread made from a thick, malleable cornmeal dough and baked in a specific type of iron pan over an open fire (such as a frontiersman would use), using butter, margarine, or cooking oil.

One frying method involves pouring a small amount of liquid batter made with boiling water and self-rising cornmeal (cornmeal with soda or some other chemical leavener added) into a skillet of hot oil, and allowing the crust to turn golden and crunchy while the center of the batter cooks into a crumbly, mushy bread. These small (3-4" diameter) fried breads are soft and very rich. Sometimes, to ensure the consistency of the bread, a small amount of wheat flour is added to the batter. This type of cornbread is often known as "hot water" or "scald meal" cornbread and is unique to the American South.

Pouring a batter similar to that of skillet-fried cornbread, but slightly thinner, into hot grease atop a griddle or a skillet produces a pancake-like bread called a jonnycake. This type of cornbread is prevalent in New England, particularly in Rhode Island, and also in the American Midwest and the American South.

A thicker buttermilk-based batter which is deep-fried rather than pan-fried, forms the hushpuppy, a common accompaniment to fried fish and other seafood in the South. Hushpuppy recipes vary from state to state, some including onion seasoning, chopped onions, beer, or jalapeƱos are used. Fried properly, the hushpuppy will be moist and yellow or white on the inside, while crunchy and medium to dark brown on the outside.

Don't forget to mark your calendars for the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg Tennessee. This annual event is the last week of April every year. And what a catchy tune they had written for themselves.

Bacon and Cheddar Cheese Corn Muffins

Flour 1 1/2 Cups
Yellow cornmeal 1/2 Cusps
Sugar (optional) 2TBS
Baking powder 3 tsp
Salt 1/4 tsp
Corn kernels, fresh 3/4 Cups
Bacon slices, cooked crisp, chopped 4 each
Cheddar cheese, diced 3/4 Cups
Milk 1 Cups
Vegetable oil 1/4 Cups
Egg, beaten 1 each


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar (if using), baking powder and salt. Mix well. Stir in the corn, bacon and cheese.

3. In another bowl, combine the milk, oil and egg. Mix well. Combine the liquid and dry mixes, mixing thoroughly. Do not overbeat.

4. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray and pour in the batter. Bake until a wooden pick comes out clean when inserted, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.

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