Need a gift in a hurry? Why not make bark? Chocolate bark is a wonder of a confection -- it's quick to make, it looks cool and is adaptable to every taste -- at least of course for those who's tastes include chocolate. The candy can be made in about 30 minutes flat and the elegantly shattered tree-bark like pieces require no special equipment or even skill.
To make bark, you spread melted chocolate into a thin layer on a foil, waxed-paper or parchment-lined pan, sprinkle it with a topping, and freeze. Once firm, you break it into randomly sized shards. Toppings can include toasted or candied nuts, dried fruit or candy. The flavor combos can go from high to low. Get sophisticated with toasted walnuts, a sprinkle of anise seeds and thin slivers of dried fig on a base of extra bittersweet chocolate. Got a friend that loves peppermint? Sprinkle on some crushed Starlight mints. Butterfingers? Ditto. Gummi Bears? You got it.
Bark can be made with dark, milk or white chocolate. You can even get a little fancy by layering various chocolates. One favorite has a thin layer of milk chocolate mixed with 2 teaspoons of finely ground coffee sandwiched between almond sprinkled dark chocolate. Because this is a gift in a hurry, we won't slow to temper the chocolate.
Tempering chocolate is an elaborate process of heating and cooling chocolate to specific temperatures in order to evenly distribute the cocoa butter crystals -- it's what gives chocolate that glossy sheen and snap. Just keep the bark in the refrigerator or freezer and it won't develop that funny white "bloom" of cocoa butter on the surface.
With chocolate bark you can make a sweet to please anyone and anyone can make it -- in no time flat.
Dark Chocolate Fruit-Nut Bark with Sea-Salt
Note: This is a lovely bark with jewel-like toppings. The Maldon sea salt punctuates the rich chocolate and sweet fruit, but it's optional. I use purchased candied nuts.
Makes: about 1 pound
12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup candied nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews
¼ cup shelled toasted pistachios
¼ cup (scant) dried apricots, chopped
¼ cup (scant) dried sour cherries
2 tablespoons thinly sliced crystallized ginger
Sea Salt, such as Maldon, optional
1. Line a small baking sheet or tray with foil, parchment or waxed paper. Melt chocolate in a heavy, medium saucepan stirring constantly over very low heat until smooth.
2. Pour chocolate onto prepared baking sheet and spread to about 3/16- to ¼-inch thick layer, about an 11x7-inch rectangle. Scatter the candied nuts, pistachios, apricots, cherries and ginger evenly over the surface of the chocolate and sprinkle with salt if using.
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3. Freeze until the chocolate is firm. Break the bark into pieces. Store in airtight bags or jars in the freezer or refrigerator for up to one week.
Jeanne Kelley is a Los Angeles cook and cookbook author, who also writes at Jeanne Kelley Kitchen. Or follow her on her Tumblr.