A simple, sweet, superfood treat to snack on or gift to your favorite monsters!
For the printable recipe PDF click here.
Chocolate. Say it out loud. You're drooling now, right?
Sure, some people are allergic to it, and some, I'm told (though I still can't quite believe it), are indifferent (or even opposed?) to the stuff, but for most of us, just the idea of chocolate feels luxurious, indulgent, and drool-inducing.
We're rolling off a Whole30 around here, so I wanted to make a sweet treat that would feel special but not too over-the-top.
This homemade chocolate bark was just right, combining exotic goji berries, creamy-crunchy macadamia nuts, and tantalizing chocolate to create a simple yet decadent snack for monsters of all ages.
Initially, I had planned to do this bark with pistachios, but I thought the red and green of pistachios and goji berries seemed a little Christmasy, and I wanted something a little more Valentinesy. The white and red capture that well.
Of all the nuts, macadamias contain the least amount of the antinutrient phytic acid [Source: The Noakes Foundation], and they are a good source of calcium, Vitamin A, and flavonoids. Most of their fat is monounsaturated (like olive oil), and is considered heart-healthy. They are also one of the most sustainable nuts, according to Nutcellars.com.
Goji berries, aka wolf berries, are considered a superfood for their high levels of Vitamins C and A, dietary fiber, antioxidants like beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, and minerals like calcium and iron. [Source: USDA]
Chocolate, of course, is considered by many to be a superfood in it's own right, but we are primarily using it here for its deliciousness.
Types of chocolate
There are so many terms used to categorize chocolate, but what do any of them mean?
According to Chocolates and Confections at Home with the Culinary Institute of America by Peter P. Greweling, milk chocolate can legally contain 90% sugar and milk solids, though higher quality chocolates are usually at least 30% cacao-derived.
White chocolate (not even an FDA-accepted term until 2004) must legally contain 20% cocoa butter (the fat from the cacao bean) and no more than 55% sugar. It must have at least 3.5% butterfat and 14% milk solids.
There is no legal distinction between bittersweet chocolate and semisweet chocolate, though some brands may use the two terms to distinguish between their own product offerings. Both must contain at least 35% cocoa solids. Some American brands contain milk solids (up to 12%) and/or butterfat. Dark chocolate, not a specific legal term, generally refers to bittersweet/semisweet chocolates, but may have specific meaning within a brand.
With it's incredible, natural pink color, ruby chocolate (a patented variety that employs both specific types of cacao beans from select places and unique processing methods) would be a no-brainer for Valentine's treats, but it tends to be much more challenging to find.
Compound coating is lower-quality but more-user-friendly alternative that cannot legally be called chocolate because it contains little to no cocoa butter. This makes it much less finicky when it comes to tempering and the melting process, but it often has a waxier texture and mouthfeel. Using compound coating is an easy way to achieve beautiful, streak-free chocolate candies, but it often brings boatloads of sugar, hydrogenated fats, and artificial ingredients to the party, making it less desirable from a paleo standpoint. The pseudo-white-chocolate version of this is typically called almond bark or candy melts and can come in a variety of colors.
Chocolate also comes in several physical forms, from sweetened or unsweetened chocolate bars to flat pistoles to the chips we love for cookies. If you start with a big block or bar, you'll want to chop it into tiny pieces before melting so that it melts quickly and evenly.
I used dairy-free semisweet chocolate chips in this dark chocolate bark, and it turned out great, with the exception of a little splotchiness on the top of the chocolate that developed as the chocolate set. Which brings us to . . .
If you're using anything other than candy melts, you'll want to temper your chocolate for best results. If you're like me, you may have had extremely mixed results with amateur chocolatiering in the past. Sometimes it sets softer than it should or seemingly won't set at all; sometimes after it sets, the beautiful creations you were so excited to share develop unsightly gray streaks before you get a chance to serve them. This phenomenon is called fat bloom and is basically cocoa butter that has set on the top as a result of improper tempering.
