'Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon' ~ Doug Larson, 1924 Olympic gold medal winner
No, don't worry. This is still me. This blog hasn't been taken over by an impostor. I'm not being held hostage somewhere chillingly remote while food-blog fraudsters take over Nutmegs, seven.
But yeah, I know. You probably think I'm going mad. That I'm not myself. My recipes are normally so healthy, so full of vibrant fruit and vegetables and sexy wholegrains. Only a couple of days ago I posted about my love for virtuous sugar-free dried fruit compote...
...and now I've created something that basically combines all the hallmarks of American gastronomic hedonism in a single muffin.
The reason for this is that I was invited to create a recipe to celebrate Bacon Connoisseurs' Week (which, if you didn't know, is 19-25 March) by designing a recipe to make the most of some lovely good quality bacon. Specifically, bacon bearing the Red Tractor mark, which means it has been produced to high welfare standards. Bacon is a £1.3 billion industry, with consumers purchasing around 221.6 thousand tonnes of the stuff per year. Unfortunately, though, a lot of the bacon out there has been produced to dismally poor welfare standards. We hear a lot about the plight of battery chickens, but pig-farming is in just as lamentable a state, particularly if your bacon is imported from abroad. By buying Red Tractor, you can at least be sure that the pigs that gave their lives to improve your fried breakfast had lived pretty decently before doing so.
Please do this. For me. If you do, maybe I'll give you another cardiac-arrest-inducing bacon recipe.
Interestingly, did you know that bacon dates back to Roman times? That a bacon sandwich is the nation's favourite 'guilty' food? That the phrase 'bringing home the bacon' possibly refers to an Essex tradition of AD 1111, where a noblewoman offered a prize side of bacon to any man in England who could honestly say he had had complete marital harmony for an entire year and a day? (Apparently in over 500 years, the prize was won by a grand total of...er...eight men).
No, I didn't know any of this either. It's remarkable how little we think about one of our favourite, staple foodstuffs. If you want to find out more curious bacon trivia or locate some mouthwatering porky recipes, visit LovePork.co.uk.
For this recipe challenge, I had the privilege of testing out some simply gorgeous M&S bacon, smoked over chestnut chippings and flavoured with juniper. You buy it in packs of thick, fat, meaty slices that actually look like they've been cut off part of a pig, rather than the horrible congealed slab of sticky mess that normally constitutes most packets of cheaper supermarket bacon. This stuff has a really lovely depth of flavour and a proper smokiness. It's pretty salty, so if you're using it for cooking I wouldn't add any extra salt.
It's probably a little more expensive than your standard bacon, but actually I reckon you'd need to use less in a recipe because it has such an intense flavour (and clearly hasn't been pumped with water like a lot of the cheaper varieties), so it basically works out at the same price. Plus happier pigs are involved. Win-win.
My first recipe involved frying pieces of this bacon with cabbage and peas, stirring in a little cream cheese and using the lot as a sauce for plump little gnocchi, with liberal gratings of parmesan and nutmeg. It was utterly wonderful. That was going to be my Bacon Connoisseurs' Week recipe.
Until the other night I woke up, completely randomly, at 3.30 am and suddenly the idea for bacon, pecan and maple syrup muffins popped into my head.
It kind of had to be done, really.
One of my students came round yesterday for a lesson and saw these muffins cooling on the rack. She said "wow, what beautiful cupcakes". I said, "yeah, they're quite interesting...they're bacon, pecan and maple syrup. Would you like one?"
She looked at me like I was insane, and without any hesitation said, "no."
Not, "oh, that sounds...interesting! I'd love to but I'm still really full from breakfast", or "oh, I wouldn't want to deprive you of them", or "thanks but I'm a vegetarian". Just, no.
I admit, it does sound a bit odd. But this combination works. These are obviously muffins on the more brunchy, savoury side - they're not going to compete with fancy swirly, glistening, buttercreamed cupcakes for the attention of one's sweet tooth. But the combination of salty bacon, fragrant pecans and sweet syrup is really irresistible, and a wonderful platform for anything you want to pair it with.
These muffins are an all-rounder kind of food. They're fabulous warmed up and buttered for breakfast or brunch. They're ideal served with cheese for lunch. I bet they'd be delicious dunked into a pea or vegetable soup, or served alongside a simple dinner instead of bread rolls.
Or, of course, you could just pour over some more maple syrup and eat them whenever you like.
They're a simple muffin mixture (flour, eggs, milk, oil) to which I added a little cornmeal, partly for texture and partly because it's reminiscent of American cornbread, that brunch classic; I couldn't combine bacon, maple syrup and pecans in a recipe without acknowledging the clear influence of American brunch. I'm quite into adding cornmeal (or polenta) to baked goods at the moment - it adds a slight grittiness, but in an interesting rather than unpleasant way.
Into the muffin mixture goes chopped bacon, fried until sizzlingly crisp and glistening with fat. Then crumbled pecans, toasted until fragrant, sweet and nutty. Then the glorious amber elixir that is maple syrup. Dark brown sugar gives an extra caramel flavour to the muffins that enhances the maple flavour. A little dried thyme and sage to give everything a lift, a little black pepper, and they go in the oven to emerge twenty minutes later warm, fluffy, salty, sweet, crunchy and wonderful.
This is basically American brunch in muffin form. Portable, neatly portioned, faff-free American brunch. You need to give these a go soon.
[If you like the sound of these, please click here to vote for my recipe in the Red, White and Bacon Challenge held for Bacon Connoisseurs week. Just scroll down - it'll take 5 seconds and I'd really appreciate it!]
Bacon, pecan and maple syrup muffins (makes 12):
200g plain flour
70g cornmeal or polenta
1 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sage (dried or fresh)
1 tsp thyme (dried or fresh)
A pinch of black pepper (or cayenne if you want to add an extra kick)
120ml vegetable oil
70ml maple syrup, plus extra for drizzling
4 rashers of bacon, finely diced and fried until crispy
60g pecans, toasted and crumbled
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/190C fan oven. Line a muffin tray with 12 muffin cases.
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, salt, herbs and pepper. Whisk together the milk, eggs, oil and maple syrup. Add this to the flour mixture and stir until just combined - don't over mix. Stir in the bacon and pecans, reserving a little to top the muffins before they go into the oven.
Divide the mixture between the muffin cases, then sprinkle over the reserved bacon and pecans. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack, then drizzle each muffin with a little extra maple syrup. Leave to cool if you can, otherwise devour instantly.