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Bacon Cornbread

About 75 million people live in the American South, and there are probably that many recipes for cornbread. Being a born and bred New Englander myself, I can't spin one of those stories about growing up in the South and eating fresh cornbread from a cast iron pan, slathered with butter. However, when I learned how to properly cook, I discovered Southern style cornbread and quickly developed a taste for it. My first memory of cornbread will always be the Northern style cornbread, made with sugar and honey to give it a cake-like sweetness. However, this particular recipe replaces that with something that makes everything better: BACON!

Now, a basic Southern cornbread has six ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, an egg, and buttermilk. Adding bacon to the mix produces seven ingredients. Seven is the lucky number, so therefore this recipe cannot be wrong. You can't argue with numerology.

Just as important: it is absolutely essential that this recipe be made in a cast iron skillet. Two recipes that only work just right in cast iron are cornbread and bacon. Therefore, because we are combining two necessary cast iron dishes into one, it is a given that a cast iron skillet must be used. If you use any other pan to make this recipe, you are breaking the law. Game over, man, game over!

Pans needed: What did I just tell you? You must use a cast iron skillet, preferably one that is 10 inches in diameter. Also needed: a large bowl for mixing dry ingredients, and a medium bowl for mixing wet ingredients.

Place the cast iron skillet into your oven, and preheat the oven (and the pan) to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the oven is heating, prepare your ingredients. In the large bowl, bring together the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, baking powder, kosher salt) and whisk them together. In the medium bowl, add egg and buttermilk, and whisk them together. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and stir them all together to form a batter.

When the oven reaches 450 degrees F, turn your stovetop burner on to medium heat. Take the hot pan out of the oven (carefully!) and place it on the burner. Add bacon to pan, and cook the bacon to render the fat. The bacon does not have to be fully crisped, just done. If you prefer your bacon crisp and crunchy, you can cook it this way. Pour the cornbread batter into the skillet, on top of the bacon. (Listen to the sizzle!) Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Using heavy gloves, place the entire cast iron pan with batter into your preheated 450 degree (F) oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the top of the cornbread has a crust and a toothpick test comes out dry.

Take the skillet out of the oven, and let it rest on your stove for 5 minutes before flipping the cornbread out onto a plate. The bacon, which was on the bottom of the pan underneath the batter, will now be on top of your cornbread. Serve slices with butter or other toppings. You can melt cheddar cheese on top of the cornbread, or even use maple syrup if you want a sweeter taste.