A Sweet Valentines Day Gift

I don't know about you, but by the time February rolls around, I'm itching for spring. This year, at 38 weeks, I'm also itching to have this baby. It occurs to me that this is a very "spring-like" itch, isn't it? Considering a bunny's favorite spring-time activity, and all that jazz.


Anyway, I stopped holding sessions at the end of last week, deciding that I better give my clients an official "end date" as opposed to going into labor mid-session. I envisioned myself in my chair, my water breaking, and momentarily wondering: "am I going to say something?" I'm sure something like this would be a nice comedic moment in retrospect, but in counseling, it's best to be able to give someone advanced notice so they can prepare. I‘m also looking forward to this next week or two of tying up creative projects that I didn't finish last year.


Anyway, I'm wondering if this talk of water breaking will turn you off to the festive treat I'm going to dive into here. But I'm hoping that you're enough of a chocolate fanatic that my words haven't turned you away!

I originally made chocolate bark this past December, and since that time Marcio and I have effectively devoured an epic portion of the leftovers. We've stored a lot in the freezer, which means I've learned that these recipes fare well when frozen. I hope you enjoy this project and know that you (or whoever you share it with) will be able to enjoy your bark for a number of months!

My whole making process started back in early December when I was trying to decide what kind of holiday craft to make. Between stumbling on Bon Appetit‘s gorgeous Christmas cookie montage, fumbling around Pinterest, and generally brainstorming what might feel inspiring to create, I continued to feel drawn back to chocolate bark. I felt caught up in imagining the unique bark shapes that take form after you give your chocolate a good whack, as well as the variety of colors and array of textures that I could create - all on a delicious chocolate canvas.


The natural next question became: what toppings?


There are overwhelming options, of course. I didn't want to top it with store-bought candy. I envisioned something that had unique flavor but that was also familiar. Something bright and fresh but not overly "fruit-nut" as that can feel a little "healthy-boring" to me (you know, like when you're a kid on Halloween and a house treats you with pretzels or mini bags of baby carrots).


The toppings were decided in mid-December when we took a day trip to Boston and decided to forgo our usual brunch spot (which I absolutely recommend if you're ever in the area) to try something new. We found an Israeli/French bakery called Tatte, where we drank comforting coffee, ate delicious pastries, and tried a Jerusalem bagel with feta spread (an amazing breakfast that changed the way Marcio feels about bagels - can’t wait to go back for round 2!). I found Tatte’s ingredients inspiring; candied orange upside down cake, pistachio croissants, cardamom-scented pastries, and rose-petal everything. Right away, I knew that I would integrate these ingredients into my chocolate bark plans. Apart from our trip, two other recipes also inspired my topping choices: a Christmasy dark chocolate bark that leaves out cranberries (not so wild about craisins over here), and a stunning morrocan-inspired recipe from Honestly yum.


If you're down to get expressive with confections, let‘s get down to the project itself!


INSPIRED CHOCOLATE BARK


We'll start with ingredients.


First: you by no means need all of the ingredients I have listed below. In fact, I do not recommend going out and purchasing all of these speciality toppings. Most are items that I already had in my pantry, as I'm a little nuts in the kitchen and like to play with alternative ingredients when I feel like it. Take stock of what you already have in your pantry, and feel free to brainstorm your own favorite combinations!


If buying, consider what you think you might use another time. Ask yourself, what do I think would look beautiful? What sounds delicious? In fact, if you give this the entire recipe a good read over before you get started, you'll see that I created much more than needs to be made all at once. There are instructions all along the way for making a smaller more reasonable portion.


INGREDIENTS


Chocolate

Dark chocolate bars and chips (I used 60% Lindt bars, and used 60% Ghirridheli bars/chips once I was out of bars - both brands are equally wonderful) - I recommend: 2 bars for 1-2 barks, 4 bars if you'd like to make 2-3 sizable barks. If you're like me, go wild and get way more than you need lest you decide to make bark all-day-long.


White chocolate bars or chips (I used white chocolate Ghirridheli bars) - I recommend: 2 bars for 1-2 barks, 4 bars if you'd like to make 2-3 sizable barks.


My Toppings

Maldon sea salt

Sugar in the raw

Freeze dried raspberries

Homemade candied orange peel (buy or make: lots of recipes out there, I like this one)

Candied ginger

Bee pollen

Goji berries

Rose petals

Lemon zest

Lavender

Jahmu (or another golden milk powder)

Matcha

Homemade: dolce de leche (all you need is a closed can of condensed milk and water - see here)

Roasted pistachios

Roasted Pecans

Roasted Cashews

Roasted pinenuts


Toppings I left out, but that I think would be fun to play with are...


Other inspiring ingredients:


Chili powder (to flavor or top dark chocolate, for a Mexican chocolate vibe)

Edible gold leaf (yup! Mostly for visual effect)

Rice crispies (for a crunch)

Crushed candy cane

Your favorite granola

Nuts: candied nuts, crushed hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc.

Dried/Freeze dried Fruits: blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, apples, figs, etc.

