p3: Cornbread w/ Bacon

#14, Awesome Bacon Cornbread

cornbreadSo my ‘Baker’s Apprentice’ book actually has a Cornbread recipe in it! I mean it seems a logical thing at first, until you look through all the other recipes and realize that really the book focuses SOLELY on yeasted, kneaded and gluten-developed kinds of breads. There’s not a single beer, soda, or other ‘alternative’ bread recipe in the whole thing. But for whatever reasons he included cornbread (apparently it has something to do with fond memories or some other worthless mumbo jumbo). Even so, reading through his dedication and love of this chemically leavened quick bread, and how much effort spent perfecting the recipe to the heights of his cravings, definitely makes one quite hungry and obsessed with what must be a damn good cornbread recipe. I mean, it contains bacon… gotta be good right?

As such, I’ve been waiting for a good time to make it. And we’ve finally entered Sweet Corn season in Minnesota! With how much of this vegetable is stuffed into the tender but crunchy-moist bread, the better quality of corn used should produce noticeable results. So I am officially going for it now that I get the chance! Not to mention I still have some ‘Chili Compound Butter’ in the fridge that just needs good corn or cornbread to spread on.

I do plan on making one little change to the recipe; where it requires just putting ‘fresh’ (aka raw) corn kernels in the bread, I’m going to sauté part in the batter’s butter, cuz it just brings out the flaver, and grill the other part because… I mean have you not tried grilled sweet corn in season? You know.

20150808_213541Recipe
1 cup/6oz Coarse/Polenta Cornmeal
2 cups/;16oz Buttermilk
8oz Bacon
2 ½ cups/16oz Corn Kernels from whole cobs, about 4-5
2 Tb/1 oz Unsalted Butter
2 Tb/1.5oz Honey
1¾ cup/8oz All Purpose Flour
1½ Tb/0.75oz Baking Powder
¼ tsp/0.05oz Baking Soda
1 tsp/0.25oz Salt
¼ cup/2oz Sugar
¼ cup/2oz Brown Sugar
3 whole/5oz Eggs
2 Tb/1oz Rendered Bacon Fat

Directions

  1. Mix Cornmeal and Buttermilk in bowl to make a Soaker, cover tight with plastic wrap and let sit out overnight at room temp20150808_213755
  2. Roast Bacon strips at 375F for about 15-20 minutes, or until crisp and ready. Remove, drain on paper towels, and chop or break up into pieces20150808_220946
  3. Drain off rendered bacon fat from pan, reserve
  4. Take half of the Corn cobs, grilling the kernels directly over the grates, turning occasionally, until golden brown around all sides20150809_104627
  5. Remove and cut kernels off the cob. Repeat with the uncooked corn, separating to the side with the Butter.20150809_111222
  6. Take the now-cleaned cobs and scrape sides thoroughly with the edge of the knife, pulling off all the remaining corn flesh, cream, and ‘trimmings;’ set these off to the side (and save the cob husks! Can simmer in soups and stocks for added flavor)20150809_111744
  7. Toss butter, uncooked corn, and ‘scrapings’ in hot pan, sautéing until corn is tender and color deepens, around 3-5 minutes20150809_111014
  8. Drizzle Honey into corn at the end, stirring to dizzolve
  9. Lower oven to 350F20150809_105132
  10. Sift Flour, Baking Powder, and Soda into bowl w/ the Salt and Sugars20150809_112103
  11. Mix the Eggs, cornmeal soak, and reserved sautéed + grilled corn, making sure to get in all the liquid and that the eggs are broken and distributed20150809_112215
  12. Add to the flour mixture, stirring thoroughly until everything is mixed into a smooth, evenly distributed thick batter20150809_111820
  13. Dollop reserved Bacon Fat in your pan, 10” round cake or 12” square-ish, and transfer to oven 5-7 minutes
  14. Once melted and sizzling, pour in batter and sprinkle bacon over the top, making sure it’s somewhat pressed in20150809_112630
  15. Close oven, bake around 30 minutes, until center is just set and passes toothpick test
  16. Remove and let cool on counter at least 5-10 minutes before cutting pieces20150809_122537
  17. Enjoy as-is, with ribs, dolloped with chili-compound-butter, or however else desired

What Have I Learned This Time?

It takes at least 4 ears of corn to get 16oz of kernels, not 2!

Any Thoughts?

