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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!

Give thanks for pumpkin pie

I am rather envious of the American holiday of Thanksgiving. I rather like the idea of a day dedicated to family, friends and food (all things to be thankful for) without the added pressure of sheer naked commercialism like Christmas. Unfortunately I have never had the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving and thus have never sampled some of its traditional dishes. I could happily live without ever trying green bean casserole but since I’m a bit of an Americanophile, pumpkin pie has always intrigued me.

Coming across a can of Libby’s tinned pumpkin recently at Whole Foods for a much more reasonable price than Selfridges Food Hall flogs it for sealed the deal. This is one occasion when tinned trumps fresh for me. I roasted some pumpkin last year to puree for cupcakes and it involved an hour’s cooking, draining overnight, about two hours trying to puree it in a blender and the death of my favourite silicon spatula to achieve something that looked exactly like the contents of a can of Libby’s…

The future's orange...

Pumpkin obtained, the next step was to find a good recipe for the pie. I was intrigued to see that most of them are the same recipe but with varying amounts of the products sold by specific companies and different levels of spicing. The only one that seemed to vary was a stunning sounding Nancy Silverton recipe involving real cream and brandy instead evaporated milk and generic pumpkin pie spice. However it sounded like all the ingredients involved would cost so much it would have been cheaper to buy one of the £9.99 pies that Whole Foods also had. I ended up plumping for the ‘perfect pumpkin pie’ recipe from the Guardian recently as it seemed to combine the best bits of the traditional and the more deluxe Nancy Silverton recipes.

Oddly though I struggled to find a small bottle of golden rum anywhere in Brixton. I couldn’t even get a couple of miniatures of the dark stuff. Apparently SW9 only deals in flagons of the stuff, so I left that out since I’m not sure I could manage to use of the rest of a bottle by next November. I also had problems with getting real maple syrup that didn’t cost enough to make my bank manager blink and ended up with a bottle of the maple flavoured syrup instead. Everything else was straighforward.

As was the pastry for the pie shell! A quick sweet shortcrust, it came together and rolled out easily. I did forget to make sure it covered the sides completely all round the dish though and didn’t notice until it was too late that I had a bit of a bald patch in one area. After chilling it, I blind baked it for around 25 minutes in total, ending up with a golden brown crust that had come away from the edges nicely. I had originally intended to go all out American and use graham crackers as the crust, but I was glad I hadn’t bothered.

Blind baked

I actually left it to cool overnight, preparing the filling the next day. This was also incredibly easy and basically involved stirring all the wet ingredients together before pouring into the crust. I wish I’d double checked the amount of evaporated milk needed as a small tin would have sufficed and I wouldn’t be wondering what to do with the leftovers.

Ready to bake

I sprinkled the filling with some freshly grated nutmeg and then the filled shell went in the oven at 180˚C and cooked for around 40 minutes. Once glossy and set with a slight wobble to the filling, it came out and I marvelled at how incredibly stupidly easy making a pumpkin pie is. I’d always imagined it would be a complicated affair, but if I hadn’t set myself more things to bake before people came round, I could have had time to put my feet up and read the papers from cover to cover.

Set, go...

I allowed it to cool well before serving to make sure it was properly set. You can serve it with cream or ice cream and I also happen to think creme fraiche would be delicious. Unlike most American recipes I’ve used, it wasn’t at all overly sweet with just a hint of sugar in the deliciously short and crumbly pastry. The filling was sweetened primarily by the pumpkin itself with a warm note from the syrup. A little bit like a sweet quiche, it had a distinctly vegetable-y tang and was rich with spice. I had added larger amounts of spice than recommended (by about double), including a pinch of mace and I’m glad I did as it could have been quite bland without it.

Even a previous pumpkin pie sceptic enjoyed this and there was barely any left at the end of the afternoon with a even native New Yorker complimenting it. It was super easy to make, and well worth the extra effort of blind baking the shell, looking far more impressive than the work involved suggested it should and very tasty. So while it was much more of a success than my previous dalliance with American classics, I’m still not sure I’ll be adding it to my autumnal repetoire. I think I prefer my pumpkins savoury after all!