In the week plus since the election, almost everyone I know is in a funk.
I can’t profess to understand what happened, nor can I see many bright sides up ahead.
I hear about hate crimes on the rise, and even at our sweet little school someone’s been tagging the building with racial slurs.
Et tu, Portland?
I don’t have it in me to fight right yet, but I do know that there is one thing that always helps me when I’m feeling powerless or depressed.
I look for someone who’s having a harder time than me (and there are so so many) and I surprise them with small kindnesses. By focusing elsewhere, I’m able to get outside the downer drumbeat in my head and in helping someone else, I find I help myself even more.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are people with pain and problems almost everywhere you look.
Like my friend who shattered her knee yet needs to euthanize her dog in the next couple days. She could use some TLC.
So too could the two women I know whose husbands are battling cancer.
And even the teachers at our school that are shocked and horrified that racial graffiti has shown up at our school.
They all could use a little extra care.
And what better way to show you care than a big batch of Bittersweet Chocolate Bark.
Regular readers with long memories will remember that I make a big batch at least a couple times a year.
This is what it looked like last year when I was in full holiday gift-giving mode.
Chocolate Bark is a dream to whip up, is infinitely alterable according to whim or preference, and keeps in the fridge for weeks and in the freezer if need be for months.
It’s also the kind of thing that is incredibly expensive in the limited places that sell it retail, so a big jar of this feels particularly luxe.
I love having a bag tucked away for those times that I just want one or two bites of something dark, crunchy and delicious; more often than not that’s all I want or need to sate a sweet tooth.
And nine times out of ten, when something sweet is what I crave, only caramel or dark chocolate will do.
So here are my 5 EASY TIPS FOR PERFECT BARK EVERY TIME.
1. Start with really good chocolate. I know that sounds obvious but I had one friend tell me that her bark didn’t turn out that well and we went through the steps together and it all sounded good until she told me that she’d used a Hershey Bar.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of these before (usually with S’mores) but this is not the kind of thing you want to use here. Nor should you feel compelled, however, to spend a gazillion dollars on the very fanciest, either. I like to use the One Pound Plus bars from Trader Joe’s; they’re from Belgium and I think they’re wonderful. And at five dollars a pound, a terrific value.
2. Whatever chocolate you use be sure it’s cut small enough that it will melt alone from the heat of the nuts and the warm baking sheet.
If you’re using good quality chocolate chips this shouldn’t be an issue, but if you’re using a big bar, use a long, sharp knife and go for small-ish shards.
3. Go for a really interesting mix of add-ins.
I always start with whatever nuts I feel like using (walnuts are the only ones I never use) and this time I thought it might be interesting to add pepitas and sunflower seeds in addition to the cashews, almonds and Freddy’s hazelnuts (I buy them at the farmer’s market and they are the best ones I’ve ever had).
And here’s another piece of advice– if you think there’s an ingredient that not everyone on your list loves, add it atop afterwards while the chocolate is still warm.
That way, a person can decide or not if they’d like a piece of shaved coconut, tart cherries or dried satsuma (my kids would consider it a treasonous act of subterfuge if they came across unexpectedly a piece of coconut).
4. Add butter liberally to nuts for flavor and use a nonstick mat.
This is important– use a Silpat silicone sheet. Nothing sticks to it and it will make your later job so much easier.
Okay, now toast those buttered nuts (just drop little pats atop) in a preheated oven for just fifteen minutes or so, tossing them mid-bake so they cook evenly and butter coats them all.
Act quickly when the nuts are done– you’re going to need all that residual heat to melt the chocolate.
Immediately add the chocolate onto the warm pan, and toss with the nuts. Every 30 seconds or so, keep using a spatula to move the mass around so it all melts evenly.
Keep tossing it — the last of the chocolate should melt, but if they’re some pesky pieces that don’t, put your spatula in boiling water for just a few seconds, dry it off, and then resume spreading the chocolate nut mixture around.
5. As soon as you’re done tossing them around, add your best salt atop.
I’m not talking about a lot but just a flake or two every couple inches, the theory being that you want anyone who has a piece will get a tiny saline hit.
Okay, and then like that, you’re done.
In a few hours, it will have firmed up and if you took my earlier advice on using a Silpat, extricating it from your sheet pan is a breeze.
Just use a butter knife to slip under the mat and then pull the whole thing off. You have now one giant piece of bark that you can break up into pieces as large or small as you’d like.
Eat with abandon (I love it cold) and share copiously with everyone around you.
What could be more cheery than an aqua polka dotted-line box of homemade Bittersweet Chocolate Bark on your doorstep?
And if you’re smart, you’ve stashed away in the back of your fridge just enough to pull out later when your family leasts expect it.