I came up with the idea for this particular ice cream for this weekend’s Bacon Camp, an event put on by Karen (and…?). I wanted to make something decadent and amazing that no one had tasted ever before. I was inspired by a few sources. Kasey’s bacon-infused Maker’s Mark came to mind (so smoky!), as did Doc Pop’s limited edition fro-yo with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, bacon bits, and maple syrup on top. I had the pleasure of having a bowl of it last week. Utterly delicious.
When I got on the web to start researching how to put this recipe together, I found that I was not the first to attempt this bacon ice cream thing. The recipe to which I owe the greatest credit was David Lebovitz’s Candied Bacon Ice Cream. It even has a bit of alcohol in it, though it is less of a focus.
I ran into trouble with his recipe, though. The bacon didn’t candy as I’d hoped it would. The problem was that the technique didn’t allow the fat and moisture to drain at all– American bacon has a LOT more fat than French bacon, judging from the pictures. What I got, even after cooking for an additional 10 minutes, was delicious sticky gooey floppy bacon, not crisp little bacon bits encased in hard sugar as I’d hoped. I tucked those away in the fridge for, uh, safekeeping and moved on to the next candied bacon recipe— this one posted on epicurious, care of Gourmet magazine, February 2007. I used brown sugar instead of demerara sugar, and chopped the bacon into bits before cooking them.
Though it was better than the last, this recipe failed me too. I found that even after I drained the pan, the residual oil and crusty bacon stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan caused the sugar to melt unevenly and not cover the bacon very well. Ultimately, the result tasted burnt–partly, I think, because the sugar burnt slightly (being brown sugar, I couldn’t tell when it was caramelized), and partly because the bacon stuff on the bottom of the pan burned. The bacon bits also stuck together, and the candy surrounding them was slightly tacky on the tooth, rather than being crisp, like I wanted. Lastly, the bacon was overdone. Still pretty tasty, but not good enough.
Armed with my newfound knowledge, I devised a plan of my own: cook the bacon bits to perfection, let them drain on paper towels. In a small, clean sauce pan, melt regular white sugar just until the sugar is dissolved. Add bacon bits and quickly coat them, then pull them out and put them on parchment paper. Third time’s the charm; it worked beautifully! Well, mostly. When the sugar cooled almost instantly as it hit the bacon, it all stuck together into a giant bacony, sugary glob. This made it difficult to get even coverage. I spent a while painstakingly separating the bits into more managable pieces. While it could have been a little better, the result was close enough: slightly crisp, slightly tender bacon bits encased in a crisp sugar shell.
For the ice cream itself, I used David Lebovitz’s recipe, with a few slight alterations: I used 1/4 cup Maker’s Mark* instead of a mere 2 teaspoons, I added 1 1/2 teaspoons molasses, and I nixed the cinnamon. One very important thing I learned when making the custard was not to let the initial butter/brown sugar/half & half mixture get too hot. It will curdle and you will have to throw it away. I somehow managed to do this TWICE. Don’t let it boil, heck don’t let it bubble at all. Just warm it up. Be similarly careful you’ve added the eggs in, too.
*Note: don’t be tempted to try to reduce the bourbon in an attempt to get the ice cream to freeze better. It just ruins the bourbon, which will make you very, very sad. The ice cream will freeze just fine, I promise.
Lastly, I had to make the maple caramel swirl for the ice cream. I used this recipe–also from epicurious/Gourmet November 1998–and substituted maple sugar for the light corn syrup. It didn’t turn out perfectly. I believe I didn’t let the sugar/syrup/water mixture boil for long enough because I couldn’t tell when it was an appropriate “deep golden caramel” color– the color of the maple syrup threw me off. A candy thermometer would help with this, though I don’t know what temp to bring it to. I ended up adding the cream/vanilla mixture too soon, and it didn’t seize up like it said it would. I try to cook it for a long time after the cream had been added to compensate, and in the end I got a caramel that was the perfect consistency, except it was a bit grainy in texture. I’m not sure if that’s from the milk solids curdling or the maple syrup crystalizing, but it still tastes DELICIOUS (and maple syrup is expensive) so I decided to keep it.
Tonight I finally put it all together. It is divine. The ice cream/caramel is ridiculous just on its own, and the bacon is wild– it totally throws me off! So salty-sweet and crunchy. Now we just have to see if the crunchiness will stick around after the bacon bits have been immersed in the ice cream for a while.
