Yes, this is really weird. I’d blame my sister-in-law for this one, but I’m equally culpable.
Actually, I should blame Jennifer McLagan and her fascinating book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient. I got this book from my mother for my birthday, and while I haven’t actually yet rendered my own lard nor do I regularly grate suet into my recipes for extra flavor, I do love this book. Part the fun is that the whole premise of this book is based on celebrating that nutrient that is so, well, misunderstood, part is the sheer uniqueness of so many of the recipes (recipes that have only recently fallen out of favor, relatively speaking) and part is just that things with fat typically are, well, delicious!
My sister-in-law Colleen was visiting over Thanksgiving and merrily going through my cookbooks. Since it’s a slim volume and could have been overlooked, I specifically pulled out “Fat” for her–knowing it was the kind of food book she’d enjoy. Hot on the success of my half lard, half butter apple pie (post to follow) we were intrigued by things such as “lard cookies.” As we looked through we also noticed “Bacon Fat Spice Cookies” (recipe here)–we had some bacon defrosting in the fridge, they looked easy, and since we had no plans for the bacon fat anyway, we figured, why not? Even for me, who is not a big bacon person, this recipe looked fun: perhaps merely due to the sheer off-the-wall nature of it! I know that people have fallen out of using bacon fat for cooking (though I understand it was a delicious use for the stuff)–but cookies? I don’t even know if that counts as traditional!
Jennifer McLagan notes this is a recipe she came up with on her own by substituting bacon fat for the butter typically used for northern European spice cookies. She estimates a pound of bacon is necessary to produce half a cup of fat (noting that it can vary)–our extra fatty Meat CSA bacon produced nearly enough for a double batch!
You add quite a bit of spice to this–a half teaspoon of flavors such as cloves and ginger (most recipes only asking for a “pinch”!) We reasoned these quantities might be necessary as we anticipated the bacon fat would have a pretty strong flavor. Not only that, but you don’t use just regular sugar, you use molasses! (I used regular, not blackstrap).
Once we had mixed the dough, we thought it looked a little too liquid based on the sheen. So we added a few more spoonfuls of butter, yet it was as shiny as ever. However, when you touched it you realized it was a proper dough, it was just the soft bacon fat that gave it that look!
I used my mini cookie scoop to portion out the dough, and Colleen flattened out the little balls with her fork–much like peanut butter cookies.
We put them in for 10 minutes and ended up leaving them in for a total of 14. Once again, we may have been fooled by the shininess of these cookies into thinking they weren’t done. But I think we ultimately got it right.
As for the taste–well, they taste like bacon, sugar, and spice. For me it was a bit strong–at first you taste the spice, but then the bacon flavor lingers and becomes a bit strong for something like a cookie. Maybe it would be better to only replace half the butter with bacon–it’s not that bacon flavor is bad, it’s just overpowering. (Though that’s the answer as to why McLagan adapted a spice cookie recipe–only flavors such as clove, cinnamon, and ginger are assertive enough to even hope to stand up to bacon grease!). Also, perhaps the bacon fat for butter substitution would work well in a savory biscuit or crisp recipe. Alongside a beer perhaps? (Don’t hold me to that one though; I’m not a big beer drinker either to know if that suggestion is repulsive). Anyway, what’s clear is little E loves them. And lucky enough–if anyone has the metabolism to power down cookies made with bacon fat, it would be him!