We're into presents that involve snacking, so we paired up with Justin's to share recipes that you can gift for the holidays.
During the holidays, it’s customary for my parents to heap bag upon bag of local caramel corn and boxes of candy onto whomever might be near them at any given time: me, our family, party hosts, guests, neighbors. When I was younger, there was always a combination, or at least star appearances, of my favorite sweets in these packages: chocolate bark, caramel turtles, and peanut butter chocolates. (Hey, you two: I haven’t gotten any in a few years. What gives?)
My parents' local candy shop in Vincennes, Indiana has been around since the 1950s, and while the corn is championed by many, I’ve always coveted the chocolate bark. There's just something about snapping your teeth into a chunk of chocolate that's been twirled with some concoction, willing you to second guess why you haven't tried to replicate it at home. I've been having reminiscent pangs for it lately, so I decided to try my hand at my own version to share over the holidays.
I wanted to develop a simple recipe, one that I could easily make in my small New York City kitchen without too much fuss. There are many ways to melt chocolate, but for some reason I favor the "metal bowl over boiling water" approach—it's repetitive and meditative, and I never seem to burn the chocolate that way. I chose a bittersweet chocolate for the base, because something with a little bite is a good foil for sweeter additions. While dreaming up toppings, I settled on something between a peanut butter and a caramel, a combination I always dreamed of finding in a bonbon but never did. The only other equipment you need is a whisk, a sauté pan, a rimmed baking sheet, and some parchment paper.
There are a few tricks to making this bark the best it can be (and don't you want it to be proud of itself?). First, you can melt the chocolate before you make the caramel to cut down on kitchen clutter. Once it's been transformed into a silky pool, spread it out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, about a 1/4 inch thick. Then, you can make the nut butter caramel all at once, with rapt attention, as you'll need to add it to the chocolate immediately after it's come off the stove or it will loose its viscousness. Drizzle the caramel on and leave it as a pretty top coat, à la Jackson Pollock, or swirl it in with a toothpick or a chopstick.
Drizzling nut butter caramel over melted chocolate is always the answer.Photo by Kyle Orosz
Stick the whole shebang in the fridge (or freezer) and let it set until hard. Keep it all for yourself (and your ice cream, and your pies) or share a few shards with friends. As for me, old habits die hard: I'll be making up batch after batch of this and gifting it left and right to my favorite people, just like my parents. And offering a hat-tip to my childhood candy shop for the inspiration.