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Bacon with dessert?

Chefs nationwide are pairing up sweets with a surprising savory.

By Maria HuntContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / December 3, 2008

Swinish delight: Two patrons at Marini's candy shop at the Boardwalk amusement park in Santa Cruz, Calif., sample pieces of chocolate-covered bacon.

Eric Risberg/AP

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"Bacon maple? There's actual bacon in that cupcake?" an incredulous visitor blurts out after scanning the selections at More, a sleek modern cupcake boutique in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.

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Owner Patty Rothman, who offers a variety of bacon-infused cupcakes – sweet bacon maple, savory BLT, and a brand-new, bacon-apple-cinnamon – was hoping for just this reaction.

"Everybody in food is pushing the envelope," says Ms. Rothman. "It's bacon, everybody loves bacon."

It seemed like an odd flight of fancy when Vosges Haut-Chocolat in Chicago first created the Mo's Chocolate Bar studded with applewood bacon early last year. But this combo of swine and sweet has caught on, and now desserts that pair bacon with chocolate, maple, and bananas are flying out of high-end kitchens across the country.

And it's not just American chefs: Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream served with Pain perdu (a.k.a. French toast) is a standout on the $200 tasting menu at The Fat Duck in Bray, England, where well-heeled foodies go to experience chef Heston Blumenthal's molecular-tinged cuisine.

"More than anything else, I think this is 'The Year of the Pig,' " says Erik Van Kley, sous chef of Le Pigeon in Portland, Ore.,which serves a Honey-Apricot Cornbread Pudding draped with Neuske's bacon. "There are two camps of cooking: molecular and real grass-roots cooking. Both camps are turning to the pig."

With chefs buying whole pigs to make their own sausage and salumi, featuring Kurobuta pork belly as an entrée, and planning all-pork dinners, it's no surprise that bacon – the most quintessential taste of pork – should wind up on the dessert plate. It sounds weird at first, but just as the combination of salty and sweet makes Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and kettle corn so appealing, bacon's natural saltiness pairs well with sweet foods.

Searching for a dish that would sum up the meat-heavy menu at their restaurant, Animal, in Los Angeles's Fairfax District, young Food Network chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo settled on Chocolate Bacon Bar. Served in a pool of salt-and-pepper crème anglaise, the dessert features layers of dark chocolate, peanut ganache, and semisweet chocolate with crunchy feuilletines (crispy flakes) crowned by chocolate mousse, milk chocolate pieces, and house-made bacon. They created it for an over-the-top menu served at a performance art event.

Even at the traditional Gramercy Tavern in New York City, an all-pork New Year's Eve menu crafted from an entire Virginia pig led pastry chef Nancy Olson to her Milk Chocolate Tart With Bacon. "Chocolate goes really well with something salty and crunchy, and bacon adds its beautiful smoky character to it as well," says Ms. Olson, who recently rotated the dessert off the menu.

Other chefs see the charm of retranslating the comforting flavors of breakfast in their own bacon desserts. Chef Vera Tong found inspiration for her bacon dessert at Dovetail on New York's Upper West Side in the American breakfasts made by her Hong Kong-born mother.