“The girl set out the platter of bacon and the brown, high biscuits and a bowl of bacon gravy and a pot of coffee, and then she squatted down by the box too. The baby still nursed, its head up under the girl’s shirtwaist. They filled their plates, poured bacon gravy over the biscuits, and sugared their coffee. The older man filled his mouth full, and he chewed and chewed and gulped and swallowed. “God Almighty, it’s good!” he said, and he filled his mouth again.” (John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath)
“Cake is happiness! If you know the way of the cake, you know the way of happiness! If you have a cake in front of you, you should not look any further for joy!” (C. Joybell C.)
At first glance, the two quotations above may seem unrelated to each other in every way except that their subject matter is food. Yet, the interest of the quotations above is not really food at all; it is the joy that good food inspires in the human spirit. People in the most dire of situations can sometimes escape from their misery if they happen upon the chance to have a good meal or a special food. In the Grapes of Wrath, for example, Steinbeck depicts the plight of poor people struggling for survival during the dust bowl era. The Joads, the fictional family whose story Steinbeck tells, live a mean life as they travel around California, looking for work as pickers in orchards and on farms. As poor as they are, though, their lives seem to have moments of respite from their struggle when they are able to have bacon with their breakfast. The descriptions of their breakfasts seemingly defy their meager existence; as long as one has bacon to accompany his potatoes or biscuits, the misery of a hard-scrabble life can be interrupted by moments of joy. The Joad family’s response to bacon is a perfectly natural response to bacon. Anyone who responds differently to a meal accompanied by bacon may just be abnormal in some way. Bacon is a nearly perfect comfort food. The aroma of bacon as it fries permeates the surrounding air with the promise of crisp, flavorful strips of succulent pork, shiny with fat, the droplets of which allow the flavor of bacon to sit longer on one’s tongue. Eggs served without bacon are merely basic and naked: hardly worth the effort of preparing. Waffles served without bacon, though more easily able than eggs to stand alone, are yet a fraction of the quality they achieve when slices of perfectly cooked bacon just waiting to be eaten lay on the plate along side them.
Sadly, bacon fell out of favor a couple of decades ago when from East to West, an inexplicable fear of fat (fat in foods as well as fat in humans) spread throughout our land. Fortunately, though, bacon has regained favor in the past few years. Even more fortunately, bacon is allowed to play new roles! It is now as likely to appear on the candy aisle as in the refrigerator section of the grocery store, and on the dessert menu as well as on the breakfast menu in restaurants. The new use of bacon as a dessert ingredient is linked to Heston Blumenthal, who in 2006 began serving bacon and egg ice cream at the U.K. Fat Duck restaurant. Now bacon appears as an ingredient everything from chocolate bars to cupcakes. I even bought a bacon sucker for my son-in-law, Michael, at Whole Foods a couple of years ago.
Michael is a doting husband to our daughter, and he’s a caring, involved father to our grandsons. I appreciate what he adds to our lives. Michael (as a sensible man) happens to love bacon. I show my fondness for people by cooking for them, and for some time I had in my mind the notion of developing a bacon cake recipe to bake for Michael. A bacon cake would be a special treat for our son-in-law, because a cake is really a lovely thing. Everyone loves cake. As poet and writer C. Joybell C. points out, “cake is happiness.” Cakes come in all flavors, shapes, and sizes, but the cake essence remains the same: simple, soft, and sweet. Just imagine. One can mix together a few eggs, a bit of butter, a measure of flour and sugar, sometimes a small amount of milk or yogurt, and end up with the most amazing dessert: cake, the food of the gods. The ancient Greeks supposedly baked the first cakes, which they served to the goddess Artemis in her temple. Of course, those cakes were more bread-like than the cakes we eat these days, and they were sweetened with honey rather than sugar. Those cakes were probably more healthy than the cakes we eat today, but I bet their taste wasn’t nearly as pleasing as that of the cakes we bake in the 21st century. And what could possibly be more pleasing than the marriage of two comfort foods: bacon and cake?