“Shut up Heather, just give us the recipe already!” you’re saying. Okay okay, here it is:
Maker’s Mark Ice Cream with a Maple Caramel Swirl and Candied Bacon Bits
[Note: Please do not copy and paste this recipe into your blog without asking me first. Do feel free to link to it and post excerpts or rewritten/tweaked versions! Thanks!]
This is a multi-step, two day process, so be sure to allot enough time!
For the ice cream custard:
3 tablespoons salted butter
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
2 3/4 cup half-and-half (make sure the kind you get has no added carrageenan)
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup Maker’s Mark bourbon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses
For the maple caramel swirl:
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup water
7 tablespoons heavy cream (again, no added carrageenan)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
For the candied bacon bits:
5 slices thick-cut, applewood smoked bacon
1/3 cup sugar
Parchment paper (or a brown paper bag)
Make the bacon bits:
- Cut the raw bacon into 1cm squares — cutting each strip in half lengthwise, and several times crosswise.
- In a heavy skillet over med-high heat, cook the bacon bits until slightly crisp but still a bit chewy, being careful to not burn or overcook them.
- While the bacon is cooking, prepare a plate with paper towels on it to drain the bacon, and lay out a piece of parchment paper for the candied bacon.
- Place bacon bits on paper towel to drain; pat off excess fat. Pour off fat from pan and save it for some other tasty treat.
- Pour 1/3 cup sugar into a small heavy saucepan. Over low to medium heat, melt the sugar just until all the crystals are dissolved and the sugar syrup looks homogeneous. Be careful as you’re doing this; sugar melts slowly but burns quickly — keep heat lower rather than higher. As soon as sugar has dissolved, immediately add the bacon bits and stir to cover. Place bacon bits on parchment paper and separate from each other. (There may be a better way to do this, like to dip each bacon bit individually, or add them in small batches, or pour the sugar over them, or something. I haven’t tried it.)
- Allow bacon bits to cool on the parchment.
Make the maple caramel swirl:
- In a heavy saucepan, boil sugar, maple syrup, water, and a pinch sea salt over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Boil mixture, without stirring, gently swirling pan, until it is a deep golden caramel color. (Note: this is difficult to tell with the maple syrup. A candy thermometer might help, but I couldn’t tell you what temperature to bring it to.*)
- Remove pan from heat and carefully pour cream and vanilla down side of pan (mixture will vigorously steam and caramel will harden). Simmer mixture, stirring, until caramel is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and cool caramel. Caramel swirl may be made 1 week ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temp before using (heat slightly if too stiff to pour).
*I added the cream too soon, so I just continued boiling the mixture until it was the correct thickness. I tested thickness by dropping a bit of it on a cool plate and letting it cool to room temp. Then I ate it.
Make the ice cream custard:
- Pour half of the half-and-half (about 1 and a little more than 1/3 cup) into a large bowl and set it in an ice bath.* Set a mesh strainer over the top of the bowl.
- In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together 5 egg yolks.
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat in a heavy, medium sized saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar and the other half the half-and-half and whisk it till the brown sugar is somewhat dissolved. Heat just to warm, and keep a close eye on it. Too hot, and the half-and-half will curdle and you will have to start over.
- Gradually add the warm brown sugar mix to the eggs, whisking constantly as you pour. Pour the entire mixture back into the sauce pan.
- Cook over low to moderate heat, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom with a heatproof spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.
- Strain the custard into the half-and-half, stirring over the ice bath until cool.* Add the 1/4 cup bourbon, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 1/2 teaspoon molasses. Stir till well mixed.
- Place in sealed container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Overnight is best — it allows the flavors to really mix.
- Make sure your ice cream maker’s bowl is in the freezer so that it’s frozen by the next day.
*Note: I skipped the ice bath because I didn’t have any ice, and it worked fine.
Putting it all together:
- Pull the caramel swirl out of the fridge and bring it to room temp.
- Put together the ice cream maker, turn it on, and pour in your ice cream custard. Freeze in the ice cream maker for 1/2 hour, at least, until it’s nearly doubled in volume and seems as frozen as it’ll get. It will still be soft — home made ice cream needs to go into the freezer for a few hours to really set.
- Working quickly, stir in the bacon bits while the ice cream is still in the frozen bowl. In a few smaller containers (I used margarine containers), put down a layer of ice cream. Add a layer of caramel swirl. Add another layer of ice cream, then another layer of caramel swirl, then another layer of ice cream. Put the lids on and place ice cream in freezer to finish freezing.
YOU’RE DONE! Lick the bowls, if you’re not already sick to your stomach from having done just that for 2 days in a row! ;)