All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So if I were to just drone on about bean-based cooking, I people would rapidly start to switch off, and we can’t have that now, can we? So today I’ve made something that you can pretend is healthy, but in reality, probably isn’t – it’s chocolate bark.
Yes, I’ve seen this pitched – in all seriousness – as some sort of healthy snack. OK, it does have nuts and dried fruit on it, but all that healthy stuff is partly enrobed in chocolate, and usually a pretty thick slab of the stuff. So by all means, do pretend it’s a health food, but I prefer the honest approach – use good nuts, posh dried fruit, lovely chocolate and see it as the luxurious treat that it really is. Then again, I suppose that it is better for you than that deep-fried butter I read they were serving up at the Iowa State Fair last year. It’s all relative.
What I like about making this is that there really is not that much skill needed to make it look presentable. You just melt the chocolate, and then sprinkle over the “other stuff”. If you would like to show off a spark of genius and produce something to delight the senses, you can of course do that by selecting some amazing fruit and nut combinations for the topping. Here I have gone for a vaguely seasonal selection – I’ve used toasted almonds (mainly because I love toasted almonds) and some bright green pistachios. I’ve also added a handful of pumpkin seeds which, if you’re not familiar with them, are awesome. I add them to salads, soups, stir-frys and will happily much on them in place of peanuts with a drink. On the sweeter side, I added very thinly sliced Italian candied orange peel, dried cranberries and chopped glacé cherries (the natural dark red ones, not the neon ones). So all in all, it’s a little bit festive, but does not scream “Christmas” too loudly.
This is also a great idea if you need to use up an otherwise rather random selection of items from the store cupboard. The topping can be pretty much anything you can imagine – for some crunch, you could use pistachios, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts. Add some flavour with aromatic spices such as nigella seeds, caraway, fennel, cardamom (you might like to crush spices slightly, and use judiciously). And on the fruity side, you could use dried apricots, prunes, figs, apples, pineapple, citrus peel…if it’s preserved and not too dry, you can use it! So while this is easy, it’s not quite true to say there is not art or skill in making this bark – how you combine the topping will result in very different types of “bar”.
In fact, if the mood takes you, you could get very creative any try using different types of chocolate (milk, dark, white) and rather than mix them together, spread one type of chocolate into the tray as the “base” and then drizzle the other on top. Then take a stick and make fantastic swirls and feather patterns. Channel your inner Jackson Pollock or Max Ernst and go crazy.
As a final twist, you can also make this a more adult treat by adding an extra something – a pinch of very finely ground fleur de sel in the melted chocolate sprinkle a few flakes on top. On a purely childish level, this looks like snow! On a more sophisticated food snob level, this tingle of saltiness on the tongue will enhance the flavour of the chocolate. Oh, and it looked like snow!!!!!!
To make chocolate bark:
Step 1: prepare the “stuff”
• 100g nuts, roughly chopped and toasted
• 100g dried fruit, chopped
• pinch of fleur de sel
Prepare the nuts and fruit, cutting into smaller pieces if necessary. We’re not looking for perfection – in fact, rough and different sizes is good.
Step 2: melt the chocolate and make the bark
• 150g dark chocolate
• 150g milk chocolate
If you’re a busy person: put all the chocolate into a bowl above a pan of barely simmering water. Leave to melt, then mix well.
If you are tempering the chocolate: put two-thirds of the chocolate into a bowl above a pan of barley simmering water. Allow the chocolate to melt, then remove from the heat. Add around a third of the reserved chocolate, and stir constantly until it has melted (note: takes a long time!). Add another third of the chocolate, and stir until melted. Add the rest of the chocolate, and stir until melted. By this stage, the chocolate should be only just warm – put a little on your tongue and it should not be too hot – just warm. If too warm, keep stirring until the temperature is right.
Pour the chocolate into the lined tray. Scatter over the mixed fruit, nuts and salt (if using) and shake the tray lightly – the “bits” should sink into the chocolate slightly, which means they won’t fall off later.
Leave to cool for several hours or overnight, then break into chunks.
Worth making? Chocolate bark is really easy and can be made with whatever you happen to have in the house – and it’s perfect for times when you have some left-over melted chocolate and need a fun and easy way to use it up.