Bacon, pecan and maple syrup muffins

'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.

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 men).

No, I didn't know any of this either. It's remarkable how little we think about one of our favourite, staple foodstuffs.

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.

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.

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 milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 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.