Baconfest, here I come!
Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, I kind of have a thing for bacon. I also love cooking. So naturally, I threw my hat into the ring for this year’s Baconfest Chicago’s Amateur Cooking Contest (sponsored by Nueske’s Bacon). On the line: 2 free tickets and the chance to compete for bragging rights as Chicago’s Top Bacon Amateur Chef. This year 23 hopefuls submitted recipes for the five coveted spots in the competition.
Now, this is actually the second year that I’ve attempted to get into the contest – last year I narrowly missed a spot with my bacon double chocolate chip cookie caramel bombs (chocolate chocolate chip cookies with bacon crumbles with a melted caramel center) and I was not going to repeat that failure.
This year, I pulled out all the stops: a flourless chocolate torte with bacon crumbles, smothered in a rich bittersweet chocolate ganache spiced with ancho and chipotle chili pepper, drizzled with a maple caramel sauce, and topped with more bacon crumbles and the piece de resistance: a piece of crisp bacon, candied in maple syrup.
I’m a big fan of playing with contrasting textures and complimentary flavors and the torte succeeded on both levels. The dense, velvety texture of the torte and satin finish of the ganache were balanced by the crunch of the bacon crumbles, and the richness of the chocolate blended seamlessly with the salty-sweetness of the bacon and maple, which was further enhanced by the subtle yet surprising notes of smoke and spice from the chili peppers. I was especially proud of the maple syrup candied bacon piece – it was a translucent maple glazed slice of crispy, salty, sweet delight. They also turned out to be dangerously easy to make.
This year, however, the ‘fest organizers decided to throw an additional curve ball: for five days leading up to their announcement of the “Final Five Bacon Cylons” (Hello, BSG fans!), they would run an online poll to see which five of the 23 entries bacon afficionados everywhere considered the most worthy of competing for the ultimate prize: Baconfest’s Golden Rasher Award. This is where I owe my friends (and many of their friends whom I have never met) a big debt of gratitude: thanks to their Facebook posts, Tweets and emails, when the polls closed after five days of voting yesterday, I was sitting strong in 3rd place with 212 votes, 13% of the total vote. The ultimate decision still rested with the ‘fest organizers, however, so it wasn’t until late this morning (after several hours of obsessively checking my email and refreshing the ‘fest website) that I saw my name listed among the final SIX contestants (the organizers apparently deferred to the poll and with two people tied for 5th place, decided “What the hell, why not?”). I think I spent a good 10 minutes running around the Chiditarod pre-race festivities screaming about making it into Baconfest.
So one last time: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who voted for my entry and got their friends, friends of friends and family to vote for me. I wish I could make cakes for you all, but in lieu of that, the least I can do is share the recipe for what I hope I can later call the “winning entry” for Baconfest 2011′s Nueske’s Amateur Cooking Contest.
Flourless Bacon & Spiced Chocolate Torte with Maple Caramel Drizzle and Candied Bacon
- 9″ springform pan
- parchment paper
- double boiler (or heat-safe bowl and saucepan)
- 2 large mixing bowls & a few small bowls
- mixing spoons or spatulas
- electric handmixer (or hand whisks but the electric mixer saves loads of time whipping egg whites)
- baking sheet
- paper towels
- measuring spoons & cups
- deep saucepan
- wax paper
- 8 ounces semi-sweet dark chocolate
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into 1-in. pieces
- 2 tblsp. whiskey
- 6 large eggs, yolks and whites separated, room temperature
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tblsp granulated sugar, divided
- 1 cup crispy crumbled/finely chopped bacon (depending on how much bacon you want in the cake) plus 1/4 cup crumbles to reserve for decoration
*Tip for making bacon: make the bacon in the oven, using baking sheets lined with parchment paper. The paper helps soak up the draining fat and it highly simplifies the whole process – no splattering frying pans, no overnuked, shriveled bacon. During the 15-20 minutes it takes for the bacon to bake at roughly 375 degrees, you can prep for making the cake. When the bacon’s crisp, drain on paper towels and then finely chop once the slices are cool. I’ve noticed that cooking bacon this way tends to give you a much flatter strip with less curling/shriveling than pan-frying or microwaving. And if you have more than you need, it beats having “bacon bits” on hand to sprinkle on salads, pasta carbonara, snack by the handful… What?? I can’t be the only one guilty of doing this.
(for chocolate spiced ganache)
- 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tblsp honey
- 1 1/2 tsp ancho chili pepper*
- 1/2 tsp tsp chipotle chili pepper*
*I like my ganache to have a spicy bite to it, but feel free to play with the proportion of spice to match your taste. Chipotle chili has more of a “smokey” taste than the ancho and tends to be stronger.
(maple caramel sauce)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tblsp butter
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tblsp maple syrup
(maple candied bacon)
- 3 slices thin cut bacon, cut into 4 pieces each (total of 12 pieces)
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- dark brown sugar to sprinkle
Total estimated cooking time: 60 minutes for prep, plus baking & chilling time
To make cake:
- Place baking rack in the center grooves and pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of the springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper so that the paper is clamped onto the pan bottom. Butter the paper.
- Combine the butter and chocolate in the double boiler (or in a heat proof bowl). Fill the saucepan/double boiler bottom about 2 inches full with water. Place the double boiler/bowl on top of the sauce pan, making sure the bottom doesn’t touch the water. Cook over low heat, stirring the chocolate and butter until melted and smoothly mixed (the water should be steaming but not boiling). Remove from heat and whisk in whiskey. Set aside and let cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar until blended. Mix in the chocolate mixture. Mix in bacon crumbles.