Properly tempered chocolate should be shiny, glossy, and streak-free on top, with a nice mouthfeel and a great characteristic "snap" when broken.
The process of tempering is basically controlling the temperature as the chocolate melts to the proper consistency to keep the cocoa butter happy enough to mingle properly with the chocolate's other components.
How-to temper chocolate properly
I wish I were an expert in tempering, but in truth, I'm more of an expert in temper tantrums at this point. My chocolate in the pictures featured here set with immaculate snap, but as you can see, it leaves a bit to be desired in the gloss department.
Nevertheless, I will relay the method I try to follow, based on Greweling's Chocolate and Confections.
Using a scale, weigh the total amount of chocolate you plan to use, then set 25% of it aside. So if you are using a total of 10 oz, you'll set aside 2.5 oz.
Place the larger amount of chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or in a double boiler (heat-safe bowl set over a pot of simmering water). If using the microwave, adjust the power level to 50% and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, and then microwave for 15-second increments, stirring gently after each, until the chocolate is melted. If using the double-boiler method, stir gently and continuously as the simmering water in the pot warms the bottom of the chocolate bowl--just be careful not to let any water get into the chocolate, which would cause the chocolate to seize up.
Try not to let the chocolate get above 120 degrees F for dark chocolate (110 for milk or white).
Add the reserved chocolate (called the seed) to the melted chocolate, and stir very gently and continuously until the temperature settles to 85 degrees F (83 for milk or white). This should take at least 15 minutes and could take as long as 30.
Greweling gives some additional troubleshooting advice, but the above is the basic process.
I was a little hasty and used my chocolate before it reached 85 degrees (after 25 minutes!), which is likely why it splotched the way it did. Alternatively, it may have been a reaction to my mix-ins. Either way, I was pretty pleased with the way it turned out, and the monsters certainly didn't notice the imperfections!
Making the bark
Once the chocolate is tempered, this chocolate bark is actually a super easy recipe!
Stir in the gojis and macadamias, spread on a baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or a silicone mat, and let set at cool room temperature (under 70 is best). This should take about 30 minutes. Once completely set, break apart, and either stash in an airtight container, or enjoy immediately. Refrigeration not necessary.
If you want to mix things up, try adding pumpkin seeds, toasted coconut flakes, dried cherries, or whatever kinds of additions pique your fancy!
The words cocoa and cacao should be not used interchangeably. The word cacao specifically refers to the parts of the cacao plant before fermentation. Cacao tree, cacao pod, cacao bean, etc. For the most common uses of the plant, like the chocolate we've been discussing today, the cacao beans go through a fermentation process to develop the chocolate flavor we know and love. Post-fermentation, the products are called cocoa--so cocoa butter and cocoa powder, rather than cacao butter and cacao powder.
Here's what you'll need:
12 oz semisweet chocolate, divided
½ cup dried goji berries
½ cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped if desired
Here's what you'll do:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
Melt the chocolate either in the microwave or in a double boiler: For the microwave method, place 9 oz of the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave at 50 % power for 30 seconds. Stir, then microwave at 50 % for 15-second intervals, stirring well (but not too vigorously) after each, till the chocolate is completely melted. For the double-boiler method, set a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure that water cannot get into the bowl. Add 9 oz of the chocolate to the bowl, and stir gently and continuously, just till the chocolate is completely melted. Try not to let the temperature of the chocolate exceed 120 degrees F.
Off the heat, add the remaining chocolate to your bowl. Stir gently and continuously until the chocolate reaches 85 degrees F. This should take at least 15 minutes but could take up to 30.
Stir in the goji berries and macadamia nuts, coating all pieces completely in chocolate.
Spread the mixture out in an even-ish, (but admittedly imperfect and lumpy) layer on your prepared pan.
Allow to set at cool room temperature (ideally no higher than 72 degrees F). This should take at least 30 minutes.
When completely set, break into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to eat or gift!
For the printable recipe, click here.