One reason I had to put off baking a bacon cake for so long is that I had trouble determining what flavor frosting would best complement the bacon in the cake. The perfect opportunity for me to finally make my bacon cake a reality arrived this past Christmas, when I found out that Torani had developed a chicken and waffle (Chicken ‘N Waffles) flavored syrup. Of course I had to order a bottle of the Chicken N Waffle flavored syrup. Everyone in the family was excited about the syrup, since we’re all foodies. We brainstormed to come up with the best uses for the flavored syrup. To use it on chicken and waffles would be too boring. We could use it over ice cream, we decided: an interesting idea that appealed to most of us. As we discussed the syrup’s possible uses, I realized that the chicken and waffle flavor might perfectly complement a bacon cake I had long thought of baking. I decided to develop a bacon cake and frost it with chicken and waffle flavored buttercream frosting. The end product was a match made in Heaven! It is a delicious cake that provides an oh-so-satisfying salty-sweet, savory-sweet flavor combination that makes one’s eyes close as a throaty “mmmmm” sound arises involuntarily from the depths of her diaphragm. If C. Joybell C. is correct about the existence of “the way of the cake,” then surely this bacon cake with chicken and waffle frosting is the way to go.
UPDATE: I recently made this cake for another family gathering, but I sprinkled crumbled candied bacon over the top of the cake. It is a delicious addition! To make candied bacon, just sprinkle some brown sugar on four slices of bacon while you pan-fry or oven fry it. When the bacon is cooled, crumble it and sprinkle it evenly over the top of the frosted cake.
½ lb European unsalted butter, softened
600 g (3 cups) sugar
1 cup vanilla whole fat Greek yogurt
225 g (2 cups) Superfine brown rice flour
94 g (3/4 cup)Tapioca flour
57 g (1/2 cup)Potato starch (NOT potato flour!)
½ tsp aluminum-free baking soda
1 tsp guar gum
6 large eggs
2 tbls pure maple syrup
6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
Note: I mix this cake entirely in my food processor, so that the bacon crumbles become even smaller as I process the bacon into the batter.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, lay the six pieces of bacon. Place the bacon in the oven and cook until evenly crisp and brown (about twenty minutes). Remove from oven and place on paper towels to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
While the bacon is cooling, cream together the sugar and the butter until fluffy. Add the yogurt and mix until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the eggs, beating after the addition of each egg. Add the maple syrup and the crumbled bacon. Beat until well-blended. Pour batter into a buttered and floured 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan. For a layer cake, pour into three buttered and floured 8 inch round pans. Bake at 350 degrees until done, about thirty minutes for a 13 x 9 inch cake, or twenty minutes for the 8 inch cakes.
½ lb European unsalted butter, softened
*460 – 575 g (4 to 5 cups)gluten-free powdered sugar
1 tbls milk, half and half, or cream
2 – 3 tbls Torani Chicken ‘N Waffle syrup
**Vanilla bean salt (optional)
*Note: Powdered sugar usually has corn starch added to it, but some sugar companies still add wheat to their powdered sugar. Most popular brands of powdered sugar are mixed with cornstarch and are thus safe for use by people with Celiac. Check the ingredients of off-brand powdered sugar before using, to be sure the sugar is gluten-free.
**Note: The first time I baked this cake, a few people who ate it thought the frosting too sweet. Although most people who tasted it found the balance between sweet frosting and savory cake to be perfect, I decided to tone down the sweetness of the frosting some when I baked the cake a second time. Some people liked the addition of the salt, others liked it better the first time, without the salt. The cake works either way: everyone loved the cake, regardless of the addition or lack of the vanilla bean salt.
With a mixer, beat the butter for a minute or two, until creamy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, at a low speed to prevent the sugar from flying everywhere. Increase the speed of the mixer and add the milk or cream, and the Torani syrup. Begin with two tablespoons of the syrup and then taste. Add more if necessary. The chicken and waffle flavor should be detectable, but not over-whelming. If the flavoring is the right balance but the frosting is still too stiff, add more milk or cream, a little at a time, until the frosting reaches the right consistency for frosting the cake.