20150809_122320Making this recipe, a true culmination of an author’s spent years of crafting a favorite food to perfection, sort of got me thinking on the topic of ‘improvement.’ I really like this cornbread, it IS awesome; moist, bit of crunchy on the sides, but most importantly it has that deep sweet, cornbready flavors that can’t be beat. I know that sometime in the future I’m going to make cornbread, and it’s going to be this recipe… which is a rare thing to happen nowadays. Most of the recipes one happens to find and utilize, at least for me, no matter how good they are, will still find those little ‘points’ in the back of your head after finishing. “I should have done this,” or “I think next time I’d like it to have more/less of this,” or “it NEEDS some of ‘this.’” Unless one happens to make things over and over, really getting to KNOW a dish and a recipe, these thoughts are unavoidable; which is what always drives my searching and comparing different formulae before I attempt any ‘classic’ dish (that I’m not trying to make out a specific cookbook of course).

So it’s interesting when I simply can’t think of any desire to look for a different cornbread recipe in the future; at least to me. What seems to be a very high risk of just making something inferior is blasting in my mind. Truly this is a testament to the baker behind this. That said, I do have ideas for ADDING things; not changing the chemical balances and ratios or anything, but how delicious would this be with some grilled poblanos and bits of cheddar mixed into the batter before baking? And I would LOVE to see what flavor I get by substituting the regular sugar out for even MORE honey; not in an attempt to make it better, but just using this recipe as a blueprint for a fun curiosity.

I feel like I just said a whole lot of nothing… but I have cornbread, so who cares?

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

Yes, but it’s a rather cheap victory

p1: Flammekeuche

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-30437-1385763316-0One of the very few “pizzas” that France can call its own (like New York Style… I wonder if they have a regionally rivalry with some place in Languedoc making Deep Dish versions), Alsace is home to what they call Flammekeuche; it’s also known as Tarte Flambe in the rest of France, Flammekeuken in Germany, and multiple variations of the same name depending on who you ask. At the end of the day, they all mean the same thing, “Flamed Tart” (or “Fire Cake” or “Burning Flatbread,” there’s at least 10 ways to translate this to English I’m sure).

I love how this particular food started. So, back in the day, when bakers or any other French/Alsatian/German shop heated up their big, wood-fired brick ovens, they needed to test whether it was hot enough (you know, enough to say, melt a cast iron pan or something… those ovens get hot, damn). So they’d thinly roll out some bread dough, put some random chops of onion and bacon on top (a classic German combo, like mirepoix but with meat), maybe with some cream or fresh white cheese, and slide it in like a pizza. If the edges browned and everything cooked and bubbled in 1-2 minutes, the oven surface was good, and they had lunch (or maybe breakfast or something).

Of course as popularity went on, some refinement happened over time, recipes call to ensure thin slicing and the use of crème fraicheor other dairy sources. I can’t even tell, from the multiple sources, if the original versions of this used raw onions+bacon on the “pizza” and moved to lightly cooked and caramelized for each, or if they started cooked beforehand and nowadays focus on raw. Either way, the raw-on-top before oven cooking seems to be prevalent in recipes, and the style I’m focusing on today.

A Word On…

Dough:Don’t really know too much about dough to say anything about what’s “required” for certain types, and there’s nothing stated in flammekeuche history that hints at any particular unique aspect to its bread, other than it being able to roll out Thin. So just find a recipe that seems to work, if you have a good one you’ve used before then go for it. I’ve even seen someone use puff pastry… which sorta feels insulting, but whatever floats your boat.

20140521_114544Dairy/Sauce:One of the three ingredient cornerstones to this dish is the creamy “white sauce” spread heavily with the other generous food items. This is nowadays usually Crème Fraiche based, but it doesn’t have to be all crème fraiche; in fact, most recipes I’ve found mix it with an equal portion of soft, fresh curds. Fromage Blanc, Farm Cheese, Ricotta, even Cottage Cheese; for fun, I decided to make my own, both the Crème and Cheese. The links to their recipes are in the ingredients list lower down.

20140517_133512Bacon:Truly, any bacon will do (from what I’ve seen), no particular “Alsatian/German style” we need to worry about. Though, as I always say, if you’re gonna do a real “Bacon” dish, ya gotta get it thick cut. Any place that has it in the counter as a whole slab and slice it to order can get it to wherever you want; the pre-sliced stuff can just has that good width ya know?

