My Chocolate Holiday Tradition
I have a few of my own traditions for the holidays. Eight years ago, I began hosting a vegan dinner for friends, family, and neighbors. My holiday feast* features many different dishes with the flavors and textures we associate with the season, so everyone (meat eaters included) has loved it. This tradition has been so much fun that I recently started another... vegan chocolate bark! Perfect for small gifts and entertaining, it has become a huge hit! Most people love chocolate, and everyone appreciates a gift that has a personal touch.
by Dreena Burton, author of The Everyday Vegan published by Arsenal Pulp Press
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You can customize this bark to make different varieties by choosing the types of dried fruits, nuts, or candy you want in your bark. Imagine a combination of dark chocolate with candied ginger and toasted pecans... or dried cranberries and toasted almonds... or dried mango and toasted hazelnuts. You won't find these vegan confections anywhere. Your friends and family will love your special creations. Not only will they be surprised by this dairy-free chocolate treat, they will savor the flavors and smooth texture. You can package this bark as simply or elaborately as you like. I simply buy some very inexpensive plastic bags, do my own labels on the computer and tie them with some ribbon.
This has been such a fun and special gift idea for me that I wanted to share it with you. You'll love it because not only is it delicious, but it is so EASY! No candy thermometers or candy moulds required - just a watchful eye, a rimmed baking sheet, and some parchment paper.
Before looking at the recipe, let's cover some basic information about chocolate.
Some Chocolate Terminology
Types of Chocolate
- Chocolate Liquor - This "liquor" is made from grinding the center of the cacao bean, which is liquid when warm, but solidifies when cooled. Chocolate liquor contains no alcohol. On labels, chocolate liquor is often simply called "cocoa" or "cacao," particularly where the percentage of chocolate liquor is listed.
- Cocoa Butter - the natural plant fat that present in cacao beans. It is obtained by pressing chocolate liquor.
- Cocoa Powder - The cocoa solids resulting from pressing cocoa butter out of chocolate liquor.
Storing and Melting Chocolate
- Unsweetened - This is chocolate that is not sweetened at all. It is simply the chocolate liquor molded into blocks and solidified.
- Semisweet or Bittersweet - Here, the chocolate liquor has been combined with sweetener, cocoa butter, and often vanilla. This is often known as dark chocolate and contains at least 35% chocolate liquor (or "cocoa"). Most good quality chocolate has around 50-60%. Bittersweet usually has more chocolate liquor (around 70%) than semi-sweet and therefore a more intense chocolate taste; however, the two can generally be interchanged.
- Sweet Chocolate - This is similar to semisweet, but has more sweeteners and only has to have at least 15% chocolate liquor. It can often be interchanged with semisweet or bittersweet chocolate.
- Milk Chocolate - Milk ingredients are added to this chocolate and sometimes other flavorings. The content of chocolate liquor is at least 10%.
- White Chocolate - Not really chocolate at all, since this confection does not contain any chocolate liquor. It is made of cocoa butter, milk ingredients, sweeteners, and flavorings.
Chocolate can be tricky to work with, so here are a few tips for best results:
Recipe: Sublime Chocolate Bark
- Store chocolate in a cool, dry place. Above roughly 75* F, the cocoa butter can separate from the solids, causing gray streaks on the surface of the chocolate. This is called chocolate "bloom." The taste is not really affected, just the appearance. It is best not to store in the refrigerator, since condensation can affect chocolate and it can also absorb food odors.
- Melting chocolate requires some care, and bars tend to work better than chocolate chips. Chips contain less cocoa butter so that they can better hold their shape in cookies, but this makes them harder to melt and less tasty. Chocolate can burn easily, and while some people use a microwave for melting, I find it can be unpredictable and scorch the chocolate. I recommend melting chocolate in a double boiler (or in a large metal or glass bowl fitted over a saucepan with simmering water). Keep the heat at medium-low, allowing the water to simmer - not boil. The heat from the hot water below will slowly and evenly melt the chocolate. Take care not to let the water boil rapidly. Even a drop of water from excess steam into the chocolate will cause the chocolate to 'seize.'
- It is essential to use a high quality dark semi-sweet chocolate for this recipe. Do not substitute with a cheaper, lower quality dark chocolate. Once you experiment with different brands, you will notice a marked difference in higher grade chocolate. This is particularly true when the main ingredient for the recipe is chocolate, as it is here. Cheaper chocolate can be grainy and waxy, and have little deep chocolate flavor. A high quality chocolate is velvety with a rich chocolate taste and will melt in your mouth almost instantly. I typically use Callebaut dark chocolate baking bars because I have a store in my area. This is just one example of a premium chocolate. You will find other brands, including organic varieties, if you shop in specialty or fine chocolate stores in your area (or on the Internet). Look for a content of roughly 55-60% of chocolate liquor in a semi-sweet dark chocolate.
**Note: You can also use a combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate, using bittersweet (having around 70% chocolate liquor) for roughly 1/4 - 1/2 of the total amount of chocolate.
- 18-20 oz. very good quality semi-sweet chocolate (non-dairy)**, broken in chunks (roughly 3 1/2 cups if using baking drops)
- 3/4 - 1 cup toasted pecans, almonds, hazelnuts (skins removed) or other nut of choice
- 1/4 - 1/3 cup crystallized ginger, cut in very small pieces
- 1/4 - 1/3 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or other dried fruit cut into small pieces
Ideas: You can use fruit and nut combinations to your taste. You can also try other candies to stir in, or, to "top" the bark once you have poured it onto the baking sheet. Think of an espresso-themed chocolate bark, stirring in some toasted almonds, coffee beans, and then sprinkling the poured bark with vegan espresso chips. Or a pb&j theme, stirring in some peanuts and dried cherries or raspberries, and then sprinkle the poured bark with vegan peanut butter chips!
In a double boiler (or a bowl over a saucepan), place most of the chocolate (reserving a few chunks) in the top of the double boiler or in the bowl over the saucepan. Bring the water up over low-medium heat until simmering, but not boiling, reducing the heat if it begins to boil. Let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally, taking care not to have any steam or water get into the chocolate (a must - the chocolate will seize if any water gets into it while it melts or after it has melted). Once it has just nicely melted, add in the reserved chunks of chocolate, stir it through until just melted in, and then stir in the nuts and dried fruit. Pour immediately onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator (keep it level), and let the bark cool, until it is completely set and can break cleanly. Once cooled, break off into pieces and store/bag - if you can!!
*All of the recipes for my holiday feast are in The Everyday Vegan. See page 39 for the menu listing. Click here to buy The Everyday Vegan.