Saturday, 4 February 2012

Bacon Brownies: Pick a Side

I have a challenge for you. Go up to your nearest and dearest and tell them you're going to bake bacon brownies. Just to be precise, that's brownies with bacon in them. My guess is that their reaction will go one of two ways. The first reaction involves being met with a look falling somewhere between disgust and confusion, completely disbelieving that pork and chocolate can happily cohabit in your mouth. The second is an expression of such utter bliss that you may have to keep your left hand in your pocket for fear of being showered in marriage proposals. Or keep it out, if you're chasing nuptials.

My bacon brownie experience was an interesting experiment in clashing food cultures. Allowing for generalisations, the expressions of wonderment and almost giddy anticipation were mostly North American. Those approaching the platter of rich squares with a sideways glance and the caution you might summon when snatching cheese from a mousetrap were largely British.Yes, I have tried snatching something from a set mousetrap. And yes, it hurt. 

Personally, the idea of sweet and salty things together seems perfectly reasonable. Chocolate covered pretzels, sea salt studded fudge and sweet caramelised onions with feta or halloumi all sit rather comfortably with me. Sophie Dahl describes her Peanut Butter Fudge as being the food that reminds her of eating sweet ice cream on the beach as a kid, while accidentally licking her fingers, salty from swimming in the sea. If that raises the same nostalgic smile for you as it does for me, we're probably living in the same flavour camp.

Maybe the leap of faith for those who pitch their tents elsewhere is that bacon brownies aren't just a combined mouthful of sugar and salt, but cake and meat.

In North America this isn't unusual. I used to think the American breakfast of stacked pancakes, sticky syrup and streaky bacon was sheer madness; until I went there, got taken out for breakfast (a very American thing in itself) and discovered that my fellow diners weren't as crazy as I thought. In fact, it became something I craved every time I was forced to leave the US. In Britain, only those who've had the same Transatlantic culinary epiphany seem to have jumped the fence to the other campsite. 

Filled with do-gooder thoughts of turning my friends and family who still arched their noses up at this flavour sensation, I set about baking Nigella Lawson's bacon brownies with the gusto of an evangelical preacher. "If your heart, is, heavy. If your faith, is, weak. Hold out your hand and let me share with thee the holy gift of rich, deep, oozing chocolate, punctuated with salted nuggets of caramelised bacon and I GUARANTEE your pain will be healed!" 

I hoped the reaction would be so extreme that converts would fall at my feet in gratitude. In practice, telling people there were shards of pork in their dessert garnered mixed reactions. If I had my time over again, I wouldn't have told them. For those who gave the brownies a thumbs down, it was the idea itself that seemed to block off whether they were enjoying the flavour or not. Maybe next time I'll pick some unassuming victims and accidentally-on-purpose forget to tell them there might be bacon in the brownies. Unless they're vegetarians, of course. Actually, bacon is often the kryptonite of many a veggie. Give it a try!* You might be doing them a favour.

*I will not be held legally responsible for any repercussions.

The only real work in this recipe is preparing and caramelising the bacon in golden syrup, which is actually terribly easy. Once fried and drowned in syrup, the bacon is set aside while the brownie mixture is made. As it cools, it hardens, leaving a moreish bacon butterscotch that if you can restrain yourself from picking at, your resolve is stronger than mine. For cardiac purposes though, it may be worth remembering that it's not butter, but solid bacon fat cocooned in sugar. Mmmm bacon fat.

The cake is made following the recipe and the bacon caramel crumbled in before baking. I also added an extra squirt of golden syrup, as the mixture was slightly more bitter than I knew my guinea pigs would like.

The result, a platter of pure heaven. So, which camp are you pitching your tent in?

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