I first got a taste of spoon bread at the age of 10. I was on a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia, with my family and we had settled into a tavern for dinner. The spoon bread we ate was a soufflé-like dish that tasted like a cross between cornbread and corn casserole, but much lighter than both. And it became the inspiration for this Bacon Cheddar Spoon Bread.
I think my 10 year old self was most intrigued by the name. Spoon bread? Who eats bread with a spoon? Research is conflicted on its origins. Some historians point it back to Native Americans porridge. It was also thought to be a staple during the Revolutionary War. Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet and author of The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, notes in his book that “Spoonbread is simply a very rich and dense cornbread, a dish so dense that it must be served up with a spoon. General Washington loved this dish, and it was apparently served quite often at Mount Vernon (Washington’s plantation).”
Twenty-two years later, I’m finally getting around to recreating spoon bread. There is one very important step to this dish: whipping the egg whites. Don’t skip it! It’ll create a very light and soufflé-like spoon bread that’ll melt in your mouth.
I whipped the egg whites in the bowl of my KitchenAid Stand Mixer. You could also use a handheld blender or a little patience + a whisk. You’ll whip the egg whites to soft peaks, which basically means that they form a soft (not stiff) peak on the end of the whisk attachment. See the photo below for an example.
Some spoon breads edge on sweet, but this one is decidedly savory. I added just one teaspoon of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the cornmeal. While not typical in spoon bread, cheddar cheese and chopped bacon really make it irresistible. When does adding cheese and bacon go wrong anyway?
Another key to making this Southern favorite is using a cast iron skillet (here’s the one I use). You’ll butter it generously, and the whole thing will not only pull away from the dish easily, but it’ll have a delightful light brown bottom courtesy of the butter.
When it comes out of the oven, it’ll be nice and puffy! Over the course of a few minutes, it’ll sink like the one shown here. That’s normal—every spoon bread will do that.
While spoon bread is usually a side dish served with dinner, I served the Bacon Cheddar Spoon Bread as part of a Southern-inspired brunch with my friend Kelley of Haviland Events. She supplied the gorgeous china and dishware that you see here. The dishes are known as chinoiserie, which is a European interpretation of Asian art. Her grandmother had a full set of these dishes and Kelley is collecting a set of her own. It’s the perfect dishware for brunch—so colorful, festive, and fun! Be sure to check out Kelley’s #tablesettingtuesday for a weekly dose of inspiration!
Bacon Cheddar Spoon Bread
Yield 6–8 servings
- ¾ cup cornmeal
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 eggs, separated
- ⅔ cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
- 3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
- For garnish: chopped chives
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 10-inch cast iron skillet
- In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the cornmeal, milk, and salt. Heat for approximately 5 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip on medium speed until the egg whites reach soft peaks.
- Add the baking powder and the egg yolks to the cornmeal mixture. Whisk to combine. Stir in the cheddar and crumbled bacon. Gently fold in the whipped egg whites with a spatula, taking care not to stir too hard so the egg whites don’t deflate.
- Bake for 35–40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Serve while still warm.
I highly recommend using a cast iron skillet here. Here's the one I use—it's only about $15!
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