November 13, 2022

Maple Salty Balls, an experiment

In which I employ every annoying ass recipe blogger technique I can fit in a block of text because of the number of times I’ve had to suffer through that crap over the last couple days trying to figure this crap out.

I had that idea yesterday while walking around through Kroger.

Down here (in The South) they have a thing called Sausage Balls that seem to emerge at office pot-lucks (where I first encountered them) and other holiday events. For reasons known only to God and perhaps native Southerners, they don’t seem to appear at any time of the year other than November, excepting the obligatory offering in the frozen section of the stupid market.

The standard Sausage Balls recipe makes, in the way of such things, absolutely no pretension to haute cuisine. Instead it has that down home “toss it together” quality that I seem to come across all over the place in the south as an expat of The Heathen North; most notably characterized by a complete disregard for any pedigree of “scratch cooking.”

Though to be honest it seems that there are two levels of recipes down here:

– One is the conglomeration of mostly premade off the shelf mixes with a couple unintended ingredients (in The Heathen North this is a faux pas of the highest order. You either “made it”, i.e. from scratch, or you didn’t.)

– The other is those elusive secret generational recipes that include things made from scratch as well as things made with “that one special trick only meemaw knew and never passed on.” Which half the time is probably “Oh honey I just use canned soup concentrate” or something.

But I digress. Sausage balls consist of three cups of bisquick or other “pre-made biscuit mix”, a pound of sharp cheddar cheese and a pound of sausage. I like to use the Tennessee Pride hot. Mix that all together (don’t use pre-shredded cheddar. That shit has literal fucking sawdust in it) form it into little golf-ball sized balls and bake it at 300 for a half hour and change.

But I’d been walking around in Kroger engaging, as I implied yesterday, in some serious people watching when I found myself standing at the sausage display.

I’d been thinking it was getting time to actually bake something, get my chops back. Pretty frustrating thing, that. Some of the hand art of baking leaves me every year once the season ends since I usually just drop baking cold. I love to do it but the fruits of my labor go right to my fucking gut, so a couple experiments every fall is what it costs.

As such things happen I wondered suddenly if it would make sense to add bacon to sausage balls or if that would just be screwing with perfection. But…sausage balls, good as they are, are pretty far from perfection. They’re dry and chalky, begging for a dip or sauce no one seems to have figured out yet. Hell, maybe some bacon and bacon fat would pull things in the right direction?

Then…as brains are wont to do, certainly mine, I thought “well…what about maple bacon?” By which I didn’t mean use “maple bacon” bacon. But to actually add maple syrup to the thing as well as bacon. Could end up with that “salty + sweet synergy” they’re so fucking obsessed with down here. Who knows.

I texted the brain trust, who I could all hear salivating all over middle Tennessee as they got the messages.

So yeah. Bought bisquick, a couple blocks of less than half-priced irish cheddar and a couple 1 pound blocks of hot sausage and a couple pounds of bacon. I went back this morning for medium/mild sausage. I prefer hot but I figured that if I was going to be experimenting with it, medium would be the way to go.

My thinking was that I’d make one normal batch as a control and bake that while I mixed up the second batch.

Thing about that recipe is that there’s nothing real precise about it. It’s really just “sausage and cheese with enough bisquick to bind it together” so after mixing up the first normal batch I figured I’d just dump a bunch of crap in the experimental one then add enough bisquick to get roughly the same consistency.

I premade (and damn near fucking burned) and drained the bacon. And no, I didn’t use all 2 pounds, though I did cook it all.

Made the first batch, the control batch, mixing it in the kitchen-aid with the dough hook, then put it in another bowl and mixed a second batch.

To the second batch I added a couple handfuls (really, I didn’t measure it.) It probably ended up being a cup and a half of crumbled bacon. Then to add in more deliciousness I poured in a few (4?) tablespoons of bacon grease. Then I poured about the same amount of maple syrup in. Turning the mixer on I realized it was a bit too…gummy or so, so I added another half to 3/4 of a cup of bisquick until I had it about the same consistency as the other batch.

Oven preheated to 300 I balled them up and baked them for somewhere between 35 and 40 minutes, not the 30 it says in the recipe, which pisses me off to no end.

The maple bacon batch was split (as was the control) in to two separate trays. On the second tray I also drizzled some maple syrup over the top of them.

In the end, the control batch came out a little undercooked. But the bottoms were nearly scorched so I didn’t want to risk baking them for much longer. I’m going to have to figure out how the hell to tweak that.

The second batch, was not undercooked, which I found a bit perplexing. The tray I had drizzled maple syrup over were really close to burning on the bottoms, as the sugar couldn’t handle the heat for that long. Both trays were a fair bit darker colored once baked. So I’m calling that the caramelization of the maple syrup.

Now for the taste test: The normal batch was delicious as fuck, of course.

With maple bacon batch I could taste the bacon and that was really good. But the maple, when I could taste it (I may have had to have more than one sample to insure consistent results) really clashed hard with the rest of the flavors. I suspect it MIGHT be because there wasn’t enough to really present itself, which might sound a little hipsterific. But I couldn’t quite take its measure otherwise.

All in all it was a worthy experiment, and a bit of bacon fat, and likely crumbled bacon as well is absolutely going in all further batches of sausage balls. But I’m going to have to play around with making tiny batches, one to five at a time and run experiments on a small scale.

There’s a lot of upside here, I can feel it. But I just haven’t found it yet.