The story of my friend Mandi perhaps best conveys the power of bacon. A number of years ago, Mandi decided to eschew meat completely, and adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. If I remember correctly, she didn't like the idea of eating anything with a face.
Except for bacon. Sweet sweet bacon still occupied a place in her heart that no amount of celery could replace.
I remember cooking for her and my other girls, Joo and Elizabeth one day, and I made a salad topped with slices of bacon. I was about to make some separately for her, and she said, "Oh no, no. I STILL eat bacon."
Happily, Mandi is back to meat now, and I like to think that the piggy goodness talked her back into it.
In recent years, it seems that turning bacon into dessert has become a national pastime. Here in LA, the wine bar, Lou, serves candied bacon. Scoops, an experimental ice-cream parlour (whose brown bread ice-cream sells out like that, and whose strawberry-black pepper ice cream inspired one of my lassi concoctions), made a legendary maple-bacon ice cream. Vosges makes a (slightly disappointing) bacon chocolate bar. Apparently Animal's is better, and you can watch 'em make it here.
And heck, it's not just the States that's into it. This whole obsession may have started in England, where Heston Blumenthal, the "culinary alchemist" behind Fat Duck, voted one of the world's best restaurants, makes an eggs and bacon ice-cream.
Bren and I decided that this 4th of July was our cheat day (the first in about 2 months). This was a day to eat whatever we wanted, and of course, ice-cream was on the menu. So, I decided to attempt to make candied bacon ice-cream. Bren, a firm believer in there's-no-such-thing-as-overdoing-things, said, "what, no chocolate?".
Note to you and myself, dear hearts: always throw your canister or bowl or whatever your ice cream maker uses, into the freezer the night before. Heck, just leave it in the there for the summer, just in case you're struck by the spontaneous need for fresh, homemade ice cream.
Why? Because there are few things more disappointing than waiting two months to make ice-cream, choosing In-dependence Day as the chosen day, and then realising that you are hopelessly dependant on physics... hence, no ice-cream for me.
Sigh. I did make it the next day though.
I adapted a recipe by David Lebovitz, my Good Bite buddy (woohoo!), who adapted a Michael Ruhlman recipe. In the end, I like it well enough, but it wasn't the oral explosion I expected it to be; perhaps I should have used better bacon?
I'd much rather eat the candied bacon by itself, and for this I thank Mr. Lebovitz. I doubt my life will ever be the same. In fact, if you don't make the ice-cream, just make the candied bacon. And make a lot of it, because this is the kind of stuff you'll want to nibble on alongside a glass of wine, especially when you're nursing a broken heart. Well, it's good for celebrating a victory too, now I think about it. This stuff is world-peace worthy.
The ice-cream base itself has no bacon flavouring in it (and I'm not sure how you'd do that other than steeping the warm custard with some bacon? Thoughts?) so it's basically great ice-cream with bacon bits. Actually, that's given me an idea. Next time, I'll just make a batch of regular ice-cream and serve the candied bacon bits on the side, to be sprinkled (liberally!) on top. Freezing the bacon in the ice-cream transformed the gorgeously-sticky and tender bacon into hard and chewy bits.
Let me just make this clear though. I ate this ice-cream. With vim and vigour. It's still WICKED good and worthy of a trial, especially with better bacon than I had on hand. In fact, I woke up this morning wondering whether I should have a bowl for breakfast (given that I seem to have gained a sore throat overnight. Ugh!). It's good people. Just not what I had expected.
In case you'd like to try it, here's what I did.
Chocolate-Bacon Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz and Michael Ruhlman recipes
6 strips thickly-sliced bacon
Light brown sugar
8 oz good dark chocolate (I used Callebaut), chopped up
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 3/4 cup half-and-half
5 large egg yolks
2 tsp whiskey
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1) Candy the bacon:
- Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
- Lay strips on a cooling rack over a foil-lined half sheet pan (big cookie sheet), and sprinkle with brown sugar. Sprinkle pretty liberally, because some of it will melt off. (David says about 1 1/2-2 tsp per strip, but I ended up using more!)
- Bake for 10 minutes. Check to make sure that brown sugar has melted and caramelized.
- Remove bacon from the rack. Toss the rack aside. Return bacon to the sheet pan, dragging the un-caramelized side through all the sugary goodness that's accumulated on the foil.
- Bake again, with the un-caramelized side up, about 5-8 minutes, until dark mahogany colour. Don't let it burn!
- Remove from the pan, put 'em back on the cooling rack, and let them sit until cool.
- WARNING: you will want to eat all of 'em. Step. Away. From. The bacon.
- Chop into little pieces -- I cut them into varying sizes so that when you eat the ice-cream, you'll never know what you're going to get: a subtle bit of smokiness, or a big smack-you-in-the-face salty-sweetness!
2) Make the ice-cream. Make sure your canister is frozen solid and ready to go.
3) Melt the chocolate; throw the chocolate in a bowl, and place it over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally, and let it sit until the chocolate is good and melted. Turn the heat off, but leave the bowl over the water.
4) Set up an ice-bath: throw some ice-cubes into a large bowl and pour in some cold water. Then put a smaller (but not too small) bowl in the water. Pour 1/2 of the half-and-half into the bowl, and set a mesh strainer in the bowl too.
5) In another bowl (yes you'll need another one!!), stir together your egg yolks.
6) In a heavy, medium saucepan, melt the butter, then add the brown sugar and the rest of the half-and-half. Stir until the ingredients come together.
7) Gradually add some of the brown sugar mixture to the egg yolks, whisking as you pour. Pour it back into the saucepan and whisk together.
8) Add the melted chocolate and a pinch of salt. Turn on the heat to moderately low, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula, or registers 180F on a thermometer.
9) Pour the custard through the strainer into the cool half-and-half. Stir until cool. Add the whiskey and the vanilla. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, until thoroughly chilled. Then prepare ice-cream according to your machine's instructions.
10) Once it's churned, spoon into your container, and sprinkle bacon bits between the layers, finishing with a flourish on top. (Alternatively, don't add the bacon now. Set it aside in an air-tight container, and serve alongside the ice-cream as a topping). Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and freeze for a couple of hours, until it's to your desired consistency. If you wanted to gild the lily even further, I think it might be nice with a drizzle of warm maple syrup on top too!