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Candied Bacon Toffee: a new Christmas tradition

Christmas is within touching distance. You’ve battled the high street. You’ve wrapped everything. You’ve ordered the bird. You’ve breathed out a massive sigh of relief. And then remembered that you’ve forgotten to get Great Uncle Aloysius anything and there’s not even a 24 hour shop handy for an emergency can of anti-freeze and a family pack of Kit Kats. What do you do?

I suggest raiding the fridge for some simple essentials and making a batch of toffee that will both taste delicious and be a festive talking point. Whipped up using butter, sugar and cream and then spiked with crackling shattering shards of crisp candied bacon, this is simple enough to do in under a hour and it doesn’t break the bank…*

In fact this lovely ‘Highland’ style toffee is so easy to do, I made mine by accident. In trying to whip up some toffee sauce to go with the pumpkin ice cream recently and being easily distracted, I overcooked it and it went from runny sauce to firm chewy slabs of toffee and my mum had the inspired idea to add in the remaining candied bacon to perk it up.

I used this Rachel Allen recipe from Bake and didn’t even measure things as accurately as I might, going for dashes and glugs rather than getting out the measuring jug. So basically put all your ingredients in a slightly bigger than needed pan as the sugar will boil and bubble and might spit and cook for about ten minutes at a rolling boil or until it is very thick and gloopy and reduced by about a quarter, take off the heat, stir in the shards of bacon, then pour into a lined tin or tray and allow to set at room temperature. Come back to it when you’ve done the washing up and it’s had a few moments to settle and mark out squares in it with the back of a bread knife and then leave to harden overnight.

Next day, break the squares up into individual pieces and dust lightly with icing sugar to stop the pieces sticking together and then store in an airtight container or cellophane bag in the fridge and then enjoy in front of a roaring fire or an old movie in front of the TV over Christmas if you can’t bear to give it away. You’ll make about 50 pieces of bacon toffee from this recipe so there’s plenty to share even if you love the salty-sweet and crispy crunch chewy texture as much as I did. I imagine this one might become a Christmas tradition every year!

*It may break teeth though. Check for dentures before gifting.

Candied Bacon ‘N’ Pumpkin Ice Cream

I think we’ve touched on me being a bit of an Americanophile before. I have a total weakness for the literature and food of the USA. And I’m prepared to struggle for my art. The Kraft Mac n’Cheese might have defeated me, but like my first time reading Moby Dick, I don’t give up easily. Pumpkin pie didn’t float my boat, but I was determined to find a Thanksgiving inspired dessert that did this year. Pumpkin ice cream sounded just the thing.

Shamelessly copying this David Lebovitz recipe, I dug out the spare can of Libby’s from last year and got going. A rich thick custard was created, laced with vanilla and a lot more rum than he suggested and anointed with some proper amounts of spice. Half a can of the pumpkin puree was added in and the whole thing was churned til a beautiful golden shade of orange. It was then served as the highpoint after a proper Amurrican meal of corndogs and macaroni cheese with a friend from Chicago. And it tasted like grass.

Oddly powdery in texture with a strong vegetable taste that took over the soft spices and vanilla, it was the strangest ice cream I’ve ever had. The extra water content in the pumpkin made it freeze as hard as a rock and taste of ice crystals rather than the usual velvety blanket of churned cream I make. The rum didn’t help and added no flavour. And unusually for an American recipe, it wasn’t sweet enough. It seemed sparse and utilitarian. Neither of us finished our bowls.

But I had around a litre of it in the freezer and was loath to throw it out. It needed something to lift it and make it sweeter, more dessert-like and less like a very peculiar starter. And it need to be properly American in style. Hershey syrup would have worked. Maybe some of those mini marshmallows you get in American cereals. Butterscotch chips embedded in would be great. I didn’t have any of those things to hand and I refuse to pay Selfridges’ Food Hall prices.

What I did have to hand was some lovely unsmoked bacon from the Porcus people. I realised the time had come to get on the candied bacon bandwagon. It’s been uber fashionable to bacon everything possible in the past few years from chocolate to Baconnaise. Apart from one disappointing dalliance with the chocolate, I’ve steered clear, haunted by memories of bacon bits in adolescence. But when bacon is this good, it cries out to be coated with sugar, baked til crisp and then crumbled over ice cream and swirled with toffee sauce…

It went into the oven on a lined tray, heaped with sugar and cooked at about 200℃ for about ten minutes, then turned over and dredged through the syrup and cooked a bit more, before being cooled to a crisp. Shred it up nice and small. And then turn your full attention to the toffee sauce. I used equal quantities (handily unmeasured) of golden caster sugar, golden syrup, double cream and butter and boiled it for about 5 minutes or until I got bored waiting.

The rock hard ice cream had loosened up nicely and it got a liberal swirl of sauce and a decent sprinkling of bacon. Some crushed pecans nuts and a rasher of best back cut lengthways would make an amazing (and very adult) sundae. But we kept it simple and got stuck in. And it really worked. The sauce sweetened the ice cream and toned down the powderiness while the sticky shards of bacon added much needed texture. We finished the bowls with gusto this time.

Next year I won’t be bothering with pumpkin desserts, keeping my slices from the deli for soups and stews, but I recommend you combine this ice cream and the accompanying candied bacon one to have something to experiment with this time next year. You’ll be be giving thanks for the bacon all year round!