There’s a strange alchemy at work when you combine sweet and savoury flavours. Not convinced? Try these recipes for sticky maple and bacon buns, or this cheesy toffee apple pieSome of the best things I’ve ever eaten have straddled the sweet-savoury divide: honey-glazed, bourbon-laced rib stacks, a sticky cake made with olive oil and topped with strawberries and balsamic, even fried chicken on waffles with gravy and syrup – somehow sickly and addictive all at once. Applied to baking, the logic can be as gentle as adding a good pinch of sea salt to a batter, but you can take it much further, as in the recipes below, setting savoury staples – meat and cheese – alongside fruit, sugar and sweetness. It’s dangerously moreish.
Sticky maple bacon buns
These work on exactly the same concept as those all-American breakfasts – bacon, syrup and pancakes – but packaged instead in a butter-rich bun. The soft dough is swirled with pecans, maple syrup and crispy bits of bacon, baked until the filling caramelises then slathered with a maple glaze.
500g strong white flour
14g instant dried yeast
1 tsp salt
150ml milk, at room temperature
2 large eggs
4 tbsp maple syrup
100g unsalted butter, very soft
For the filling
250g unsmoked streaky bacon, finely diced
Oil, to grease
75g soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp maple syrup
For the topping
125g unsmoked streaky bacon
90ml maple syrup
35g unsalted butter
150g icing sugar
1 Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl or jug, whisk the milk, eggs and maple syrup together. Pour the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and add the softened butter in small chunks. Stir roughly together and knead lightly in the bowl until the ingredients are well-combined. If the dough feels a little dry, add an extra splash of milk. Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes in its bowl.
2 Knead the rested dough for 5-10 minutes on a clean, unfloured surface. It might be sticky to begin with, but as you work the gluten in the flour, you’ll notice it gain elasticity and become smoother and stronger. Place the dough in a large, clean bowl and leave to rise at room temperature until doubled in size – this could take anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the starting temperatures of your ingredients.
3 While the dough rises, prepare the filling. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan, add the diced bacon and fry until the meat is lightly browned and crisp. Pat any excess oil off the bacon with a piece of kitchen towel, then stir the bacon, sugar and maple syrup together in a small bowl. Finely chop the pecans and stir these into the filling mixture, too.
4 Tip the risen dough from its bowl on to a lightly floured surface and roll to roughly 60x35cm. It might take a little elbow grease to tease the springy dough out to size but, if you’re struggling, just give the dough a couple of minutes to rest and slacken before continuing. Spread the filling mixture all over the rolled dough rectangle.
5 Slowly roll the dough up from long edge to long edge into a swirled sausage of dough roughly 60cm long. As you near the end of the roll, tack the trailing edge of dough down on to the work surface by smearing it under your thumb. This will help it to stick to the rest of the dough and seal the spiral. Trim off the tapered ends, then cut the roll into 12 equal pieces.
6 Arrange the dough pieces in a large, lightly greased roasting dish or baking tin (about 20x30cm is more or less the right size), spacing them evenly, leaving a few centimetres space between each to allow room to rise. Drape the tin loosely with clingfilm and leave for around 1 hour or so – until the buns have puffed up to at least 1 ½ times their original size. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
7 Bake the risen buns in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown, fat and bubbling. Cover them with foil towards the end of cooking, when they are starting to brown. While they bake, cut the remaining streaky bacon rashers in half and fry until crisp. Leave to cool.
8 As soon as the buns are cooked, make the glaze. Warm the maple syrup and butter over a low heat until the butter has melted, then pour this mixture, a little at a time, into the icing sugar. Stir until smooth, then pour liberally all over the still-warm buns. Top each bun with a piece of bacon and leave to cool completely before tearing apart to serve.
Toffee apple pie with cheddar crust
I can’t imagine ever passing up a “real” dessert – like a steaming sticky toffee pudding or a wedge of cake or even just a couple of spoonfuls of ice-cream, straight from the tub – for a cheese platter. I need to end a meal on a definitively sweet note or I find myself distracted for the hours that follow, patting down my pockets as if I’ve forgotten something, still hungry somehow – no matter how full I am. A compromise, then, is this apple pie. Cheddar and apple are natural partners anyway, and the salt tang of the cheese here gives the crust a deeply savoury edge, balancing the sweetness of the apple within.
For the filling
6 medium apples (I used 3 braeburn and 3 granny smith)
100g soft light brown sugar
3 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp lemon juice
For the pastry
175g unsalted butter
350g plain flour
A generous pinch of salt
125g mature cheddar cheese, grated
50g soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp cold water
1 egg yolk, beaten with a tbsp of milk to glaze
Extra cheddar, to top
1 Peel, core and thickly slice the apples. Toss with the sugar, cornflour and lemon juice and set aside while you prepare the pastry. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
2 Rub the butter into the flour in a large bowl. Work quickly and lightly using only your fingertips – too much warmth will leave the pastry greasy. As soon as all the fat has been rubbed in, add the salt, cheddar and sugar and stir to combine. Pour in the water and use a knife to cut the liquid into the dry mixture, adding a drop more water if a lot of dry flour is left at the bottom of the bowl. Once the mixture has begun to clump together, gather it into a ball.
3 If the pastry’s too sticky to roll, pat it into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and leave to chill and firm in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. Otherwise, cut straight to rolling: divide the dough into two portions, one piece slightly larger than the other. On a lightly floured surface, roll the larger piece out to a thickness of 3-5mm so it’s large enough to line a 27-29cm-round glass or ceramic pie dish. Transfer the pastry to the dish, press gently into the sides and trim any excess.
4 Add the apple filling. Roll the small piece of pastry out to a similar thickness and cut to a circle for the pie lid. Drape the pastry lid over the filling and press it into the pie edge, crimping together to seal. Pierce a couple of holes in the lid to allow steam to escape.
5 Bake the pie for 30 minutes in the preheated oven before brushing the egg yolk glaze over the top and sprinkling with a little extra grated cheddar. Return to the oven for 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Sweet bacon buns recall American-style breakfasts (right) while this apple tart with a cheesy crust works surprisingly well. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian