New life was breathed into North Carolina cider-favorite The Black Twig Cider House earlier this year when Colorado-based Stem Ciders took over the space to create The Northern Spy in Durham. Keeping the name in the apple variety family, Stem’s revamp includes a restaurant, bottle shop, a bar with wine, beer, cocktails and, of course, cider.
The kitchen menu is headed by Eric Lee — Stem vet and chef of the cidery’s Acreage restaurant in Lafayette, Colorado — and features locally sourced, regionally inspired fare to the Carolinas, from tomato pie to cider floats. A fall favorite for the chef, Lee shares his recipe for cider cornbread, dredged in house-made cider honey and cider butter.
“I like how cider provides a unique flavor profile to cooking,” Lee says of cooking with the beverage. “I generally supplement cider anywhere I would normally put wine or liquor into a recipe. I find the cider gives a lightness and a fruity profile to all of the dishes that it finds its way into.”
Using cider a few ways in this recipe, Lee says the kitchen makes the cider honey to supplement anywhere they might use honey or maple syrup in the restaurant. “It’s our house sweetener and as such it made sense to blend it with the butter for several dynamic pairings,” he adds.
“A few years back, at another prominent Denver restaurant, I ran cornbread with maple butter and loved it,” he says. “On a lark one day I added the maple butter to an order of French fries. It was awesome. The fries were shellacked in the maple and the butter gave its rich creaminess to the fries in a new way. It made sense to me to add the cider honey butter to the cornbread at Acreage. We’ve added it to the fries here before as well and loved it!”
Although Stem’s Off-Dry is used in the cider honey recipe, the chef pairs the cornbread with the producer’s Hopped cider for a little hop-funk that stands up well to the sweetness of the bread.
Cornbread with Cider Honey
Makes 1 pan
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup freeze-dried corn, blitzed to a flour in a food processor
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 ½ cups whole milk
4 large eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
Bacon fat, to coat
Cider butter (recipe follows)
Cider honey (recipe follows)
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, corn, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, mix together the buttermilk, whole milk and eggs. Add the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing vigorously. Fold the melted butter into the mixture. Reserve in a refrigerator for up to 72 hours prior to baking.
To bake, preheat an oven to 450° F and place a cast iron in to heat up to the same temperature. With the pan is still in the oven, add enough bacon fat to cover the bottom and sides with a generous layer.
When the pan starts to smoke, add the batter quickly so it will instantly fry when it hits the fat and create a crust. Add enough batter to bring the level to 2/3 from the top. Keep a sheet tray under the pan to catch any spills. Be careful not to burn the fat and allow it to fully smoke out or the cornbread will get greasy and taste of kerosene.
Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Keep any left-over batter refrigerated until ready to use.
Top with cider honey and cider butter, then serve immediately.
Yields 1-2 cups
1 cup Stem Ciders Off-Dry
1 cup apple juice
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 ¾ cups organic white sugar
1 bay leaf
1 small chili de Arbol
In a heavy bottom, non-reactive pot, bring all the ingredients to a boil and continue to boil until the honey reaches 225° F. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, remove the chili and bay leaf, and store in the refrigerator.
Cider Honey Butter
Yields 1-2 cups
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
Pinch Kosher salt
½ cup Cider Honey
Whip the butter in a blender until smooth. Add the salt and begin drizzling the cider honey into the butter in a steady and thick stream until it’s all gone. Once the honey is evenly distributed into the butter, taste for salt and as more as needed. Refrigerate immediately.