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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.

Parkin

I don’t have much of a history with Bonfire Night. Not celebrated in Northern Ireland for a variety of reasons, Halloween was our festival instead. Talked of in Enid Blyton books and Blue Peter, I was vaguely aware of bonfires, Guy Fawkes and pennies for the guy as a child, but never celebrated it until I was about 15. Mister North had moved to the north west to attend university and seeking teenage independence, I travelled over to visit him at half term. My long boat and train trip was rewarded by a trip to the hills outside Rochdale with his flatmate to experience Bonfire Night properly.

Around the huge bonfire, there was treacle toffee, sausages, black peas and parkin. Memories are slightly hazy from the lashings of Boddingtons also available, but the peas were just the thing to thaw you on a freezing cold night, but it was the parkin that warmed my heart completely. All sticky with treacle and chewy and delicious with spice, it almost converted me to standing in fields in November.

Sadly, they don’t go in for parkin in the south and thus I’ve still never really embraced Bonfire Night even though I’ve lived in England for years. So imagine my glee when listening to Woman’s Hour this week, I discovered parkin was super easy to make and that I just had time to let it mature in time for the big night.

In the end, I used this recipe from Waitrose to make my parkin as I couldn’t be bothered adjusting the imperial measurements from the Radio 4 one and it didn’t call for self raising flour as I could neither be bothered to mix my own or get dressed to go and buy some. I subbed golden syrup for the honey and left out the sugar as all that treacle and syrup is sweet enough for me. I used lard instead of butter and upped the spicing with twice as much ginger and a pinch of mace. The whole thing barely took longer than setting out all the ingredients it’s so simple. Do use a pan to heat the milk on the stove as you add the bicarb to it and it expands quite a bit. It’ll be volcanic in a jug.

Other than that, it’s simple, straightfoward and perfect for kids to do. Don’t overmix the batter, it can afford to be a little bit lumpy like muffin batter. Then pour into a deep square tray you’ve lined as parkin is traditionally served in squares. Recipes vary regionally and this one sounds more like the darker Yorkshire version. Pop in the oven for 50 minutes and get very hungry as a delicious oaty flavour heats up the kitchen.

You’ll need good willpower with parkin. It’s essential that you allow it to rest and don’t eat it straightaway. A week is about the length of time recommended to let it mature into proper sticky heaven. I cooled mine in the tin, cut into squares and stashed it away in a tin on a high shelf out of mind and managed to forget about it for about a week.

And it tasted amazing. Dark with treacle, spiky with ginger and smoky with mace. But it was drier than I expected. Mind you I was expecting it to stick to the roof of my mouth and melt on my tongue which might be slightly over the top. I’ve only got a 15 year old memory to compare it to after all. And I did manage to consume two large pieces with pleasure and a large cup of Yorkshire Gold in front of the Corrie omnibus which still made for a fairly perfect morning. I’d stick a bit more syrup in future, cook it slightly less and maybe only leave it for two or three days next time. But now I’ve rediscovered parkin, I’ll be putting Bonfire Night in the diary…