Get ready for some blasphemy: occasionally, I put sugar in the cornbread. I know, I know. Am I even a Southerner? I’ve split most of my life between Mississippi and South Carolina, but I was born to a Cuban mother and a Texan father and thus grew up without the gospel of cornbread.
Don’t get me wrong. I revere the Southern classic as generations have made it—outer crackly-crunchy crust from hot oil and a cast-iron skillet, heritage cornmeal from the farm downstate, and no sugar to be seen—but I also know there’s more than one way to bake a cake. The new South is one that is slowly making room at the table for new voices and ideas. As we pull up more chairs and listen, we remember that this wide welcome, this generosity toward others, must be the true definition of the hospitality we so proudly claim.
Clear a little space on your sideboard, then, for this party-in-a-skillet—a slightly sweet cornbread, like our Northern friends might make. Once you’ve stirred crisp, smoky bacon, fresh cheddar, scallions, jalapeños, and, yes, a bit of sugar into the batter, the cornbread cooks just like your grandma’s does: in a hot cast-iron skillet until golden brown. It comes out sweet and savory with just a hint of heat, and tends to disappear quickly at any gathering. Church potluck. Super Bowl party. Family dinner. But, then, if anything can bring people together, it’s probably bacon, cheese, and cornbread.
(or Savory-Sweet Cornbread) Serves 8, can be made gluten-free
- 6 slices applewood bacon, cut into lardons
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose (or gluten-free all-purpose) flour
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ¾ cup sour cream
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 2 eggs
- 3 Tbs. melted butter, cooled slightly
- 6 ounces freshly grated cheddar cheese
- ½ cup scallions, thinly sliced
- ½ cup jalapeños (seeded and cored), thinly sliced into rings
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Cook bacon in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until fat renders and bacon crisps, about 10 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate. Pour bacon fat out into a small bowl. Return 2 tablespoons to skillet and place skillet in oven to heat. Reserve an additional 2 tablespoons fat and discard any remainder.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together sour cream, buttermilk, eggs, melted butter, and 2 tablespoons reserved bacon fat. Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Stir in bacon, cheese, jalapeños, and scallions.
- With potholders, carefully remove hot skillet from oven. Pour cornbread batter into the hot skillet and place in oven. Bake until skewer inserted into middle of cornbread comes out clean, about 18–20 minutes. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve warm.