A bacon-topped epiphany

If you love bacon, this brownie’s for you. (Photo: Ron Eade)

I had one of those eureka moments the other day by the dessert table in the Château Cartier’s lobby. At the resort in the Aylmer sector, just off the Champlain Bridge to Ottawa, I discovered a display of brownies that seemed to ooze decadent deliciousness — one of five dishes (four of them savoury) created especially for the 2nd annual three-day Gatineau Winter BeerFest, which opens at 4 p.m. Thursday.

My goodness, could it be? An epiphany on the Road to Aylmer?

Each brownie was topped with maple-caramelized bits of bacon, oh my! With each bite of chocolately richness, you’re treated to an extra jolt of piggy goodness that I’m betting would make Anthony Bourdain proud.

“The bacon and maple topping makes them unique,” says Gabrielle Sexton, the Château Cartier’s executive chef.

“The bacon really comes through,” she says. “And who doesn’t love bacon?”

The brownies are the only dish among five she created for the festival that does not include beer somewhere in the ingredient list.

Other specialty food items include pulled pork sandwiches with bourbon molasses sauce, Guinness-braised short ribs on brown butter mash, beer and cheese soup shooters with smoked croutons, and the ever-popular poutine foie gras embellished with a little dark ale.

Last year, the first Winter BeerFest at Château Cartier, a 125-room resort built in 1990 on Aylmer Road, not far from the Champlain Bridge, far exceeded predictions. Where organizers expected 3,000 people to drop by over two days last January, instead, they got 8,000 — so many folks, in fact, the hotel had to scramble to get more food.

This year the festival Jan. 24 to 26 is double the size, it has been expanded to add a third day, and a modest $5 admission fee has been introduced to better control crowds. Attendance is expected to nudge 13,000 or more this year. The festival offers a curated mix of craft beer from Quebec microbreweries, as well as beer-inspired winter food and tasting seminars hosted by beer author, expert and CBC Radio host Mario D’Eer. Ice sculptures will decorate the grounds.

A new family day has been added Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. with games, outdoor events and more.

“We have a heated tent, ice bar and outside skating rink this year. Also new are dog sled rides,” says Joel-Marc Frappier, executive director at the hotel.

Where the festival offered 45 craft beers in 2012, today the number has swelled to more than 60. “Beer is our passion,” says D’Eer, self-proclaimed beerologist.

“Artisanal beer festivals have long been a part of life throughout Quebec, and more recently Ontarians and visitors to the nation’s capital have also begun enjoying the fun.

“This year, expect hot beer served outside, gluten-free and non-alcoholic beer, among returning favourites and new tastes,” D’Eer says.

Doors open Thursday and Friday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday noon to 1 a.m. Guests must be 18 years and over on all evenings, but all ages are welcome on Saturday family day noon to 6 p.m.

”The numbers were far greater than we ever anticipated last year,” says Frappier. “We didn’t expect those large numbers, and to be able to prepare that fine gastronomy for so many people isn’t easy. This year we’re expecting between 13,000 and 15,000 and we’ll be ready.”

Beer and food tasting samples are extra, available by ticket at 50¢ each. Generally, the cost for each item ranges from $2.50 to $20 depending on how exotic it is.

And by all means, try one of those piggy-rich chocolate brownies!

Gatineau Winter BeerFest Brownies with Maple Bacon

Makes: one 9-inch (23-cm) square pan (serves 9 to 12)

1 cup (250 mL) butter

10 ounces (285 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips

4 large eggs

2 1/3 cups (575 mL) superfine sugar, or granulated

1 ½ teaspoons (7 mL) vanilla extract (or scraped seeds from 1 pod vanilla)

1 ¼ cups (300 mL) unbleached flour

3 tablespoons (50 mL) cocoa powder

Pinch, salt

For the bacon topping:

1/2 pound (225 g) bacon, diced

1 cup (250 mL) maple syrup

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (180°C).

2. In a large stainless steel resting on a pot of simmering water, melt the butter with chocolate chips, whisking to combine well. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl, cream eggs with the sugar and vanilla; set aside.

4. In a third bowl, sift together dry ingredients and mix well.

5. Off the heat, mix melted chocolate and butter about 2 tablespoons (25 mL) at a time with the creamed eggs, combining well after each addition. Using a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients in 3 stages and mix until smooth. Pour batter in a parchment-paper lined 9-inch (23-cm) square baking pan and bake about 35 to 40 minutes, until a clean toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

6. While brownies bake, cook diced bacon in a frypan over medium heat until almost crisp. Remove and discard all grease, then add maple syrup. Continue cooking until bacon is caramelized, then transfer to clean non-stick tray to cool. Top cooled brownies with maple bacon and cut in desired pieces.

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(Source: Gabrielle Sexton, executive chef of the Chateau Cartier)

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