Somehow I don’t mind seeing red hearts on the shelves in January the way I mind seeing Christmas trees in early November. Valentine’s Day was my father’s favorite holiday. He saved every valentine he received as a child in the 1920s and 30s. The earlier ones were festooned with puffy paper hearts, cherubs, and forget me nots. The later ones from the early years of the Great Depression were often homemade from wallpaper samples. My sister and I were fascinated by them and by the heart shaped boxes of chocolates he would give us.
Giving boxed chocolates on Valentine’s Day in the U.S. dates back to the 1860s commercially, but people were giving each other chocolates well before then. As luck would have it, some of the best chocolates in the U.S. are actually made in Illinois. Vosges (pronounced vohj) in Chicago produces exotic chocolates with infusions of kaffir lime leaves, curry, wasabi, green tea, chiles, and cinnamon. It also does sugar-free and vegan chocolates. However, the company’s most popular chocolate bar contains a most surprising ingredient: meat — alderwood smoked bacon to be specific.
Those who frequent county and state fairs know that chocolate covered bacon is not new, but to have it done well, that’s another matter. Creamy, salty, smoky, and sweet all in the same bite is hard to beat and hard to come by.
This fact was not lost on Phoebe Lawless of the Magnolia Grill in Durham, North Carolina, who makes truffles with bacon, chocolate, and peanut butter. In 2005, Lawless provided a recipe for Saveur magazine. I’ve made it a couple of times, but decided to modify it a bit in time for Valentine’s Day to make it less sweet and more “bacony.”
Get the best bacon you can for these. Moore Family Farm bacon at Common Ground in Urbana is very good. If you get commercial bacon, make sure to trim any rind (the package says if it has it) or you will end up with truffles laced with bits of rawhide, albeit, no longer raw. Baking the bacon makes for more foolproof cooking than on top of the stove. The recipe calls for six strips, but if you are going to cook six strips of bacon, you might as well cook the whole pound. In that case, you’ll need 2 to 2 ½ tablespoons of maple syrup.
These are best with freshly roasted peanuts. Again, if you are taking the time to roast a half cup of salted peanuts, you might as well do enough for Sunday’s game.
The bitterness of the chocolate is a matter of preference, anywhere from 35 to 65 percent cacao will work. Just remember that you only have the maple syrup on the bacon to counter it.
Yes, there are several steps, but remember, these are for someone you love.
- 6 strips crisp bacon, rind removed
- 1 to 2 ½ T maple syrup (larger amount if you cook a whole pound of bacon)
- 1/2 c salted peanuts (not raw)
- 1/4 c unsweetened peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
- 8 oz (1 1/4 c) bittersweet chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
Chill peanut butter in fridge. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bacon on a rack on a baking sheet with sides to catch grease. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. When it becomes brown, carefully remove the pan from the oven. Brush the bacon with maple syrup. Bake for 5 more minutes. Allow to cool, reserving 2 t bacon fat.
While the bacon is cooling lower oven to 350 degrees to roast peanuts. Place peanuts in a large, heavy skillet. Cast iron is good for this. Check on them at 10 minutes and then every five, shaking the pan so that they roast evenly. Allow to cool.
Grind bacon and peanuts in a food processor to medium fine. Mix with chilled peanut butter in a small bowl. Taste for sweetness. Remembering that you will be coating these in chocolate and cocoa, taste for sweetness, adding 1 t of sugar if necessary. Roll bacon into 1-inch balls, placing on a parchment or wax-paper lined baking sheet.
Melt chocolate in a bowl in microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring between. When just melted, add bacon fat. Sift cocoa into another bowl. Working a few at a time, roll truffle centers in melted chocolate, coating evenly. Dredge w/ cocoa until covered.
Makes 12 to 15 truffles. Store in an airtight container with additional cocoa for up to 2 days in the fridge, or for up to 1 month in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before eating.