Now here’s a unique twist on sweets. Brian Alberg provides a 6-part less-sweet dessert for the finale of his James Beard House dinner using local Berkshire ingredients.

Before farm-to-table was even a phrase, Brian Alberg was living it. He and fellow chefs in the surrounding Berkshires have a bounty of produce and livestock to choose from.

At his ninth visit to the James Beard house, he created the most interesting non-dessert dessert I have ever experienced, featuring candied bacon from his own heritage breed pigs, a vanilla sweet-corn panna cotta, grape must, and blue cheese popcorn with salad and sliced apples. I chose to include this recipe to be a part of an entire plan for hosting a party with a menu focused on smoky tastes—that’s where the bacon comes in.

Brian is executive chef at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a piece of history, and a perfect spot for a weekend getaway from NYC.

hobnobmag less-sweet desserts recipe candied bacon



Serves 6

Candied Bacon

1/4 CUP white sugar
1/4 CUP brown sugar
6 slices thick cut bacon

Preheat oven to 350º. Mix sugars in small bowl. Coat bacon slices liberally with sugar, place on sheet pan and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake until golden brown, approximately 20-30 min. Remove from pan and transfer to a wire cooling rack. Bacon will crisp up as it cools.

hobnobmag less-sweet desserts recipe candied bacon

Sweet Corn Panna Cotta

1 qt half & half
2 ears of corn, kernels and cobs separated
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 sheets gelatin, bloomed in cold water

In a medium sauce pan, add half and half, corn kernels and cobs, and vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer and turn heat down to medium-low. Cook for approximately 35-40 min until reduced by half. Remove corn cobs, discard. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh colander. With the bottom of a spoon, press the liquid out of the corn. Discard corn kernels; you should be left with the corn cream. Squeeze out any excess water from the gelatin sheets and add to the half and half mixture. Stir thoroughly until all the gelatin is dissolved and incorporated. Divide evenly among 4 oz. portion cups. (Plastic works great for this as it is less work to invert panna cotta once set). Chill until set, approx. 2 hrs.

Whipped Cream

1 pint heavy cream
1/4 CUP sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in mixing bowl and blend with electric mixer until soft peaks form, cover and place in the refrigerator for later use.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

1/4 CUP apple cider vinegar
1/4 CUP maple syrup
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp dry mustard
2 TB dijon mustard
2 tsp minced shallot
3/4 CUP corn oil
3/4 CUP olive oil

Use this dressing in place of the grape must: In a blender, blend all ingredients except the oils. With blender on low speed, slowly add the oils until incorporated.

Smoked Berkshire Blue Popcorn

1 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 CUP popcorn kernels
1 tsp butter
1/4 CUP smoked blue cheese, finely shredded

In a medium heavy-bottom pot, on medium heat add oil and 3 to 4 popcorn kernels, cover with lid. Allow oil to heat up and kernels to pop. Once this happens, add butter and remaining popcorn. Continue cooking in covered pot, on medium heat, shaking frequently as to not burn the bottom kernels. Once the kernels start popping, shake more frequently until the time between popping kernels becomes 6-8 seconds apart. Remove from heat, and let stand 1 minute. Remove lid and stir in blue cheese.

Hot Buttered Rum Sauce

1 qt apple cider

1/2 CUP Berkshire Mountain Distillers rum
1 CUP butter, cubed

In a large sauce pan, reduce cider until you are left with approximately 1 cup. Remove from heat, add rum. Whisk in butter a couple cubes at a time until incorporated and slightly thickened.

Construction of the dessert

Place panna cotta in small shallow-sided bowl, as to be able to pour hot buttered rum around it. Top with whipped cream and candied bacon. Place the bowl on one side of a medium rectangular plate. On the other half of the plate, place the salad of frisee, arugula and tart apple, combined and tossed with enough of the maple-dijon vinaigrette to just coat the greens. Top with 5-6 pieces of the blue cheese popcorn. Finally, pour the hot buttered rum sauce on the outside of the panna cotta, approximately 1 oz per serving and serve immediately. Enjoy!

We’ve got more recipes with smoky ingredients to wow guests with, check it out in THE SMOKY PARTY.