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A Break from All the Cookies

Are we the only ones who get the Christmas cookie blues? Now, don’t get us wrong, we love Christmas cookies in all their flavors and forms. The crispy, the chewy, the buttery, the ethereal…but after baking hundreds of cookies this holiday season for the blog, we feel the need for something a little different. Something a little messy and decadent. Like chocolate.
Chocolate Bark and Chocolate Clusters are easy and fabulously delicious home-made candy recipes that are especially child-friendly. Invite your kids into the kitchen to help you stir, pour, and measure. Let them pick out their favorite dried fruits and nuts to stir into the chocolate.
As the temperature of the chocolate never exceeds 115°F, there’s no need to worry about ultra-hot liquids or splattering sugar syrup, and unlike cookie dough containing raw egg, any chocolate that lingers on utensils is highly lickable.
These candies make great presents for those wanting to gift made-from-scratch goodies this holiday season. Remember to be creative. Any dried fruits, nuts, and even broken pretzel pieces can go into these candies. You might also try sprinkling the tops of the Chocolate Clusters with coarse salt for a sweet-salty treat (for the adventurous, we highly recommend a pinch of smoked salt). 

Chocolate Bark or Clusters
about 1 1/4 pounds

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Coarsely chop or grate:
     1 pound (1/2 pound for clusters) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
Set aside two ounces of the chocolate and place the rest in the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over, but not in, a pot of gently simmering water. Melt the chocolate slowly, stirring, until its temperature reaches 105° to 115°F. If you do not stir constantly at temperatures over 100°F, the cocoa butter will separate out. Transfer the chocolate to another bowl and cool to 100°F. Add the reserved chocolate and stir until the temperature cools to a maximum of 86°F for milk and white chocolates and 90°F for dark or bittersweet chocolate.
Stir in:
    2 cups finely chopped dried, candied, or crystallized fruit, candied ginger, and/or nuts
Stir to coat the fruit and nuts thoroughly.
For bark, spread the mixture about 1/4 inch thick on the lined baking sheet. Tap the pan on the work surface to release any air bubbles.
For clusters, use a tablespoon to drop the chocolate mixture onto the baking sheet.
Refrigerate the bark or clusters until firm, about 15 minutes. Then let stand in a cool place for 30 minutes to 1 hour to set completely.
To break the bark, hold the chocolate with the foil to avoid getting fingerprints on it, and break it into bite-sized, irregular shapes. If the bark is too hard to break with your hands, place a sheet of foil on top and hit it with a wooden spoon.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.


Danene's picture

Thank you-Thank you for sharing! Can't wait to give it a whirl!
john's picture

Glad you like the post Danene... I'm sure these would pair nicely with some wine too!
Becky P's picture

The chocolate bark looks delicious! Our family is a little weird. They don't care about cookies but must have English toffee, peanut brittle, fudge, pumpkin bread and date bars. I had hand surgery about 10 days ago so I can't do my regular Christmas baking and candy making, but my husband is making the family favorites with me standing at his side telling him every move to make. Have you ever noticed how much cooking knowledge is stored in your hands? I have to actually stand and put my hand (and cast) over the bowls or pans to remember everything that needs to be done and what order to do it in. It's really funny!
john's picture

Though I like cookies, I have to say that I tend to agree with your family: toffee, brittle, and fudge are much closer to my heart. I'm glad your husband's hands are willing to fill in... What you say is undoubtedly true. For every direction, there are numerous, "mini" tasks. After mastering a recipe or technique, some of these little things become automatic and just disappear in the act of cooking... until you have to actually explain what to do! Helping with the book has definitely made Megan and I very aware of this disconnect. Of course, the book presents its own special set of problems. Imagine giving your husband directions over Twitter!
Becky P's picture

LOL! I can't even imagine! Can I ask you a toffee question? My English toffee recipe calls for margarine - specifically either Parkay or Blue Bonnet, as not all brands turn out nice and crunchy. I've moved away from using margarine to using butter in almost everything and I'm wondering if using butter instead of margarine would affect my recipe in a negative way. Butter does make most things better. Here's the recipe. My mom has used this recipe for as long as I can remember and I have no idea where it came from. English Toffee • 2 cups sugar • 2 Tbsp. Light Karo Syrup • 1 lb. Parkay or Blue Bonnet Margarine (Other brands may not set.) • 2 Tbsp. water • 2 teaspoons vanilla • Approx. 9 oz of milk chocolate • 1 to 1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans Combine sugar syrup, margarine and water in a heavy kettle and cook to hard crack, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken and turn deep caramel. Add vanilla and immediately pour onto extra large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Immediately sprinkle chocolate over the top and spread when soft. Sprinkle with pecans, pat into chocolate and let cool.
meg's picture

I don't see why you couldn't use butter. You said your mother's recipe calls for a pound of butter. Did you mean a stick? A pound sounds like a lot of margarine to me. JOY's recipe for English Toffee calls for 1 3/4 cups sugar, 1 cup cream, 1 stick butter, 1/8 tsp cream of tartar, 2 tsp vanilla or 1 tbsp rum, 4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, 1/2 cup almonds. Boil sugar, cream, butter, and cream of tartar until 280F. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla or rum. Pour into buttered 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with chocolate, then with almonds.
Becky P's picture

No, I actually do mean a pound. We doubled the recipe a long time ago and it makes a big batch. JOY's recipe sounds really good. I hate to tinker with family tradition, but I think I'll have to try it. Thanks!

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In a large sauté pan, warm over medium heat:
            3 tablespoons olive oil
Add and sauté until softened and beginning to brown:
            1 large...