A Temper-free Chocolate Bark that (Happily) Accepts Everything from Cookies to Croutons

October 24, 2016

Making chocolate bark is an invitation to play and create with chocolate in the simplest possible way— no recipe required, even! You can invent your own candy bar, improve an existing one, put tried and true flavors together, or experiment with crazy new ones. I adore the freedom of it— and marvel more people don’t try it.

I’m guessing tempering chocolate might be the bugaboo that keeps people from DIY chocolate bark. It is true purchased chocolate bark is made with tempered chocolate—that’s why the surface looks shiny, the bark keeps well at room temperature, and it snaps nicely when you bite or break it. And I know tempering is a skill many home cooks don’t have or don’t have patience to learn.

See this? It's not hard! Photo by James Ransom

I totally get all of that. So, now, I’m asking if you are willing to cheat?

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Chocolatiers (and even some of my pastry chef colleagues) will wince when I say it: You can avoid chocolate tempering by using the refrigerator. All you have to do is melt the chocolate, add the inclusions, spread the mixture on a parchment-lined tray and refrigerate it immediately. Just one more tiny thing: The bark must be stored in the fridge to prevent it from graying. You can work with this, though! If you give it as gift, be sure to put instructions on the gift bag label and alert the hostess as you hand it to her. In such situations I’m likely to barge into the kitchen and find the fridge myself, knowing my host or hostess will get distracted greeting other—non-chocolate bearing—guests.

What you need to know about making chocolate bar sans tempering.

Bark can be mostly chocolate with a few inclusions in or on it, or loaded with goodies and just enough chocolate to hold them together. You get to choose the chocolate (white, dark, super dark, or milk) and the inclusions or mix of inclusions and the ratio! You can cover all of the inclusions in chocolate or sprinkle all or some on top. For inspiration, search your own pantry or browse the bulk food, cereals and snack aisles of the supermarket. Think about flavors and textures that will be exciting together. Compose and nibble little handfuls of ingredients with bites of chocolate to hone your concept.

Obvious (and not so obvious) inclusions and seasonings:

  • Dried and candied fruits and peels
  • Nuts: raw or toasted and plain, or seasoned with sweet or savory spices or herbs
  • Trail mixes or other salty snack mixes
  • Cookies or pretzels that you can chop or crumble
  • Toasted seeds or grains
  • Coconut flakes
  • Coffee beans, whole or crushed
  • Soy or corn nuts
  • Crispy and crunchy puffed or flaky cereals
  • Granola
  • Marshmallows and candy
  • Pomegranate arils
  • Bread or toast pieces drizzled with melted butter or extra virgin olive oil and salt
  • Seasonings such as flaky salt or flavored salt, spices, or spice blends
See, dry inclusions! Photo by James Ransom

A couple rules for bark:

  • Be sure the surface of all inclusions are perfectly dry—moisture such as water or juice that will cause the chocolate to thicken and seize. (Traces of fat such as butter or evoo on the surface of croutons or cookies are fine.)

  • Any white, milk, or dark chocolate is fine, but no chocolate chips (they do not melt well.)

  • Cooling the chocolate to 90° F degrees is not essential, but I’ve found it makes better looking bark.

And, finally, here’s how to make it.

1) Line a sheet pan with parchment or wax paper.

2) Have your inclusions ready and at room temperature (nuts and seeds should not be warm from toasting): 1 to 1 ½ cups of inclusions (not seasonings) for 8 to 10 ounces of chocolate will give you an inclusion-rich mixture—plan even more generously if you also want sprinkle them on top. You can judge how much of it to use as you go. It’s better to have too much on hand than you little. Use salt and spices sparingly and by eye. They can be stirred into the chocolate and/or sprinkled on the surface of the bark before it sets.

3) Chop chocolate into piece about the size of almonds, or use chocolate that comes in wafers or pistoles so you don’t have to chop it. Do not use chocolate chips—like I said, they do not melt well.

Photo by James Ransom

4) Place the chocolate in a dry, stainless steel bowl large enough to fold in the inclusions later. Set the bowl over a much wider skillet of almost simmering water. Stir from time to time until most of the chocolate is melted. Remove the bowl from the water and wipe the underside dry (to prevent dripping later). Stir the chocolate until it is entirely melted and smooth. If necessary, let the chocolate cool to 90° F degrees, stirring well. Fold inclusions into the chocolate. A folding rather than a stirring stroke is best used to avoid crushing delicate cereals, bruising pomegranate arils and releasing their juices, or allowing streaks of oil or butter from croutons or cookies to mingle into and mare the beauty of the chocolate. To this end, I try to avoid direct contact between the spatula and inclusions by sweeping the edges of the spatula down the side of the bowl, across the bottom, under the chocolate and inclusions, up the opposite side of the bowl, and lifting the chocolate up and over the inclusions. If your inclusions are sturdy and impervious—like nuts—you don’t have to be so finicky about the way you fold or mix! Repeat just until all of the pieces are coated. Continue to add inclusions until the balance looks right to you.

Easy as pie—or, chocolate bark. Photo by James Ransom

5) Immediately scrape the mixture onto the parchment over a wide area rather than one big heap—don’t worry about uneven distribution or bare spots for now. If you have delicate inclusions (like pomegranate arils) use the tip of the spatula to gently push and distribute them to cover the bare spots on the parchment, otherwise just spread the mixture to the desired thinness. Sprinkle with extra inclusions or seasonings as you like.

6) Put the baking sheet immediately into the fridge to set and harden the chocolate. (If you let is sit out for a while first, it is likely to gray and streak later.) Once the chocolate is hardened, break it into shards with your fingers or the point of a pairing knife. Transfer to an airtight container and return to the fridge. Unless it is made with fresh fruit (like pomegranate arils) bark will keep for at least a week, often longer. Serve it cold or remove it 15-30 minutes ahead. It will ultimately turn a bit dull and or bloom if it’s kept out of the refrigerator for several hours, but usually not before the party is long over!

Alice Medrich is a Berkeley, California-based pastry chef, chocolatier, and cookbook author. You can read more about what she's up to here.

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My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).