Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pi Day:A Candied Bacon is Possible

I must begin my pie day post with two warnings. The first is: no matter how many pies you have made, you must never be cavalier about how much water you add to your dough. Wet dough won't roll out. It's as simple as that. The second warning is more dire: you might have the means of making candied bacon in your house right now. I know, you're thinking, "Candied bacon is a rare delicacy, reserved for artisan confectioners with booths at flea markets and bespoke neckties." But it is not. It is easy to make. And- unsurprisingly- it's a delicious addition to nearly anything.

I decided late in the game to observe the pun-influenced celebration of pie on March 14. Things have been pretty tough in my professional life lately and it seemed like a good way to blow off steam. And nothing makes a bad week shorter than coming home to a slice of pie every night. I wanted to do something fun and interesting, but I didn't want it to be too experimental. I thought about variations on crust and variations on filling. In the end, I was inspired by two recent desserts I've eaten. One was the promising, but ultimately disappointing Bacon Apple Cheddar Pie at The Blue Stove (it is a peril to my health that this store is so near my house) and the other was a simple but transcendent apple crisp at Dumont.

Over the course of the day I tossed around various apple pie experiments I might try. A part wheat crust. Cheddar cheese. Peanut butter. I remembered reading a recipe recently that described a simple method for making candied bacon. Eager to correct the failed crumble topping from my Pancake Bread Pudding, I began to dream up an apple pie topped with crumbled, salty-sweet bacon bits. Many of you know that I am no stranger to having a piece of bacon or two with a slice of apple pie. I can think of few breakfasts I would rather eat. I had never put bacon into a pie before because it seemed so likely to take a wrong turn (as in the case of the Blue Stove). By candying the bacon I could preserve it's crispy texture and prevent the fat from overpowering the other ingredients. I laughed a bit to myself, imagining crunchy bits of bacon and pecan all over toothsome, sweet apples. How was I the first to think of this??

I was pleased with the plan. A simple apple pie with a crumb topping. I began to make my crust, whirling the ingredients (I do half butter, half shortening) in my Cuisinart. Then I made my big error. My mother, who is my personal pie guru, swears that while the food processor is ideal for mixing your fats with your flour, you can only get a proper texture by adding the water to bind the crust by hand. I have gambled in the past and won, but yesterday I was not so lucky. The crust seemed softer as I put it in the fridge to chill, but I assumed that was because I had used room temperature shortening (oh vain mortal!). When I tried to roll it out the first time it got all over the rolling pin and was impossible to lift. So I added flour and chilled it again. Still the crust was completely impossible. I ended up finger pressing it into the pan, chastened by the experience.

As I mentioned the candied bacon was a total breeze. I took three strips of bacon from the freezer (I freeze bacon in individual servings because I am a lonely spinster) and let them defrost. I covered both sides of each strip with maple syrup and put them under the broiler. I turned them pretty regularly with tongs and took them out before they looked too crispy. Once it had cooled, the bacon was shiny and hard (do not try to drain it, it is very sticky when hot). I chopped it up into little pieces and mixed it with pecans, butter and brown sugar. I tasted the mixture to make sure it wasn't poison. It was not.

I used two apples (one granny smith, one red of some sort) tossed with a couple teaspoons of sugar and cinnamon (I repeated the process of mixing the cinnamon and sugar beforehand). I filled the crust and sprinkled on the topping. I baked the pie for about 25 minutes. The apples still had a bit of crunch. The topping didn't cover the pie tightly so I wanted to be sure that the filling didn't dry out too much. I have to say, this is one to repeat. The crust wasn't pretty, but the flavor was great. I really liked the texture of the apples (gotta slice em real, real thin). And the scant distribution of the topping kept it from getting too rich.

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