Special Delivery: Candied Bacon Toffee

The other night I was at my local food mecca...and the guy behind the counter called out, "Hey, where's my bacon ice cream?!?" How's THAT for a greeting?

You see, I have a "special" relationship with my meat guy. I'm always asking him bizarre questions like..."Which cure would be better for...bacon ice cream? Should I go with more or less smoke, or sweet applewood?" Six kinds of bacon later, I left to play mad scientist.

It all started with my friend Dan over at Pie-Hole.

Bacon is the new Elvis...and thanks to a raging fan base, it's showing up all over the place. And in an effort to show his bacon pride, Dan upped the ante: "I have bacon chocolate AND I'm a member of the bacon-of-the-month club."

The gantlet was thrown.

I countered. "Well, **I** have Jerry's pork belly recipe." Jerry = Jerry Traunfeld, famed Herbfarm Chef. When he was at the helm, the Herbfarm was named the "Number 1 Dining Destination in America." Now we're all anxiously awaiting his new venture, Poppy.

A long, reverent silence followed....Jerry. Pork belly. Does it get any better?

Game over.

Or so I thought.

Dan rallied...and lobbed with, "Have you ever had D'Artagnan's wild boar?"

I scoffed, "Like I need to do mail order? Man, I make my own bacon!"

"Shut up!"

"True story."

Yes, people, this is how food sluts smack down. (You should hear us after a couple bottles of wine....)

The result of this turf war? A little show-and-tell in the form of our Swine Divine party. 10 courses of nothing but pig. (In my food-coma stupor I do recall a salad, but that was gratuitous. Ah well, Mom would be happy.) On with the pork fest...

We ended up having BOTH Jerry's Pork Belly AND Wild Boar.

Henry the VIII had nothing on us that night!

Swine Divine carried on through dessert when I made David Lebovitz's Candied Bacon Ice Cream--hence the bacon testing. And just when you think we couldn't find more uses for pork...the bacon ice cream was served in a dish made of Dan's fabulous candied bacon tuilles. Bacon knows no bounds...

Thanks to this venture, I have discovered....candied bacon is a revelation! Sprinkled with brown sugar and baked in the oven...no muss, no fuss, just sweet, tender bacon.

I began to think of candied bacon as a garnish...or rather, a nut alternative. ("Bacon: the Other Nut....")

Seized by a what if moment...

I wondered...what would happen if I took my favorite toffee recipe, and substituted the nuts...for candied bacon? Off to the lab, er, uh, kitchen for mad scientist, part II.

The result? Dan, Mr. Bacon-bliss himself, declared it the best toffee he's ever had! (Prancing...and the mumbled garble of the "Rocky" theme ensued.)

Back to the Meat Guy calling me out...

I stopped dead in my tracks told him, "I've got something even better! Candied Bacon Toffee. " At the thought of Candied Bacon Toffee...people are either repulsed...or in awe. He was still trying to wrap his brain around the idea.

"I'll bring you some tomorrow."

"Sure," was his dubious response.

"No, really, what time do you work?"

"I'm off at 9:00 am."


That night he closed the department down, and the next morning he would arrive to open at 5:00am. (Anyone still think the food biz is glamorous?)

Toffee. Delivered by 9:00am. It's the least I could do.

"I'll be here."

The next morning I woke in the wee hours to make a batch of toffee. Bleary-eyed, loads of coffee, and songbirds. Good thing I've made the base of this recipe a million times.

And now, without further ado....

Ladies & gentlemen, I present to you....Candied Bacon Toffee:

Salty, Sweet...and Bacon. What's not to love?

I have to admit, showing up at the meat counter...and giving something back...caused a minor sensation. But that was nothing compared to Mark's first taste of toffee. He spun around and shared some with the rest of the crew. "Don't think about it...just try it!"

My bacon muses...Mark Page and Adam Calhoun

The crew wore aprons that were already smeared and splattered with the morning butchery. And here I was, peddling toffee. I felt like I should be dressed in gingham and pig-tails...I was soooo out of place with my Betty Crocker moment. Still, I took solace in the universal brotherhood of bacon-lovers.

Wielding huge butcher knives, one by one, the crew shouted down the line, "Hey, do you sell this stuff?"

"Damn, this is good! Where can I buy it?"

Well, you can't buy it (yet!)...but you can make your own.

Start with some fabulous bacon. (If you have a Whole Foods near you...this Black Forest bacon is my favorite...but any bacon will do.) Or you could join the Bacon-of-the-Month club. Whatever. Hey...it's bacon. It can't be bad. It's the Universal Law of Bacon.

WARNING: Higly Addictive.

Now, on with the recipe:

Candied Bacon Toffee

Tip: Once your toffee is ready, things move very quickly. Mise en place is key, so get yourself properly set up before you begin.

For the candied bacon:
3/4 pounds of bacon
1/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed golden brown sugar
2 tsp instant espresso powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup water
1 Tbsp. dark unsulfured molasses
1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

For the bacon:
On a foil-lined sheet pan, lay out your bacon strips. Coat the top with brown sugar. Bake in the oven for 12-14 minutes, flipping over half way through the baking time.

Allow the bacon to cool until warm, then cut (with scissors) into 1/4-1/2" pieces. Reserve in a separate bowl. (The ends may be a bit crispy. Keep those for yourself...and enjoy while you pull the other ingredients together.)

Hint: It's key to work with the bacon while it's still warm. If you wait too long, it has a tendency to stick to the foil.

For the toffee:
Prepare your mise en place: in a medium bowl, combine sugars, espresso powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine water and molasses. Butter a sheet pan or line with a Silpat.

Melt butter in a heavy 2 ½-quart saucepan over low heat. Add sugars, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, water, and molasses; stir until sugar dissolves. Attach a clip-on candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat to medium; cook until thermometer registers 290 degrees (and no less!), stirring slowly but constantly and scraping bottom of pan with a silicone spatula, about 20 minutes. (You're on the homestretch when the molten toffee starts to become clear. If you're impatient like me...it will seem like this step takes forever. Stick with it....you're developing that lusty toffee flavor here.)

Once you arrive at 290 degrees, remove your pan from the heat, and quickly stir in the candied bacon. Immediately pour the mixture onto your prepared sheet pan; do not scrape the saucepan. Spread toffee to ¼-inch thickness. Use two forks to separate and distribute any bacon that clumps together. And finally, dust the top of the toffee with a light sprinkle of Kosher salt.

Stick the sheet pan in the refrigerator for about an hour (until the toffee is firm.) Break the toffee into pieces and store in an airtight container. Sharing is optional.

Ah...the limitless possibilities of pork. Toffee today...swine sculpture tomorrow....

Dan, Mark, Adam...thanks for the inspiration. Dan, just wait until Swine Divine, II. You won't believe what's up next!!!