At some point in history, we decided to keep meat out of our dessert. Maybe it was to distinguish dessert from the rest of the meal, or maybe it's because beef-flavored birthday cake tends to make kids cry. But suddenly menus everywhere have deemed bacon an acceptable crossover. The landmark Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky., does a bacon baklava. More, a cupcake shop in Chicago, sells three bacon flavors. Animal in Los Angeles serves a deeply satisfying bacon chocolate crunch bar. At New York City's Dovetail, the bread pudding with bacon brittle is so popular it can't be rotated off the menu.
And the bacon-for-dessert trend isn't limited to high-end, experimental restaurants. In 2008 you could buy bacon-covered chocolate at the Minnesota State Fair or watch bacon get dipped in chocolate on the Food Network's Dinner: Impossible. "I bet other meats would work" in sugary fare, says chef Jerome Chang, whose itinerant Dessert Truck serves New Yorkers a $5 chocolate bread pudding with bacon crème anglaise. "Bacon is just more sellable because people mix it up with their pancakes and their syrup and they're used to that. Plus, people like bacon a lot."
The trend probably started in 2006, when molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal began dazzling deep-pocketed diners at the U.K.'s Fat Duck with bacon-and-egg ice cream. (That same year, when two contestants whipped up bacon ice cream on Bravo's Top Chef, Tom Colicchio turned to his fellow judges and wondered how long until Ben & Jerry's came out with one.) But the real mass-market shift started two summers ago, when Vosges Haut-Chocolat put out the $7.50 Mo's Bacon Bar. "I was a vegetarian at the time," says owner Katrina Markoff, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu, "but I decided to make an exception for bacon." To her shock, the bacon bar became her best-selling item and is now available in more than 200 stores.
Bacon works in dessert for the same reason peanut butter works with chocolate, or sea salt with caramel. Salt brings out the depth of flavor in desserts (try eating a salt-free brownie), and fatty foods are often cut by sweetness, like foie gras with Sauternes or fried chicken with honey.
As more famous pastry chefs get their own restaurants, ingredients that had been on one side of the menu are showing up on the other. And some chefs are starting to branch out from bacon and put other meats in sweets. José Andrés of Washington's Minibar and Los Angeles' Bazaar serves foie gras surrounded by cotton candy. Ramon Perez, the pastry chef at L.A.'s Sona, added shrimp to his salted caramels for a sweet brininess--and a fear-factor thrill. Perez, who also serves apple lasagna with crispy bacon, is delighted by the mainstreaming of meat for dessert. "It means diners are trying to change their whole perception of food," he says. Or it just means we've learned to add sugar to everything.
Bacon Bits To see chefs in action and get dessert recipes, go to time.com/bacon