My friend Laura is one of the most talented chefs I know and when it comes to hosting dinner parties, Martha has nothing on this one. Laura is the kind of friend who will casually ask you “hey, what are you doing tonight? It’s Tuesday, wanna come over for a quick dinner?” and before you know it, you are part of a last-minute 5-course meal. Truly amazing.
Now, Laura’s weakness is chocolate. It’s also at the center of a new project she’s working on. So when Paula asks her friends if anyone wants to taste test a dozen of the world’s best bittersweet chocolates, you raise your hand real fast. And once again, what started as a “hey, let’s get together to eat chocolate” turned into a masterful lesson with one delicious outcome: the best darn chocolate bark you’ve ever tasted!
Here is where we started: 12 of the world’s best chocolates including Guittard, Valrhona, Callebaut and El Rey.
Think of it as tasting wine. We took our time, chatted about each one, talked about texture, melting factor, hints, lingering notes… a tough job I tell you. Each sample had its own style, from bitter and coffee-like to floral and even tropical. If you’re a chocolate lover, I highly suggest you give this a shot. It will blow your mind.
And then after a good hour of bliss, Laura had the best idea. “Should we make some bark?” Yes Laura, we should =)
We started by melting some Guittard 74% over a double boiler. If you’re like me and don’t own a fancy double boiler, just set a glass or stainless steel bowl over a pot of gently simmering water. Just make sure the bowl is high enough so the water doesn’t touch the bowl. While the chocolate was melting, we got started on the toppings. First, pecans!
Now that’s when you know you’re dealing with a great chef. I would have just plopped those pecans right onto the chocolate but I learned a great tip. First, sprinkle them with salt, pepper and drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil. Roast at 300 degrees for about 5 minutes or just until you can start smelling them.
I could have stopped right there. These were heaven. And that’s when I got it. The secret to great bark isn’t just that all the ingredients go well together. It is also that each ingredient stands on its own. If one thing is bland, the whole thing is bland.
Onto finely chopped dried apricots. Aren’t those gorgeous?
Now that the chocolate has melted, time to temper it. Tempering is what gives chocolate is shiny finish and its snap when you break a piece. Without that essential step, the chocolate melts in your hand and doesn’t keep very long. If you want to skip this step, no one will be upset. I don’t think bark lasts more than a day in my house. =) But if you want to make some bark to give as presents or to ship to a friend, you should definitely temper your chocolate.
Tempering can be a bit tricky but there’s an easy way to do it: Melt your chocolate to 115 degrees F. Take it off the stove, start stirring quickly and add pieces of chocolate to drop the temperature to 81 degrees F. Once you get to 81 degrees, place your bowl back over the water and heat back up to 88 degrees. Just make sure you don’t get above 92 degrees. If you do, just start over.
Now that the science portion is over, let’s get back to making that bark. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pour in that liquid gold. We used a spatula to spread it into a thin, even layer.
Here is the fun part. Start adding your toppings. First, pecans…
Just look at these beauties!
Add some cranberries for a hint of tartness…
And sprinkle the whole thing with some fleur de sel…
Let it set for about 20 minutes and it’s ready to cut into pieces.