- In another large mixing bowl, beat egg whites at medium speed with an electric mixer and beater attachments until frothy. Once the whites turn frothy, turn up the speed to medium-high until soft peaks start to form (the egg whites will not hold their shape stiffly). Add 1/2 tblsp sugar, and continue beating until whites are stiff but not dry (when lifting whisk out of whites, the eggs will hold their shape in peaks).
- Using a large spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture in 3 batches. Be careful not to overmix. Stop when the egg whites are just mixed into the chocolate, there will still be some white streaks – if it’s a uniform light chocolate color, it’s been overmixed.
- Gently pour the batter into the springform pan. Bake until the center is risen and puffy and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs, approx. 30 minutes.
- Transfer pan to a wire cooling rack and let sit for 10 min. Note that the cake will deflate – this is fine since the deflation is what contributes to the dense texture of the cake. Use a small, sharp knife to loosen the sides of the cake and release the side latch. Turn the cake upside down onto the rack & peel off the parchment paper. Let the cake cool completely to room temperature (it will likely deflate a little more), then wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight (at least 8 hours). Letting the cake sit in the fridge overnight is crucial to creating that dense, velvety cake texture.
To make spiced chocolate ganache:
- Place chopped chocolate in a medium sized bowl.
- In a small saucepan, heat cream to just steaming over low heat – remove the cream from heat when it just starts to bubble. Whisk in the honey.
- Pour hot cream & honey mix over the chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds to start the chocolate melting. Whisk chocolate until smooth. Mix in chili peppers and adjust to taste.
- Cover ganache with plastic wrap so the wrap lays against the surface of the ganache. (This prevents a “skin” from forming at the top of the ganache.) Let stand at room temperature until thickened, approx. 30 minutes.
To make maple caramel sauce:
NOTE: Make sure you have everything you need to make the sauce measured and on hand because sugar burns very quickly. Be careful handling melted sugar because it it far hotter than boiling water. Be sure to use granulated sugar – raw, turbinado, standard refined white – as standard light and dark brown sugars have molasses added to them and will not react the same way to heat. Turbinado sugar will take longer to melt because the crystals are larger and will have a slightly different taste than raw or white sugar.
- Place sugar in a deep saucepan and turn heat moderately high. Stir sugar slowly with whisk as the sugar melts. Once it becomes liquid, you can swirl the pan to keep the sugar mixing as it heats.
- When the sugar has become a deep amber color, immediately add the butter. The mixture will bubble and foam A LOT (this is why you should use a deep saucepan) – whisk the mixture until the butter is completely melted. Be careful here – the sugar can go from perfect to burned in a short instance and trust me, you will know if the sugar is burnt, it has a distinctive scent and taste.
- When butter is melted, remove the pan from heat, count to 3, and add cream with one hand while whisking with the other. Mixture will bubble and foam A LOT again, keep whisking until caramel is smooth. Add maple syrup and whisk until mixed. After cooling for a few minutes, caramel can be poured into a glass storage jar.
*I like to make a large amount of the sauce because it stores in the fridge for up to 2 weeks and can be rewarmed before heating. It’s perfect for dipping apples and making a snack. For a non-dairy caramel version, substitute Earth Balance butter-spread for the butter and coconut cream (available in most Asian & Mexican groceries) for the heavy cream.
To make maple candied bacon:
- Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place bacon pieces on sheet and place in oven for 10 minutes until fat begins to drain. Bacon should still be limp and just barely starting to shrivel and curl.
- Remove parbaked bacon from oven and place on plate lined with paper towels. Blot bacon with paper towels to absorb fat. Place a fresh sheet of parchment paper on the baking sheet.
- Dredge bacon slices in maple syrup so they are covered in a thin layer of syrup and return to baking sheet. Sprinkle pieces with some of the dark brown sugar.
- Bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until bacon is crisp and a deep red color.
- Place bacon on a plate lined with wax paper to cool.
*This gives you enough bacon to garnish 12 slices of cake, but I advise you to make more. A LOT more. Because even if you’re not having to fend off thieving fingers from poaching pieces of candied bacon, you won’t be able to help eating a few pieces yourself.
To assemble cake:
- Remove cake from fridge, unwrap and place on a serving plate.
- Spread ganache evenly over cake and smooth over top and sides with a spatula or long palate knife.
- Drizzle caramel sauce over cake in a decorative pattern, reserving sauce for decoration on individual plates.
- Evenly place candied bacon pieces on the edge of the cake in whatever decorative pattern you like. On a friend’s suggestion, I placed mine in the cake point down so the bacon stood like a shiny piece of diamond bacon. (Here’s a picture with the sunlight coming through the bacon like a piece of stained glass).
- Sprinkle with additional reserved bacon crumbles if desired.
Now I’m kind of a snob about plating – blame it on the artistic streak, but I love making my food look as appealing and enticing as it tastes. So here’s my suggestion for plating: Swirl some caramel sauce on a plate, then place a piece of cake in the center, and sprinkle some extra crumbles for effect.
This torte can be involving to make, but it’s worth every effort. Be aware however, that once you make it for others, you’ll never be free of entreaties to make it again. Ever. And if you’re cursed roundly for introducing others to the bliss that is maple candied bacon, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Oh, you’ve already made some for yourself? You’re cursing me right now, aren’t you?
(And yes, for you non-meateaters, just simple remove the bacon from the equation and you still have a perfectly lovely, perfectly serviceable flourless chocolate torte. But you have no idea what you’re missing.)
Tags: bacon, Baconfest Chicago 2011, cake, chili pepper, chocolate, contest, dessert, flourless, recipe, spice, torte
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