Thursday, January 7, 2010

French Chocolate Bark

*Ring, ring* 
Me: Hello? 
Ellyn: Yes, hi. I'm planning a dinner party in December and would like to enlist your culinary services. 
Me: Ok, let me check my schedule. Yes, I believe I am available. How many people will we be serving? 
Ellyn: Umm, probably 8. 
Me: Ok great, I'll start planning the menu. 
Ellyn: Thanks honey. And don't forget to take your vitamins.
Me: Ugghhh, Mom... 

Ok, so I may be paraphrasing slightly, but that's basically how it went. Many emails later we finally had a menu planned, and the guest list had steadily grown from "probably 8" to "oh we're going to squeeze just a few more in," and "guess who else is coming?!" until I was cooking for a hefty party of 12.

Of course, this was a perfect opportunity to make something for the blog, but I didn't want to pick something that was too risky that would leave me open to falling flat on my face in front of a bunch of my mother's colleagues and friends. Of course, the only thing I really wanted to make wasn't something in Ina's cookbook. I've been jonesing to make Cinnamon Ice Cream  ever since I bought my mom an ice cream maker 2 years ago. It just seems like such a yummy fall treat that would be sweet, spicy, and casual, but very festive. And since ice cream is something that I feel pretty comfortable and confident making, I thought, now's my chance! I looked through Back to Basics for something I could pair with the ice cream, and decided the French Chocolate Bark was perfect. It was interesting, fancy enough for a party, but also rustic and fun. People could break it up like a topping for their ice cream, or eat it on the side as an accoutrement. 

The night before the dinner party, once the ice cream was hardening in the freezer, I gathered my ingredients together for the bark and prepared to defend them from my family's curious fingers and hungry mouths.

bittersweet chocolate, semisweet chocolate, crystallized ginger, cashews, dried cherries, dried apricots, golden raisins

I preheated the oven and spread the cashews in one layer on a sheet pan. These went into the oven to roast for about 8 minutes. Once they were roasted, I set them aside to cool. I couldn't believe the difference in color when I took these out of the oven. 

the roasted one is on the right 

They were golden brown, a bit shiny from the natural oil, and were actually more tender than their raw, crunchy counterparts.

Using a pencil, I drew a 9x10 inch rectangle on a sheet of parchment paper, turned it over so the pencil was on the underside, and laid it on another sheet pan.

With both of these pans aside, I started on the chocolate. Ina has an interesting method for tempering chocolate, which is usually a pretty tedious and exact process involving melting the chocolate to an exact temperature and then spreading it out on a smooth surface before spreading it back and forth to cool it.

Well, Ina says, to hell with that, and throws it in the microwave.

So, putting my mother to work, we finely chopped both the bittersweet and semisweet chocolate. I put the semisweet chocolate and about half of the bittersweet chocolate in a glass measuring cup and microwaved it for about 20 seconds. Paranoid Ina of course suggests using a stopwatch because apparently you can't trust your microwave timer...just like you can't trust the temperature gauge on your oven (although that one, I actually agree with).

I gave our microwave the benefit of the doubt. After 20 seconds, I took out the chocolate and stirred with a rubber spatula. I put it back in the microwave for another 30 seconds, then stirred, and continued to stir until the chocolate was just melted. At that point, I added the rest of the bittersweet chocolate

and continued to stir until the chocolate was smooth. This seemed to take forreeeever and I was so sure that throughout this whole process, I would either burn the chocolate or it would never melt. I continued to stir and although there were still a few very small pieces of chocolate left, it had cooled to room temperature so I was pretty sure that was as smooth as I was going to get it. At this point, I stirred a little more quickly to give it a glossier finish. 


I poured the chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread it lightly into the drawn rectangle. I went slowly as I was convinced as soon as the chocolate hit the parchment it would somehow become uncontrollable and end up all over the kitchen floor, but it was surprisingly easy to work with and I was able to make a pretty acceptable rectangle, if I do say so myself. 

I know it looks like a square, but it was technically a rectangle

Once the chocolate was evenly spread, I started with the toppings, which Ina provides strict instructions about regarding the order in which they are added. The first layer was crystallized ginger.


Next were the cooled whole cashews


then the cherries


and finally the apricots and raisins. 



With Alex as my sous chef, we tried to make sure each topping adhered to at least some of the chocolate so half the toppings didn't fall off as soon as we broke the bark or picked it up to eat it, and I think we did a pretty good job.

I let this harden overnight until it was very firm, which worked perfectly. (Yay! Love when that happens!) The edges of the chocolate developed some odd whitish marbling though, which may have been from the chocolate drying out slightly overnight. It wasn't something I was too concerned about aesthetically, and I knew it wouldn't affect the taste.

Before serving, I cut the bark into about 24 rough triangles. My mom served the ice cream in small china bowls and some cappuchino cups, and put a piece of the bark on the saucer of each bowl or cup. The leftover bark was put on a platter in the middle of the table so people could help themselves to more.

Ok, so I know you're expecting to see a picture of the finished plating right about now, but I didn't take one. I know, I know, bad blogger. But in true catering fashion, my sister and I weren't invited to dinner so instead we were down the street, sipping glasses of wine at a local Italian restaurant. I also figured my mom had enough to worry about with 12 people in the dining room, and since she has been known to take pictures with the camera upside down, I didn't want to overwhelm her.

May I just say, that guests thought the ice cream was so good, they couldn't believe it was homemade. *Applause, applause* Thank you, thank you, you're too kind really!

Thankfully, there was a little bark leftover so the chef (aka moi) could try some. I liked the chocolate (duh), but thought the ginger was a little overpowering. I liked how the whole cashews looked but they were a little difficult to eat daintily. There were a lot of competing flavors, but as someone who likes their chocolate pure and unadulterated, I may be a little biased. There's a note in the recipe that Ina likes to use this for s'mores during the winter, which I do think would AH-mazing. The melted chocolate with the added sweetness of the Ina would say, who wouldn't like that?

Oh, and if you're curious abut the rest of the menu:
We started with the Roasted Shrimp Cocktail and Baked Brie wrapped in puff pastry that we made for Thanksgiving since they were so easy to make and both got rave reviews. The main course was Ina's Fillet of Beef (not from Back to Basics), which I served with Green Beans with Caramelized OnionsButtermilk Mashed Potatoes, and Popovers.

Make this when: you want to take Ina's advice and use these to make grown-up s'mores. They were OK on their own, but I think they'd be heavenly topped with a gooey, melted marshmallow and stuck between two gourmet cookies.

Next Course: Baked Chocolate Pudding


  1. I love when I make the blog! I agree the bark wasn't my thing. HOWEVER, it seemed very grown up and was very pretty. It was a great idea to serve it along with ice cream bc I don't think it would have been enough alone.

    p.s. I except those s'mores will be made the next time we are together!

  2. As the "customer and consumer" in the above I have to say I would call the team of "Morgan and Alex" again should I decide to throw together a small (12 people) informal (you saw the menu above) dinner party. The bark though excellent (there had to be chocolate) was just the right finish to a wonderfully constructed and executed on menu.
    Call me if you would like their number and maybe I can get you a discount less my maternal commission.
    Oh and for purposes of full disclosure I would have liked for them to have joined us but who has plates for 14?? And I don't hold the camera upside down and I do know how to program the ring tones on my phone.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...