If you have been following along, you know about the Competition Dining program that is taking place here in our great state of North Carolina. If you haven’t, then you can read my introduction here. I attended yet another round of the competition this past week, and I was honored to judge some super tasty eats in Battle Pork Shoulder. I haven’t attended all of Fire on the Dock events, so I am sure there were many other really fab dishes produced. But this – this took the cake.
The Pine Valley Market Original
Pork-fat infused sweet potato corn cake with heavenly goat cheese whipped cream, cinnamon sugared pork cracklins, blackberry coulis, and chocolate-dipped cinnamon fat back to be specific. Oh. My. Gravy. I thought I had died and gone to dessert heaven. Really. It was so damn good, it kicked my beloved buttercream frosted chocolate cake’s ass (heretofore my favorite dessert ever and always). So I hunted down the makers thereof with the help of the event host – he told the ENTIRE BANQUET ROOM that I wanted that recipe – and I have it. Thanks for that, Jimmy.
Now the story behind it is still a bit vague – I will be meeting up with the Pine Valley Market folks in a few days to get the whole skinny on it as well as visit their new restaurant, Café Johnnie’s, at the Cameron Art Museum. But let’s just say it was the happy result of a dicey plan. All I know right now is that the folks from PVM struggled with what to present as their third dish in the competition and this wasn’t the only dessert they considered – it kind of just happened. I will get back to you with the details.
When hearing the voting results and learning that this dessert scored highest of all six dishes that evening, I heard one of the PVM team members say something like, “Oh my God – we couldn’t make that thing again if we tried!” As far as I know they haven’t tried. But they did give me an approximation of the ingredients so that I could try, and try I have. I think I’ve got it and I’m calling it “Swine Not? Sweet Potato Corn Cake.” It’s pretty darn good, so give it a try. We love our pork here in NC, so pork-infused cake could be the quintessential signature NC dish.
Sadly, this rockin’ fabulous dessert was not enough to garner them the win for the night. Gerry Fong and his team from Persimmons in New Bern, NC took the round and will compete again on May 2nd against the team from Yo Sake. My favorite dish from Team Persimmons was Course 4: Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder “Loin” with mung bean noodles, glazed radish and aged balsamic mission fig coulis. The pork was cooked to perfection and the fig coulis was the perfect accompaniment. Plus I’m a sucker for cooked radishes.
This recipe is not quick – there are a lot of parts to it – but each part is easy to make. It is totally a work of art that must be appreciated by others – so have a dinner party. Or just invite some folks over for dessert. The good news is that you can make the bacon, coulis, cake and cracklins a day ahead, cutting the cake and whipping the cream shortly before your guests arrive.
Without further ado, here is that heavenly dessert recipe, ever-so-subtly adapted for the home cook since you don’t have a hog lying around in your kitchen.
The Replicated Cake
Swine Not? Sweet Potato Corn Cake:
3 cups Roasted Sweet Potatoes, about 3 potatoes
3 cups Yellow Corn Meal
1 tablespoon Baking Powder
¼ teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
2/3 cup Granulated Sugar
½ cup Brown Sugar
½ cup melted Bacon Fat (or salted butter)
1 cup Whole Milk, at room temperature
½ cup Heavy Cream
4 Eggs, at room temperature
Peel and cube the sweet potatoes, then oven-roast at 375oF for 20-25 minutes or until fork tender. Place in a bowl and lightly whip with a hand mixer or food processor, some lumps remaining.
Mix the corn meal, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the sugars and melted bacon fat. Add the eggs to the sugar mixture and blend with an electric hand mixer, then add the milk and blend for 2 minutes to thoroughly combine. Fold in the sweet potatoes. Add the corn meal mixture to the wet mixture a little at a time, beating well to combine.
Generously grease (use bacon fat or butter) a 13” x 9” baking pan. Pour in the cake batter and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake at 350oF for about 40 minutes until a tooth pick comes out of the center clean. Cool thoroughly in the pan on a rack.
Cook’s note: Being paranoid about not getting the cake out of the pan intact, I also lined the pan with a piece of parchment that overhung the pan after greasing, then I greased the parchment as well. There is no way the cake will stick with these precautions and the parchment “handles” allowed me to lift it right out of the pan. This technique I owe to Thomas Keller – thank you, kind sir, for the education.
For the Cinnamon Chocolate Bacon & ‘Cracklins’:
12 ounces Thick-Cut Bacon
1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
1 ½ tablespoons ground Cinnamon
4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate Chips, or coarsely chopped bar chocolate
Chopped Pistachios or other nuts, optional
Preheat the oven to 300oF. Cut six slices of bacon in half and arrange in a single layer on a lined baking sheet (you can use a Silpat, parchment paper, or foil to line the pan). Chop the remaining bacon into small pieces and spread them out on a separate baking pan. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. When the bacon strips look about half-cooked (15-18 minutes), sprinkle it with 2/3 of the cinnamon sugar and return to the oven. Bake the bacon strips to crisp; remove the chopped bacon from the oven when it is beginning to crisp and toss with the remaining cinnamon sugar then set aside. The chopped bacon will stand in for the cracklins.
Drain and cool the bacon strips on paper towels. Heat the chocolate in a double boiler over medium-low heat, dipping the bacon strips into the melted chocolate. Place the dipped bacon strips on parchment paper to cool and set up. If using nuts, sprinkle them onto the chocolate immediately after dipping. This can be wrapped and refrigerated overnight, but set it out on the counter to come to room temperature before serving.
If you don’t know, cracklins are pork skin that has had the fat mostly rendered from it. Unless you are having a pig pickin’ you probably don’t have any on hand. So using the softer bacon is an acceptable substitute.
For the Goat Cheese Whipped Cream:
8 ounces soft Goat Cheese (Chevre), at room temperature
16 ounces cold Heavy Whipping Cream
½ cup Granulated Sugar
Whip the goat cheese and sugar together in a bowl. Add the whipping cream and beat until very smooth and stiff peaks form. Transfer to a piping bag if you are laying this on fancy. Otherwise you can scoop it with a cookie scoop or spoon. This will keep in the fridge, covered, for several hours.
For the Blackberry Coulis:
6 ounces Blackberries
1 sprig fresh Mint
½ cup Granulated Sugar
¼ cup Water
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. When the berries are macerated and the syrup clings to the back of a spoon it is done, about 20 minutes. Remove the mint sprig.
Now you have two options with the blackberry sauce: 1) Strain the sauce to remove the fruit chunks for a smooth sauce, reserving the fruit for your breakfast toast; or 2) Transfer the sauce to a food processor or blender and pulse for a chunky sauce. I strained mine, hence the brighter color than the original. Whichever option you choose, transfer the finished sauce to a bowl or squirt bottle and cool.
Cook’s Note: You can also substitute blackberry preserves for the coulis; heat the preserves in the microwave for a few seconds to thin it out then garnish the plates accordingly.
To assemble: Transfer the cake to a cutting board. Use a biscuit cutter to cutout rounds of cake, or slice the cake into 12 squares, trimming off the outer edges. Place a piece of cake on each plate. Top with whipped cream, sprinkle cream with cracklins, garnish plate with coulis, and lean a piece of that chocolate bacon on each piece of cake.
Take a picture and serve!