Now, we should also talk about “cooking” this. Whether one likes it or not, if you want to make it how it’s classically done, then you’ll be putting it on the pizza raw. I know, it scares you, scared me too, but it WILL cook all the way while baking on the pizza (if you do it as directed). For argument’s sake, though, I actually decided to make two of these flatbreads for the dinner; I had extra dough anyways.

One was the highly classic, raw bacon and raw sliced onions; the other was a “cooked” version. Bacon sizzled in the pan until crispy, removed, and then I sautéed some thicker onion slices in the leftover fat and used both to top the fraiche/cheese covered dough.

It tasted pretty good, the cooked version. Wasn’t classic, but who can say no to crispy fatty bacon and almost-caramelized onions? Wish I had more of it though… and more sauce (sorta just soaked into the crust with no raw onions to coat).

20140521_185935Baking:Classically done, as all good pizzas are, in a fire-fueled brick oven. I’m guessing most people don’t have access to one of these to play with (I mean, I don’t… if you do then bravo sir, bravo); one could possibly attempt substitution by building a wood fire in a non-propane-designed grill, getting it to those blazing embers and setting a baking stone on top to heat up. Lotta work though, and not quite sure it would go exactly as planned… so oven it is. Just get it super hot; I prefer all my pizzas at the height of 500F, a pizza stone inside while it heats up, to allow for fast cooking and browning, one of the most important aspects of pizza construction. The recipe I found called for 450F though, so I just went with 475; anything in this 50 degree range seems to work.20140521_141713

Flammekeuche
1 cup Water, lukewarm
1 packet (2 ½ tsp) Active Dry Yeast
2 ¼-2 ½ cups Flour
2-3 tsp Salt
½ White Onion
½ cup Crème Fraiche
½ cup Fromage Blanc or other fresh, white Cheese, preferably Homemade
3-4 slices Thick-cut Bacon
Black Pepper
Cornmeal

Directions

  1. Combine Water, Yeast, and 1 cup Flour in a bowl, stirring until all blended. Leave 5 or so minutes to Bloom/Proof the yeast (with the flour mixed in, the appearance won’t really change; it may smell MORE yeasty).20140521_113742
  2. Slowly stir in remaining Flour and 1 tsp of the Salt, mixing until it’s too stiff to stir.20140521_115828
  3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, flour your hands, and begin kneading thoroughly at least 10 minutes (or, if you’re me, 30… I probably should have gone longer too). It will remain lightly sticky throughout the kneading process; if it’s ESPECIALLY sticky, add more flour while working.20140521_115954
  4. Once ‘smooth and satiny,’ aka when it feels like actual dough, place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap (pressed onto the skin), leave to proof in warm area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.20140521_123229
  5. Punch down, re-cover, and let double again, another hour.20140521_135543
  6. While this is resting, thinly slice the Onion and combine with Crème Fraiche, Cheese, Black Pepper and rest of Salt. Leave to sit at least 15 minutes to mingle and “soften” the onions.20140521_114838
  7. Chop Bacon into small chunks, reserve.20140521_184217
  8. Place a Pizza or other thicker Baking Stone/Pan in oven and turn to 475-500F.20140521_180857
  9. Take out as much of the prepared dough as needed/desired and flatten onto a lightly floured surface with the palm of your hands.20140521_181236
  10. Roll out, trying to keep the desired rectangular shape, until as thin as one feels comfortable making it. If unable to get the shape one wants, and is quite adamant about the final appearance, cut the dough with a bench scraper or pizza cutter.20140521_181228
  11. Heavily sprinkle (more than what’s seen in the picture) the Cornmeal on whatever transfer paddle/pan/etc one is using (you WILL need one). Carefully and quickly lift and transfer the naked dough onto this.20140521_182519
  12. Spread the cream-coated onions evenly over the base dough, going almost all the way to the edge. Follow by sprinkling the raw bacon evenly on top, getting as much as desired on top.20140521_184204
  13. Crack a fresh seasoning of black pepper over the top and move to the oven, transferring onto the stone with a quick push+backslide of the pan and tug of the dough (if there’s enough cornmeal, this should be a snap).20140521_185942
  14. Bake 12-20 minutes, depending on various factors, until the dough edges are dark brown and crispy.20140521_190149
  15. Remove, slice, and serve immediately; no need for resting. Enjoy.