Crumbled cookies: chocolate wafer cookies, gingerbread cookies, graham crackers, etc.

Toffee

Rose water (to flavor white chocolate)

Orange blossom water (also to flavor white chocolate)

Superfood powders that might look really beautiful over white chocolate are:

Goji berry (red/orange & sweet/savory)

Acai berry (deep purple & earthy)

Orange peel (bright orange & sour/butter)

Golden berry (sweet/tart & light orange)

Mulberry (deep purple & sweet/tart)

Certain essential oils (to flavor the chocolate, white or dark): mint, bergamot, clove, etc.


Okay, I'll stop here. I don't want to overwhelm you. The point is that there is just so much you can play with!


Special Equipment


Double Boiler (if you have one). No need to purchase one (though I have a not-so-secret obsession with mine). Make your own by throwing a glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. Like so.


Parchment or wax paper

MAKE YOUR BARK!


1. Create your decorating space: Set your decorating ingredients out on your work surface counter. Rip a couple large sheets of parchment (or wax) paper and lay them on your work surface next to your ingredients.


2. Melt your chocolate: bring a couple inches of water to a simmer in the base of your double-boiler. Add your chocolate to the top of your double boiler (or bowl if you've made your own), and stir occasionally until melted.


3. Pour your chocolate onto the piece(s) of parchment/wax paper that you’ve laid on your kitchen counter. You can pour one large or several smaller ovals of chocolate.


4. Decorate! A tip - if your parchment/wax paper is resting on a cool surface (like a marble counter top), your chocolate will harden faster. If your paper is resting on a warmer surface (like wood) you have a bit more time.


Depending on your personality, you might decide to carefully craft your design. OR - you can Jackson-Pollack yourself into a decorating frenzy. I happily fall into the latter category and recommend giving it a go! Just wait and see. Confidently crush and toss that freeze-dried fruit, toss those nuts and whip that chocolate. See what happens if you tell yourself to work from your shoulder. It’s the same as working a painting from a birds-eye view, and if you've never done that before, it's a lot of fun. Unleash your artistic confidence, don't be too careful, and your ingredients will fall beautifully.


5. briefly stick your bark in the freezer to harden before breaking into pieces.


Store in the fridge in an airtight container or freeze. Your bark will stay fresh for at least 3 months.

Specific Recipes


Sure, I get to the point where I'm simply tossing "this" with "that," but it's also fun to think up specific combinations and go for a particular look or flavor profile. If you're trying to limit your ingredients or want suggestions, my favorite recipes turned out to be:


"Superfood Bark" Dark chocolate base, with:

crushed freeze dried raspberries, candied orange peel, dried Goji berries, crushed pistachios, bee pollen, and Maldon sea salt.

(optional: add streaks of white chocolate on top - dip a spoon in your melted chocolate and whip it around above your bark)


"Tatte-inspired bark"

Cardemom-flavored* white chocolate base, with:

rose petals, crumbled freeze-dried raspberries, crumbled pistachios and Maldon sea salt.

*when you melt your white chocolate, you're going to add 2 TSBP of ground cardamom to your chocolate.

(optional: add streaks of dark chocolate on top)


"Salted Dulce-de-leche Bark"

Dark chocolate base, with:

homemade dulce de leche, roasted pine nuts, and Maldon sea salt.


"Bright & Floral Bark"

White chocolate base, with:

candied ginger, fresh lemon zest, crushed lavender, and Maldon sea salt.

(option: add streaks of dark chocolate on top)


"Superfood powder bark"

Dark Chocolate base, with:

Unsweetened shredded coconut, Jahmu powder, Matcha powder, & Sugar in the Raw. (This would also be beautiful with white chocolate and other superfood powders, as they have a beautiful, saturated pigment!)


Even as I write these out, I feel this passionate urge to list so many more recipes. Part of me is all: "I want another go at it! There are so many other combinations!" I'll revisit this another time. Marcio and I watched Claire Saffitz make gourmet ice cream on Bon Appetit last week, and I'd dare to say the excited vibe among the Bon Appetit-ers as they developed new ice-cream flavors and combinations was much the same as the vibe I felt in my kitchen back in December. Anyone else out there fantasize about cooking with the Bon Appetit crowd?


Getting back to it: these barks, broken up, mixed together, and separated into decorated boxes make wonderful gifts for all sorts of occasions. Think: party favors, shower gifts, gifts for colleagues, holiday gifts. And since it's February? Valentines day <3


Post-script: "Waste not"


You're likely to have a little left over chocolate in your double boiler. Toss some dried fruit and/or a few nuts in there, mix to cover them in chocolate, and pour onto parchment/wax paper to cool. Store in an airtight container for a simple chocolate covered snack.

You're all done!


I hope you have a wonderful time with this craft. I imagine this to be such a fun thing to do with other people, and the outcome is absolutely worth the effort. While you really only need a number of bars of chocolate, I always recommend buying more, as once you get your set-up going, it's easy to make more.


Have Fun!

























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