Who doesn't love bread and chocolate? And why not add good olive oil and sea salt? The method may seem a little quirky, but the results are addictive: Fine shreds of French bread are barely toasted and combined with crunchy slivered almonds, and then tossed with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Finally the whole business it coated with just enough melted dark chocolate to hold it together. You can make individual clusters or a giant, lacy, break-apart bark—or even a wreath or a single large heap or a loaf shape. The oil makes it a perfect Hanukkah treat, but there no reason not to work this recipe through the entire holiday season and beyond.
Note: This recipe is a great excuse to acquire a bottle of olio nuovo—the unfiltered extra virgin oil from the new harvest. You'll have plenty left over to lavish on everything in sight.
To temper or not to temper: Even though there are workarounds that enable you to make chocolate barks and confections without tempering chocolate, tempering is often the best way to go. But, in this case, not tempering works so well that I’m actually recommending it! There are two reasons. Assuming that you simple melt and cool chocolate down to 90-95°F as instructed, before mixing it with the bread, the subsequent tossing and folding required to coat the bread with chocolate tends to temper the chocolate, more or less inadvertently. Meanwhile, the small percentage of the olive oil clinging to the toast that inevitably gets blended into the chocolate magically helps prevent the chocolate from blooming (discoloring). I still use the fridge to set the chocolate quickly, but after that, the bark seems to keep well, and look good, even for long periods outside the fridge! So go for it—skip tempering—without guilt. —Alice Medrich
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut crusts from the bread and reserve them for another use. Slice the bread as thinly as you can (it’s fine if slices fall apart—the lacier the slices the better). Use your fingers to tear slices into fine shreds, as though shredding chicken for a salad. Distribute bread pieces over a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes, until the shreds are mostly crunchy and maybe a few are starting to turn golden. (Its fine if all of the pieces are crunchy, but it's nice if there is a mixture of soft and crunchy. Let the bread cool.
Temper the chocolate if you want to. Otherwise, simply melt it and let it cool to 90-95 degrees before using it. Line a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper and set aside.
As soon as the chocolate is ready, combine the bread and toasted almonds in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with the oil and toss with a spatula to distribute it. Sprinkle in half of the salt and toss again. Scrape the chocolate over the bread mixture, and then toss and fold with the spatula until all of the bread is coated with chocolate. (At first it may seem like there is not enough chocolate—just keep on folding and scraping the bottom of the bowl.)
For individual clusters, spoon small heaps of the mixture onto the lined pan and sprinkle each with a few grains of the remaining salt. For a break apart bark, spread the mixture into a thin lacy layer and sprinkle with pinches of the remaining salt. If the chocolate was tempered, set the pan in a cool place to set the chocolate then cover and store at room temperature. If the chocolate was simply melted and cooled (not tempered), set the pan in the fridge until the chocolate is set, then cover it to store in the fridge—but remove it a few minutes before serving so it will not be cold. Serve the lacy bark whole and invite guest to break it, or break it into pieces yourself and pile onto a platter.
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 Craftsy.com, 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!).