T20140521_190622he Verdict

Crust ended up a bit too thick for what I was going for (still worked and tasted good, just wasn’t technically a “thin crust” item); maybe next time, besides ensuring it’s rolled even thinner, I’ll dock the dough as well to prevent more rising. Maybe slice the onions in half too; the thin rings tended to pull on some bites. Other than that, I liked it; the flavors were a little more muted than I would have thought with onions and bacon. But it was creamy, with a bit of that black pepper and onion spiciness, soft topping and crunchy handle. It felt like something I would eat in that little corner between France and Germany. I really liked how soft the onions got, and the different flavors of the raw-baked bacon. Which is something else to note; despite worries I had starting out, the raw bacon cooked all the way in the oven; it may not have gotten that thorough “crispiness” we’re used to, but it’s still hammy, delicately smoky goodness.

At the end of the day though, it’s crunchy, creamy, delicious pizza/flatbread, and that’s all that really matters.

Primary Pairing – Alsace Pinot Blanc

Just because a dish is from Alsace doesn’t mean it has to automatically be paired with Riesling or Gewurztraminer, which I keep finding on Flammekeuche webpages. I don’t really know why, there are some quite notable aspects of this food item that immediately preclude both these wines, if one knows anything about Alsatian vinification practices.

Let’s start with something immediately noted; tart crème fraiche, milky cheese, BACON, this dish has some fat and lactic acid. Not too much, but it needs the same acid in its wine to cut through a lot of it and stand up to our sour dressing. Gewurztraminer has NO acid (okay, some, but it’s not a lot at all), it’s low and flabby and highlights an oily texture for those spicy aromatic; just NOT what we want here at all. Now, Riesling has plenty, but like Gewurz it has something else the winemakers in this region like to give. Ripening their grapes to their fullest extent, they then take these sugars and ferment ALL of it out, stereotypically making very DRY wines with BIG bodies; well, if they have enough sugars. The Riesling often does, and unlike its German counterpart is known for large, fully bodies and mouthfeels; which would hold true even for those French winemakers who are transitioning to sweeter products (it’s a big thing, and I talk to much as is, so I’ll stop now).

20140521_184714And this is not a “big” dish; thin crispy crust, some onions and fresh/lighter style cream, and gentle flavors, any full-bodied wine would easily overpower this. Which is why I love that they use Pinot Blanc; it’s a higher acid, low body grape which, with this climate and winemaking practices, changes to a medium-ish acid and body white. It’s a great food wine for all the non-hearty or uber-Germanic foods (see Choucroute once I get into it). Plus it’s usually more price-conscious than other offerings; not a lot of character to it either, but that’s nice too, not as “distracting.”

My Bottle: 2011 Zinck Pinot Blanc

A convenient and well-pairing option, the price-conscious Zinck quaffed itself down easily, providing nice little simple citrus and white floral tones over the general winey flavors. It’s somewhat musky (which I enjoyed with the black pepper) and fills the mouth just enough, as any decent Alsatian wine should, to swim along the bacony-oniony bread. Overall, it’s a viable option for any searching; would be nice to try some of the more expensive Blancs for super-refined freshness (such as the well-known Zindt-Humbrecht).

mehrere Ma§ BiereSecondary Pairing – Märzen/Oktoberfest

When we’re on the cultural border of France and Germany, one just can’t count out the inclusion of beer. I feel I’ve been doing a lot of white, wheat, light-malted, etc beers for my pairings so far; some of which would definitely fit right into drinking here, but I’d like to change things up a bit.

The traditional Oktoberfest beer, Marzen’s origins lie in the need to make large quantities of beer in later winter, while the temperature was still cool and perfect for clean fermentation, and holding in chilled caves during the summer. Often made in March, thus Marzen, these biers were often given darker malts and more hops than usual to cover up any off flavors resulting from the warming temperatures and long “ageing” in cellar as they waited for consumption. Those still left by October would develop rich, toasty malt bodies and mellowed hops.

There has of course been much refinement of this up to today. Thus, the main thing to focus on is a leaning towards those medium-toasted, caramel-toffee flavored malts, using just enough to give that characteristic burnt orange color. Alcohol, as it says historiclally, was made “high” to last during storage, but it really only comes up to 5-6%, a great beer range to pair with this food. And finally, a stronger than mild but not intense use of hops will serve the same way as our acid.

A tasty beer to celebrate the seasons, along with a flatbread to eat on a sunny summer day. Truly an almost perfect expression of Germanic influence.