One day after brunch about a year ago, a friend of mine suggested we go to CocoaBella on Union Street (San Francisco) to pick up some chocolates. At the time, my culinary loves were all things spicy, salty, or pork-related. I walked over with her but I didn’t intend to buy anything as I didn’t consider myself to have much of a sweet tooth. Oh, how wrong was I!
Cocoa Bella offers little pieces of heaven from a number of fine chocolate purveyors from around the globe. Some of them are so gorgeous it’s almost a shame to eat them. Anyway, I can’t remember if it was the good sales job by mi amiga or the gorgeous array of chocolates that surrounded me that caused me to plunk down $10 for four little bits of chocolate but I”m sure glad I did! Because that was the day I discovered my love of sweets. The four chocolates I chose incorporated flavor profiles I loved: a caramel enrobed in dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt (salty), a strawberry cream covered with white chocolate (creamy), a spicy caramel in dark chocolate (spicy), and an earl grey milk truffle (floral, herbaceous). Revelation! I became a chocolate convert.
As I do with most things food-related, I had to take my recent chocolate conversion to the next level so I started making candy. And, that’s when I REALLY started to love chocolate and sweets. Homemade sweets are a million times better than what you can get in the candy aisle at the grocery store. They are even better than most local sweet shoppes because you are making things that are uniquely suited to you and the other lucky people you decide to share your sweet somethings with.
If you are a first time candy-maker, I suggest you start out with this easy French Bark recipe. French bark is just a big sheet of chocolate topped with a selection of nuts, dried fruit, and other assorted goodies that is broken into pieces.
French Bark makes a great gift. You can put it in cello bags purchased online or at your local restaurant supply store (my local Ace Hardware carries them) and tie them up with pretty ribbon.
If you have success with the bark and want to up the ante, my next suggestion would be to make some homemade marshmallows. I’ve tried several recipes but my favorite is the one offered up by the Barefoot Contessa. I especially heart the Toasted Coconut variety. I am currently working on a peppermint version. My last attempt tasted good but looked muy fea (the crushed peppermints created a weird bright pink crust) so it’s back to the “lab” on that one.
Holiday French Bark Recipe
1 to 1.5 lbs of good quality dark chocolate
1 generous tablespoon of unsalted butter
Pull out your bain marie, double boiler, or in my case, a saucepot and a heat-proof glass bowl that fits just on top of the saucepot. Fill the pot with 2 or 3 inches of water and put the glass bowl on top. Make sure the glass bowl doesn’t touch the agua. TIP: The chocolate will burn if the simmering water touches the bottom of the bowl. Put in on the stovetop on medium low. Break up the chocolate into small pieces if you bought a big old bar and place about half in the bowl. KEEP AN EYE ON IT AND STIR FREQUENTLY. Once you see it starting to melt KEEP STIRRING. Put the rest of the chocolate in bit by bit until it is all melted. Plop in the butter pat and stir it in until melted in. TRICK: Butter gives your chocolate a nice sheen.
While you are closely watching your chocolate so it doesn’t melt, pull out a baking sheet, preferably one that has only one lip. Or, just flip a regular baking sheet upsidedown. Rip off a sheet of waxed paper to fit the baking sheet. TIP: Lightly wet the pan before you stick the sheet on the pan. It will keep the paper in place.
Once the chocolate has melted, pour the chocolate onto the waxed paper- covered baking sheet. Spread the melted chocolate around into a free form shape about 1/3 of an inch thick using an offset knife or back of a big spoon. While the chocolate is still warm and melty, sprinkle on your coverings. Be generous. When finished put the baking sheet in the fridge until chocolate hardens (I usually leave mine in overnight). Peel the waxed paper off of the hardened bark and break into pieces (size is up to you).
Other Possible Bark Coverings:
Drizzled White Chocolate
Crushed candy canes
Chopped Dried Apricots
Candied orange peel
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