Devils on horseback, or bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed dates, are insanely indulgent. Truly, the rich, sweet, loaded-with-umami appetizer should be classified as a controlled substance. Because it comes together in less than ten minutes. And disappears even faster. This recipe calls for blue cheese like Roquefort or Stilton but is just as delicious with your favorite cheese.
Depending on your research, the origins of devils on horseback are rooted in Victorian dinner affairs, Norman marauders with bacon for armor, or an adaptation of bacon-wrapped oysters called angels on horseback. All are probably true in one way or another. But do we care? We're talking about sweet, chewy dates, stuffed with cheese, and wrapped in bacon. May whoever first dreamed up the dish forever rest in peace.
Endless variations of this devilish little appetizer exist. Across the pond, prunes are the dried fruit of choice and a popular dish at Christmastime in the UK. And the type of cheese seems to vary depending on the whim of the recipe writer.
Blue cheese like Stilton or Roquefort seems to be a popular choice in the US. Blue-veined cheeses are especially tasty because they contain umami compounds. So you get deliciousness coming at you from all sides.
- Blue Cheese (or any cheese)
- Bacon, pastured or heritage pork recommended
- Cayenne pepper, optional
On buying bacon. Most pork in the United States is raised with downright disturbing practices, according to journalist and author Barry Estabrook (I highly recommend his books to anyone who eats). So I buy bacon or pork loin only on occasion. And look for brands raising pastured or heritage pork. Easier to find and usually a little less expensive is certified-organic pork, which is raised with higher standards than conventional (the pigs eat better and live better).
Bacon-wrapped dates are incredibly simple to pull together, I often pass the task on to the little hands loitering around my kitchen. I do recommend not over-stuffing the dates with cheese. Otherwise, it will ooze out during cooking, and end up on the pan instead of in your mouth.
- Soak the toothpicks and preheat the oven. To prevent the toothpicks from smoking (or worse catching fire) during cooking, soak them in a bowl of water while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Confession: This step is a bit of a safety disclaimer because it could happen. But I have never remembered to actually soak the toothpicks, and so far haven't noticed any fires in my oven. Soaking is more crucial if you plan to cook the devils on the grill over an open fire.
- Preheat the oven. Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper for easy cleanup. For more even cooking, set a rack inside your pan. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
- Pit the dates. If you can't find pitted dates, you can easily do it yourself with a small knife. Simply slice a long cut in each date and pull it out. I like to pry the dates open a little bit afterward to make inserting the cheese easier.
- Cut the bacon. Cut your strips of bacon in half and make sure you have one for every date.
- Stuff the dates with cheese. Cut or squeeze small pieces of cheese off the wedge and press as much as you can fit inside the date. Be careful not to overstuff them. You should be able to squeeze the dates closed without the cheese bulging out too much.
- Wrap the dates. Wrap the bacon strips around the stuffed dates, and secure the end with a toothpick.
- Roast for 20 to 30 minutes. Roast the little devils until the bacon is moderately crispy and deeply colored, between 20 and 30 minutes. The longer you roast the crispier the bacon gets.
- Use raw bacon, not pre-cooked. One popular recipe site recommends making devils on horseback with pre-cooked bacon. But I highly recommend using raw bacon as all the juices and flavors will seep into the dates and cheese during roasting. Pre-cooked bacon can't bring all that bacon mojo, since the fat will have been rendered (cooked) out already.
- Experiment with different ingredients. Prunes instead of dates. Prosciutto instead of bacon. Whatever cheese you enjoy or happen to have on hand. The only ones I'd stay away from are shredded or packaged cheese that contains added ingredients.
- Add nuts for texture. Along with stuffing and wrapping prunes in place of dates, the British often stuff the prunes with almonds. Pecans, walnuts, and even Brazil nuts are others to try.
- Cook them well. While devils are tiny little things, the bacon does need plenty of time in the oven to get golden, brown, and delicious (technical cooking term). So budget at least 20 minutes of roasting time. More if you didn't cut the bacon strips in half.
- Soak the fruit in brandy. For a special holiday appetizer, soak the dates or prunes in slightly warm brandy, cognac, or even Bourbon. Just be sure to make a non-alcoholic batch for any kids in attendance!
Since this particular appetizer is rather indulgent, we reserve it for the holidays. It makes for a fun Halloween snack as the kids get dressed up for trick-or-treating. Or as a Thanksgiving or Christmas hors d'oeuvre to serve with cocktails. And since sticky little fingers are the first to snag more than their fair share, I tend to employ them in the process.
- 12 dates, pitted
- 6 strips of bacon, cut in half (so you end up with 12)
- 6 ounces of blue cheese such as Roquefort, Gorgonzola, or Stilton
- Cayenne pepper, optional
- Preheat the oven to 425° F or your grill over high heat. Line a baking pan with foil or parchment paper for easy cleanup.
- To remove the pits from dates, slice each open lengthwise and slide out the pit.
- Mold small portions of the blue cheese and stuff them inside the cavity of the dates. Squeeze the dates closed to keep the cheese tucked inside.
- Wrap dates in the cut strips of bacon by placing the date on one end of the bacon strip, and rolling it. For a spicier appetizer, sprinkle a little ground cayenne pepper on each one.
- Secure the devils closed with a toothpick, and line them up on a sheet pan, with the open end of the bacon strip down. Placing a rack inside the pan will help the hot air circulate around the devils and they will cook faster and more evenly.
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the bacon is fully-cooked, deeply colored, and crisp all around.
- Serve devils on horseback hot, and chill leftovers for up to a week. Reheat them in a 350° F oven until warm.
Bringing home the bacon. I highly recommend using raw bacon as all the juices and flavors will seep into the dates and cheese during roasting. Pre-cooked bacon can't bring all that bacon mojo, since the fat will have been rendered (cooked) out already. Also, I buy bacon or pork loin only on occasion and look for brands raising pastured or heritage pork. Easier to find and usually a little less expensive is certified-organic pork, which is raised with higher standards than conventional (the pigs eat better and live better).
Experiment with different ingredients. Prunes instead of dates. Prosciutto instead of bacon. Whatever cheese you enjoy or happen to have on hand. All will be delicious.
Add nuts for texture. Along with stuffing and wrapping prunes in place of dates, the British often stuff the prunes with almonds. Pecans, walnuts, and even Brazil nuts are others to try.
On the Nutrition Information
The amounts below are based on the recipe as written, with about half of an ounce of blue cheese in each one. The totals will vary depending on how generously you stuff your dates with cheese, and how much bacon you wrap around each one.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Category: Appetizer
- Method: Roasting
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Gluten Free
- Serving Size: 1 Devil on Horseback
- Calories: 175
- Sugar: 16.2 g
- Sodium: 255.7 mg
- Fat: 9.7 g
- Carbohydrates: 18.5 g
- Protein: 5.2 g
- Cholesterol: 19.9 mg
Keywords: devils on horseback, bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed dates
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