Bacon, Bacon, Bacon!

Bacon Day 2.0 was Saturday, April 10 at Agri Park. As Dustin earlier explained, Bacon Day is an annual event dedicated to celebrating the “world’s tastiest food item”. This year’s potluck offered dishes ranging from the traditional: bacon pasta salad, bacon broccoli salad, bacon wrapped wienies, even a whole roasted hog for enough BBQ sandwiches to feed a small country – to the more, ahem, nontraditional: chocolate-dipped strawberries with bacon, bacon Rice Krispy treats, bacon tofu and even a bacon face. A FACE. Made of bacon. Wearing sunglasses. And a doorag.

For my contribution to Bacon Day, I wanted to focus on bacon’s potential as a legit dessert ingredient. A quick Google search of “bacon candy” produced a range of results, like bacon lollipops, candied bacon and bacon toffee. (But gummy bacon? I’m sorry, that is just five kinds of wrong.) After stumbling upon Jules’ Bacon Caramel Fudge, I knew I had to look no further: crispy bacon, dipped in homemade caramel, layered between rich, chocolaty fudge. Yeah, you might want to wipe that drool off your keyboard.

Caramel coated bacon

I started with a pound of Arkansas’ own Petit Jean peppered bacon and cooked it until it was browned and crisp. While the bacon was cooling on paper towels, I made the caramel. Now, don’t get all intimidated here – caramel, with only three ingredients, is one of the simplest things to make, and it tastes exponentially better than anything you can buy at the store. After the caramel cooled a bit, I dipped the bacon in it and allowed the pieces to chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes, while I got to work on the fudge. I know there are many fudge recipes out there, and a many different ways to make it, but the one that is always a never-fail-no-brainer for me is Eagle Brand’s fudge recipe. What’s even better? Only three ingredients, plus a little salt – you can handle it, I promise.

Once the fudge was done, I poured half of the batch in a parchment-lined pan, carefully placed the caramel-dipped bacon on top, and poured over the rest of the fudge. Then into the fridge it went to set. Realizing I was now stuck with 1) leftover bacon and 2) leftover caramel (which was now heavily bacon flavored), I used the rest in a batch of bacon pralines, topped with the leftover caramel and some toasted pecans. Hubby’s response to my last-minute pralines? “Here’s my hand. Here’s the top. Here’s my hand, going over the top.”

Chocolate chips

The fudge set up in a couple of hours, as did the pralines. The fudge was so rich, so decadent – borderline wicked! – that I cut it into miniscule pieces, in an effort to help save people from themselves. The pralines were no saints, either – soft and crumbly, sweet and salty, devilish and addictive. Alongside the Bacon Rice Krispy Bars and some delicious Maple Bacon Donuts, these sweet treats had people rushing – with sugar, and for seconds.

So, we all know that bacon is considered one of the “world’s tastiest food items”. But let’s back up here a minute: What exactly is bacon, anyway? Bacon, by American standards, is a salt-cured, smoked piece of pork belly. Hop over to the Tyrol region of Austria and Northern Italy, and you’ll find Speck, which is a cured, smoked, and curiously juniper-flavored version of our beloved meat product. A little further south, you’ll find Prosciutto, a dry, salt-cured ham, and Pancetta, pork belly that’s salt-cured with a myriad of spices, like peppercorns, fennel and nutmeg. In France, Lardons – matchstick pieces of sliced bacon – are often used for flavoring savory dishes or for rendering fat. Looks like it’s unanimous: pork products reign supreme, no matter where you are in the world.

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I think America’s obsession with bacon is best illustrated in a quote from the grocery store checkout clerk, as I was buying bacon for my treats (this quote must be read aloud, loudly, in a slow Southern drawl): “Mmm… Baaacooon,” she said, “Now, honey, let me tell you. I don’t eat meat, but I DOOO eat bacon.” I rest my case.

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Caramel Bacon Fudge

12 oz. bacon, cooked and cooled

For the Caramel:
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
3/4 c. heavy cream

For the Fudge:
3 c. semi-sweet chocolate (chips or broken bars)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Cook the bacon and cool on paper towels.

Line an 8″ square baking pan with wax paper. Set aside.

Into the pan

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Cook the mixture over high heat without stirring until the sugar melts and begins to turn golden at the edges of the pan. Continue cooking, swirling the pan gently and evenly, until the sugar is a golden amber color. VERY carefully pour the heavy cream down the side of the pan in a slow stream – it may spatter – stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until combined. Transfer the caramel to a bowl and cool slightly.

Dip the cooked bacon into the caramel, coating on both sides, and place on a piece of wax paper or parchment. Place the caramel dipped bacon in the fridge for about 20 minutes, until the caramel has set.

In a heavy saucepan, melt the chocolate with the sweetened condensed milk and salt. Once melted and combined, remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Spread half the mixture in the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Layer the caramel bacon onto the fudge, gently pressing to remove any air bubbles. Spread the remaining fudge mixture over top. Chill for two hours or until firm. Remove from the pan by lifting the edges of the wax paper. Cut into squares or slices, and serve.

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Laura Hobbs is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, visit her author page.