Monday, November 23, 2009

A Bark You'll Want to Bite

Nothing generates as much consternation for home cooks as the notion of tempering chocolate. People avoid it at all costs. No small wonder—chocolate is expensive, and it’s somewhat demoralizing when things go wrong during the tempering process, which can be a matter of making the chocolate just a few degrees too warm or too cool. Recently I was working on a project which required me to devise an easy method of tempering for home cooks. I consulted a friend, Dennis Teets, who worked in R&D for Hershey’s for many years, and who is a bona fide expert on tempering and the science of chocolate. He suggested a very simple, streamlined method. It requires no ‘seeding’ or ‘slushing’, or anything remotely messy, and is simply a matter of assiduously monitoring the temperature of the chocolate and adding a small amount of grated chocolate when the chocolate cools to 87 degrees F. It’s the easiest method I’ve ever used, and is practically foolproof (emphasis here on practically). I like to make homemade chocolate nut bark around the holidays to give out as small gifts or bring along to holiday parties. I break it up and nestle the shards into cello bags, and tie them with a red or green ribbon. Though I prefer my bark with just nuts in it, you can also add chopped dried fruit such as cranberries, cherries, candied orange peel or apricots, or toasted pumpkins seeds, coconut or whatever strikes your fancy.

Chocolate Hazelnut Bark

Makes about 1 1/3 pounds 

1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
17 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the hazelnuts onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant, 8-10 minutes, shaking the nuts halfway through the baking time. Transfer the hot nuts to the center of a tea towel. Gather the ends of the towel together and rub the nuts against each other vigorously, until the skins are completely removed. Chop coarsely (I cut each hazelnut in half) and set aside.
2. Take 1 ounce of the chocolate (make sure that this chocolate is shiny and does not have any streaks on its surface) and, using the finest holes on a box grater, grate it onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper. You will need 2 tablespoons of finely grated chocolate. Place the grated chocolate into a small bowl and set aside in a cool place. Chop the remaining 16 ounces of chocolate (and any solid chocolate that was left over from grating) and place it in the top of a double boiler. Line a 10-by-15-inch rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
3. Place the top of the double boiler over water and turn the heat to medium-low. Heat the chocolate slowly, stirring frequently, until it is almost melted. Check the temperature—you want to heat the chocolate just to 110°F, but no higher. When it gets to be about 105°F, turns the heat off and stir the chocolate until it just reaches 110°F. Separate the top of the double boiler from the bottom, and set the chocolate aside to cool. You must cool the chocolate gradually, stirring it occasionally so that it cools evenly, until it reaches exactly 87°F. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this will take between 25-60 minutes. Check the temperature of the chocolate often. When it reaches 87°F, add the reserved grated chocolate and stir to combine. Return the double boiler to the heat, and gently heat the chocolate, stirring constantly, just a minute or two, until most of the grated chocolate is melted. (Watch it carefully—it is important that you don’t heat the chocolate above 90°F.) Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped hazelnuts. Remove the top of the double boiler from the bottom and carefully wipe the bottom of the pan containing the chocolate dry (even a tiny drop of water can cause the chocolate to sieze and clump up). Pour the chocolate onto the lined baking sheet and, using a small metal or rubber spatula, spread it into an even layer that covers all but 1 inch around the edges of the sheet. Refrigerate the chocolate for just 20 minutes, until almost set (set your timer—do not refrigerate the chocolate for longer than 20 minutes).
4. Let the chocolate stand at room temperature for another 30 minutes, until completely set. Using a piece of parchment or waxed paper (to avoid smudging the chocolate), break the block into rugged hunks of bark. Store between layers of parchment or waxed paper in a tightly covered container for up to a week.