I find this whole candied bacon phenomenon quite fascinating. I think it’s rather nice that people are beginning to become more playful with their palate, opting for combinations of flavours instead of just straight sweet, or straight salty or spicy or sour. Sometimes it really pays to be a bit more adventurous with the food you eat, and it doesn’t even have to be as extreme as eating fried bugs or any of those “exotic” stuff. My satisfaction in making things like these comes in the form of being able to introduce them to my family, my parents especially, to help broaden their views on how food is changing these days. I mean, bacon in an ice cream? They raised their eyebrows at me when I first mentioned it.
I’ve noticed a nice trend in ice cream lately, and how it seems like artisan ice cream makers are leading the fray in creating these interesting flavour combinations traditionalists wouldn’t even dare imagine. A favourite of mine, Jeni Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, has lots of flavours which you read and you go, ‘Ooooooh! Interesting! I want to try that!’ That’s the same kind of feeling that pushes me to make ice cream flavours like this one.
Now what I really like about putting savoury bacon in a sweet dessert is how it initiates this tug of war between two very different flavour profiles. The sensation of eating this starts off sweet thanks to the brown sugar ice cream base, but then you get to the ruby bits hidden inside the ice cream like buried treasure. As you chew through the bacon the salty-savouriness comes out at the very end, right before you swallow. Can you imagine it already?
The single most important thing I would like to stress to anyone who plans on making this ice cream is to use REGULAR bacon. I’m not so sure if Hickory-flavoured ones will be okay, but please DO NOT use maple-glazed or honey-glazed bacon. To make it work, you want to preserve the whole other dimension of flavour found in bacon, which is its salty/savoury flavour, and anything glazed using something sweet like maple or honey is not going to give the same kind of effect when used in the ice cream. (Trust me, I’ve been there.)
Remember that you will be candying it– that is, sprinkling sugar over the bacon and allowing that to seep into the meat to help harden it– so if the bacon is sweetly flavoured already, it’ll get even sweeter after being candied. The ice cream base itself will be kind of sweet already, so the best is to go for a fully savoury bacon.
Other than that, the rest of the process in making this ice cream is really quite similar to every other yolk-based ice cream out there. And by the way, use salted butter when making the custard to again push the salty dimension of the ice cream even more.
Candied Bacon Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart
For the candied bacon
- 5 strips bacon
- about 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
For the ice cream custard
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- ¾ cup packed brown sugar, light or dark
- 2 ¾ cups 675 mL half-and-half cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons dark rum or whiskey
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
To candy the bacon
- 1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- 2. Lay the strips of bacon on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or aluminum foil, shiny side down. Sprinkle 1½ to 2 teaspoons of brown sugar evenly over each strip of bacon, depending on length.
- 3. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes. Midway during baking, flip the bacon strips over and drag them through the dark, syrupy liquid that has collected on the baking sheet. Continue to bake until as dark as mahogany. Remove from oven and cool the strips on a wire rack.
- 4. Once crisp and cool, chop into little pieces, about the size of grains of rice. Bacon bits can be stored in an airtight container and chilled for a day or so, or stored in the freezer a few weeks ahead.
To make the ice cream custard
- 5. Melt the butter in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar and half of the half-and-half. Pour the remaining cream into a bowl set in an ice bath and set a mesh strainer over the top.
- 6. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the warm cream-and-brown sugar mixture to them, whisking the yolks constantly as you pour. Do not stop whisking to avoid getting cooked bits of egg. Once eggs have been tempered, pour the mixture back into the saucepan.
- 7. Cook over low to moderate heat, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula, and a finger run through the center of the spatula or spoon creates a clear trail.
- 8. Strain the custard into the half-and-half sitting over the ice bath, then stir together until cool. Add liquor, vanilla, and cinnamon, if using.
- 9. Refrigerate the mixture at least 6 hours, but overnight is best. Once thoroughly chilled, freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the bacon bits during the last moment of churning, or stir them in when you remove the ice cream from the machine.
- 10. Freeze ice cream for at least 4 hours before consuming.
Oh, and one last thing that might be worth asking: Do you like having chewy things inside your ice cream? Because you’ll be chewing the heck out of these bacon bits. Some people don’t like that. 😛