Week Fifty: Bourbon Week
Once upon a time, I used to enjoy a glass of Scotch every so often. But then I moved to Kentucky, and I was shown the error of my ways. There, I was taught that Bourbon was the only civilized whiskey, and I came to prefer its burnt oak scent and caramel smoothness far more than the sharp peat and nip of even excellent Single Malt.
These days, the Manhattan is my drink, and you’ll most likely find a bottle of Maker’s, Bulleit, or Woodford (if I’m feeling spendy) in the cabinet. I often sneak a splash or two into appropriate foods, especially chocolate items, or in place of vanilla in baked goods. Yes, Bourbon is my liquor of choice for drinking, but in cooking, it can sometimes be as indispensable an ingredient as salt. This week, I’ll be presenting breads that use Bourbon as a central ingredient, showcasing the versatility of the amber liquor, in sweet, savory, yeasted, and quick bread applications.
First is a bread that highlights how well Bourbon and sweet corn go together. Bourboned cream corn is not uncommon in Kentucky (and other places in the South), so it was hardly a stretch to include Bourbon in a pan of cornbread. This recipe, originally from Peter Reinhart, makes a very sweet and cake-like Northern-style cornbread, which is right up my alley.
For an irresistible texture and added richness, this loaf is topped with handfuls of crisp bacon, which serves also to complement the smoky depth of the Bourbon in the bread. All together, the effect is nothing short of indulgent. Each crumb turns out moist and unapologetically sweet; this is not a cornbread for the faint of heart. But when you bite a fat wedge, crumbling golden onto your plate you’ll be glad you mustered the courage to try it out.
Bourbon Corn Bread
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart
Makes one 10 inch round loaf
6 ounces (about 1 cup) coarse cornmeal
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
8 ounces bacon (8 to 10 slices)
8 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces (1/4 cup) white sugar
2 ounces (1/4 cup) brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 ounces (1 jigger) bourbon
16 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons bacon fat or vegetable oil
1. The night before making the bread, soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight (or for 8 to 12 hours).
2. Preheat the oven to 375º F. Lay out the bacon in a single layer on one or two rimmed sheet pans. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until just crisp. Drain the bacon on paper towels, and reserve the rendered fat left in the pan. When the bacon has cooled, crumble or chop it into coarse pieces.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the white and brown sugars.
4. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the melted butter and bourbon, and whisk until smooth. Stir in the soaked cornmeal mixture.
5. Place the reserved bacon fat in the bottom of a 10 inch round cake pan, and place the pan in the oven. Heat for about 6 minutes, or until the fat is very hot.
6. Meanwhile, add the dry ingredients to the wet ones. Quickly and gently stir together with a large spoon or whisk until smooth. The consistency should look like thick pancake batter. Stir in the corn kernels until evenly distributed.
7. Remove the hot pan from the oven, and tilt to coat the bottom and sides with the hot fat. Carefully pour in the batter, and sprinkle the top evenly with the crumbled bacon, gently pressing it into the batter.
8. Bake at 350º F for about 30 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and baked through. An instant-read thermometer should register about 185º F when fully cooked. Let the bread cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
1. This bread is best served as soon as possible. It may be cooled completely on a wire rack, wrapped tightly, and frozen, to be reheated in a 350º F oven for 10 minutes, or until warmed through.
2. If using frozen corn, it does not have to be thawed before using.