The quest for bacon toffee: Attempt No. 2
Ever since sampling my first piece (and second…and fifth) piece of bacon toffee in early December, I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. The deep and satisfying saltiness tangoing with the piercing sweetness, the crunch of the candy exploding around the denser flesh of the bacon — it's so wrong and yet so right, like Scarlett Johannsen dating Justin Timberlake.
However, my initial attempt at making this magical treat myself, on Christmas Day in Pensacola, was a near-disaster. In my flu-tainted haze I forgot to pack the two pounds of Fatted Calf bacon I had frozen specifically to bring for this purpose, so I had to use much thinner slices of some forgettable but at least certified humane (not much comfort now) bacon from the local co-op. Granny Sweet-n-Sour has a pain-in-the-ass electric stove, and the bacon cooked way too fast – it was almost burned to a crisp on the edges, but soft in the middle. I thought I followed Doralice's toffee recipe to the letter, but clearly I didn't — the liquid refused to develop "caramel notes" or to thicken at all.
Thankfully, Dairy Queen Mother was there to help. We threw out the first toffee attempt and made her standby recipe, involving just massive quantities of butter and sugar. She usually spreads melted dark chocolate onto the cooled toffee and tops that with slivered almonds. Never having made toffee before — or any candy for that matter — I found it very helpful to watch someone else do it. I didn't know, for example, that a heavy-bottomed pan was critical, or that in the absence of a candy thermometer, you can check the progress of the toffee's consistency by dropping a bit of it in cold water: in this case you want it to be hard, cracking when you bite into it.
Dairy Queen Mother's mixture darkened, began emitting a definite caramel smell, and then abruptly thickened and solidified just as it was supposed to. The problem was that when I stirred the bacon in, the extra bacon grease mingled with it and the whole thing ended up kind of greasy, with these unappetizing chewy chunks of bacon in it. I'm not saying that it didn't manage to vanish within two days, just that it was far from the memory of perfection I had of Doralice's bacon toffee.
So yesterday I tried to follow her instructions again. And this time it worked! (I'm sorry I ever doubted you, Doralice.) I cooked seven strips of nice meaty thick bacon from Fatted Calf low and slow to get it uniformly crisp — and to avoid producing nitrosamines, which are possible carcinogens. (When you eat as much bacon as I now do, might as well be careful.)
Alas, I made one tiny substitution that I believe kept the result from being truly great: I used some ancient Karo dark corn syrup I had in the cupboard, rather than the light corn syrup her recipe called for. Now, I know we're always picking on high fructose corn syrup around here, but that's because we don't think it belongs in practically every processed food item there is, and because this factory product should never be called a "natural" ingredient. I'm not that hardcore about it: I don't have a problem using corn syrup as a sweetener for things that are supposed to be almost-sickly sweet, like pecan pie, which is why I had that bottle of Karo hanging around in the first place. But I might try making this pure sugar substitute sometime.
Still, turns out that even a little quarter-cup of dark instead of light corn syrup changed more than the toffee's color. Dark corn syrup, I just discovered, includes some refiners' syrup, also known as molasses, and thus has an almost malt-like flavor. I liked the smokiness — and wonder if it comes closer to matching the molasses-drizzled version of bacon toffee that Derrick made recently — but I thought the toffee was just a shade too sweet. The dinner party guests who sampled it last night didn't seem to have too many complaints, however.
Next time, I'll use light corn syrup and only six strips of bacon, cut up into smaller pieces; I think I should scatter them on the toffee as it cools, rather than mix them in — the bacon tends to clump in the hot toffee mixture.
It's very important that I perfect this recipe before I tip the scales at 200 pounds.
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