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Floriole, Bryan’s Birthday, and Some Amazing Cornbread

I have been MIA, but with good reason! For starters, my friends at Floriole [1] opened their bakery and café and I have had no reason to bake since freshly made croissants, tarts and cakes are a couple of blocks from my office. I’ll be writing more about Floriole soon, but if you are in Chicago you really need to drop what you are doing and go! It is the most exciting thing to open in Chicago in a long time and definitely my favorite bakery.

But really, my time has been spent planning Bryan’s birthday party which was this past Saturday. It was a great night with lots of good friends and good food. A few of the recipes from the Southern-style barbecue were real stand-outs and worth sharing with you. I’m starting with Bryan’s favorite, which is a recipe for skillet cornbread from the Lee brothers [2].

For those of you who are less obsessed with Southern cuisine than I am, Matt and Ted Lee are brothers from Charleston, South Carolina, who sell boiled peanuts [3] and write about Southern cuisine. They have written a couple of excellent books that I turn to on a regular basis. Their cornbread is ridiculously delicious. It was especially good because I used white corn meal from Three Sisters Garden in Kankakee, Illinois. The Three Sisters Garden is one of the regular vendors at Chicago’s Green City Market and their cornmeal is available at the Chicago Farm Stand [4]. It is an amazing local product and worth seeking out. The cornbread, which is cooked in a hot skillet until golden and crispy is intensely flavorful – really beautiful stuff. I served it with sorghum butter (I added a 1/4 cup of sorghum to a stick of softened butter) which gave a nice sweetness to the bread.

The Lee brothers also suggest making a parfait using the cornbread. Since I happened to have some buttermilk ice cream in the fridge, I couldn’t resist. I layered small pieces of the bread with scoops of ice cream and drizzled the whole mess with some sorghum syrup. It was delicious. I have also been fantasizing about making a grilled cheese with the cornbread. Might be over-the top, but I think it is worth a try.

Please use a high-quality cornmeal, ideally from a local farm. If not, at least look for a stone ground cornmeal. Don’t use the stuff in the cardboard tube at the supermarket! Trust me. The recipe below calls for the bread to be baked in a 12-inch skillet which will mean your bread is thinner and crispier than the one in the photos. I chose to do a 10-inch skillet which makes for a taller, softer bread. Either way it is wonderful.

Crispy Cornbread (recipe by Matt and Ted Lee [5])

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Grease a 12-inch skillet with the lard, leaving any excess in the pan and place it in the oven.

In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients together. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg until frothy and then whisk in the buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix thoroughly. Melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat, and whisk the butter into the batter.

When the fat in the skillet is smoking, carefully remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the fat around to coat the bottom and sides evenly. Pour the batter into the skillet; it should sizzle. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top of the bread is golden brown and the edge has pulled away from the side of the skillet. Remove from the oven.

Cut the corn bread into wedges in the skillet and serve hot, with sorghum butter.

Next up: Just in case you needed one, another reason to make buttermilk ice cream: Pecan and Maple Pie with Bourbon and Kumquats! (Seriously!)