Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: Chocolate bark is the easiest (and prettiest) gift you can make, and there are no rules -- and no recipe required. Ben Mims shows us how.
When it comes to candy making, there’s nothing simpler or more satisfying than chocolate bark. There’s no fiddling with wayward candy thermometers, stirring until your arm cramps, or boiling sugar napalm to steer clear of for fear of burning your flesh; just melted chocolate and whatever crunchy goodies you fancy. It looks beautiful in a scattered, organic Pollack kinda way, which explains why it’s synonymous with gift giving during the holidays.
The most popular during Christmastime is crushed peppermint candies over white chocolate, sporting the vivid red and white we expect, and producing that velvety after-dinner mint texture and taste we need after large festive meals. Dark chocolate with dried fruits or nuts is a classic as well, but why stop there? Virtually any ready-made snack product can work in a bark: roasted pumpkin seeds, dried coconut flakes, chile-lime Corn Nuts, coffee beans, dried mango, wasabi peas, BBQ potato chips; if you can think of a flavor, odds are, it’ll taste great in chocolate. And even the simplest touches -- a pinch of smoked sea salt, a dusting of crushed cardamom seeds -- can be just as dramatic.
Traditional chocolate candy making requires knowledge of tempering to make sure the finished chocolate product sets well and looks shiny and beautiful. Basically, it involves heating and cooling melted chocolate to certain stages, thus aligning the fats in a way where they coalesce into a uniform final product; it’s a laborious process and can dissuade many from the candy making process altogether.
My method -- melting most of the chocolate and then cooling it down with some chopped chocolate -- is easy and increases your odds of getting a flawless final product, but there’s a chance it could still bloom, the term for when the fats don’t align and produce white streaks or dots on the surface of the chocolate. If you were making chocolate-dipped cherries or truffles, where the chocolate is all that will be seen, then this would be a problem. But with bark, it’s hardly noticeable with all those toppings. And if you’re still nervous about its appearance, just add more toppings until the chocolate is barely visible ... or use white chocolate, since the bloom can’t be seen against its pale surface.
How to Make Chocolate Bark Without a Recipe
1. Now, to the fun part: Chop one pound of white, milk, or dark chocolate into fairly fine pieces and transfer three-quarters to a microwave-safe glass bowl. Heat at 50% power for 30 seconds, and then stir with a rubber spatula; repeat heating and stirring in 30-second intervals until chocolate is melted and smooth. Add remaining chocolate, and stir with a rubber spatula until just melted.
2. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper, and pour the chocolate on top.
3. Using the rubber spatula, or better yet an offset spatula, spread the chocolate until about 1/4-inch thick, letting it form whatever shape it takes naturally.
4. Then, start sprinkling: salted peanuts and cashews with dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots is classic, but you can go crazy with whatever you like -- chopped peanut butter cups, toasted pine nuts, candied lavender, or cheddar popcorn. For one pound of chocolate, you’ll need approximately 2 cups total of whatever topping you choose, but if you want more or less, adjust as you wish. The beauty of chocolate bark is in its limitless versatility.
5. Let the chocolate cool until set, at least 4 hours in a cool part of your kitchen, or 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Break up into bite-size shards and load up into clear plastic bags or pretty jars for storage or to give as gifts. Make sure to write what’s in the chocolate bark on gift tags so the recipient knows what kooky creation they’ll be enjoying during the holidays.
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Photos by James Ransom