Seriously Good Improvisational Chocolates

Zoonar
Shards of chocolate embedded with surprising flavors and crunchy elements make terrific gifts for much less than pricey "artisan-made" chocolates. The key is to use the best and freshest chocolate you can buy: fragrant and glossy with no trace of a gray bloom on the surface. This easy method insures that the chocolate sets well and snaps when it breaks. You can improvise endlessly on it, devising unique combinations of chocolates and flavorings. (You can also simply stir the embellishments right into the melted chocolate before pouring.)

Ingredients
  • 1 pound fragrant premium chocolate such as Valhrona or Sharfenberger, either dark semi-sweet 70% cacao chocolate, or milk chocolate
  • About 1-1/2 cups chunky embellishments, in any combination, such as:
    • Nuts such as pistachios, pine nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts, roasted and coarsely chopped. (Spanish Marcona almonds are terrific with a dusting of smoky paprika and some flaky sea salt.)
    • Dried fruit such as raisins, currents, or cherries. (Dried cherries are terrific in semisweet chocolate with a sprinkling of black pepper or lavender.
    • Toasted coconut
    • Candy bars, such as peanut butter cups, peppermint patties, nut brittle, nougat or torrone, diced or coarsely chopped
    • Candied orange peel or crystallized ginger, chopped or diced (these are potent and should be used sparingly
    • Herbs or spices (optional), such as lavender (unsprayed), curry powder, garam masala, pimenton de la vera (sweet, smoky paprika), freshly ground pepper, Mexican cinnamon (figure about a scant 1/2 teaspoon)
    • Flaky sea salt or fleur de sel (optional)
Instructions

1. Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper (or simply place the paper on the work surface).

2. With a chef's knife or in a food processor, chop the chocolate into 1-inch or smaller pieces. Place half of the chocolate in a heavy saucepan and place on a flame tamer over a low flame. Alternatively, use a double boiler, making sure that the bowl of chocolate is suspended over, NOT in, the simmering water. It is essential that no water get into the chocolate or it will seize up and turn to unusable clumps.

3. Stir the chocolate frequently with a rubber spatula until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate until completely melted.

4. Pour the melted chocolate onto the wax paper and spread it about 1/8-inch-thick with a cake icer. Let the chocolate set 3 or 4 minutes. This is your palette for improvising really fun and interesting combinations.

5. Scatter or arrange your desired embellishments over the chocolate.

6. To add ground spices, place in a fine strainer and gently sift evenly over the chocolate. Sprinkle coarser herbs or sea salt over the chocolate with your fingers.

7. Let the chocolate set 1 to 2 hours until firm. Break into shards. Package in cardboard candy boxes bought from a local bakery; flea market tins; cellophane bags bought from a store or online. The chocolate will keep up to two weeks in a sealed container at room temperature.

Recipe courtesy of Sally Schneider, author of The Improvisational Cook (William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006).

Tags: 
chocolate
Prep time: 
10 minutes
Cook time: 
15 minutes
Total time: 
25 minutes, plus time for chocolate to harden
Yield: 
Makes about 1-1/2 pounds

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