Bacon: It's What's for Dessert

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Photo by Sally Schneider


To try these dark chocolate cakelets with Aromatic Pepper and bacon fat, click here for the recipe.

I was about to make my tried-and-true Essential Chocolate Cake for an impromptu birthday dinner when I discovered two big problems. First, I remembered that the birthday girl, who loved chocolate, often made this very same recipe and did it really well. And second, I had only enough ingredients for half a recipe. What could I do to make a chocolate dessert special enough for the day, a recipe that my dear friend wouldn't find ordinary?

Desperate, I searched my larder for an interesting way to transform the cake, mulling malted milk powder, currants, pistachios ... Nothing seemed right, until a jar of applewood-smoked bacon fat in the fridge spurred a plan of action. Why not use bacon fat instead of some of the butter in the recipe? Bacon and chocolate have clear affinities.

Everyone raved and tried to guess what made the cakelets unique and delicious.

I'd balance the richness with a few grinds of Aromatic Pepper—a mix of black, white, and pink peppercorns with allspice berries and coriander seed that I keep in a peppermill as an instant flavor enhancer. And I'd stretch the half batch of batter by baking it in paper cupcake cups, to make charming individual cakelets.

At the very least, it would be a gift of improvisation—a risky foray into unknown territory—in my friend's honor, which I knew she'd enjoy. If it worked, I'd have a celebratory dessert.

The half-batch of cake batter yielded six little cakes smaller, yet somehow more grown-up, than cupcakes. They were a HUGE success, served with a barely salted whipped cream. The subtle underpinning of smoky pig gave the chocolate surprising complexity. Aromatic Pepper provided hits of unexpected flavors. Everyone raved and tried to guess what made the cakelets unique and delicious.

And best of all: my friend loved the birthday "cake" created just for her.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Cakelets With Aromatic Pepper and Bacon Fat
Recipe: Aromatic Pepper
Recipe: Rendered Bacon, Pancetta, Ham, Duck, or Goose Fat

Presented by

Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.

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