Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Combine in a small saucepan:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, seeds reserved
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).
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.
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.