Top | Kvell in the Kitchen
(post, Rachel Levine)
Woof! It's the most wonderful time of the year. The time when I don my sole Anthropologie apron and a schmata, roll up my sleeves, and hole myself up in the kitchen for hours in an elated state of chocolate-covered bliss. Literally, when I emerge, I am covered head to toe with chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, and could not be more happy about it. It's time for holiday chocolate bark! Now, although I am fiercely and loyally dedicated to my Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Dried Cherries, this Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee proved irrisistable as it is basically my beloved recipe on steroids. Brought to my attention by Lousia Shafia (my new favorite cookbook author) via Saveur (my trusted ethnic recipe source), this bark had more nuts, more dried fruits, more caffeine (I am a sucker for coffee in any form, especially coffee and chocolate) and finally mulberries, which were totally foreign to me, but upon some research are funny-looking berries resembling tiny pine cones with a name that roles nicely off the tongue and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. (I found them easily at Whole Foods, but you can substitute with more commonplace dried figs if desired.) Aesthetically, the bark is beautiful. Warm hues of various toasted nuts, jewels of dried cherries, and the ensuing dusted bronzed crumbs make the vivacious bark indisputably attractive. Taste-wise, it was a totally new experience to me. Unfamiliar with both caradamom and mulberries, I set out in eager anticipation. The cardamom, which Louisa describes as "peppery-sweet", is deliciously exotic; adding a whole new depth of flavor to the festive bark. It's potently aromatic, with flavors akin to cinnamon and ginger, and melds wonderfully with the bitter coffee and chocolate. Louisa explains that adding cardamom to coffee and tea is a commonplace Iranian practice, which helps to explain my final assessment of the nutty chocolate bark: it tastes like a coffee shop. Pointed, distinct flavors—pungent coffee, assorted nuts, tart cherries, rich cocoa, chai-like cardamon—create a remarkable, sophisticated concoction that's as unique as it is exceptional. You want to inhale all the flavors, over and over again, with a heartfelt appreciation for the bark's fancy, delicate bouquet. As for the mulberries, what a treat! Crunchy and granola-esque, they were fruity and sweet but not cloyingly so. The mulberries acted as a lovely foil to the sharp coffee grounds. I thoroughly enjoyed this bark, and despite the amount of work (all that nut chopping gave me a hand cramp—next time, will use a blender!) the elegant outcome was undoubtedly worth it. I leave you with just one piece of advice: if you are sensitive to caffeine, I wouldn't eat this too close to going to bed: it delivers quite the buzz! Nutty Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Coffee (from The New Persian Kitchen) Makes about 1 1/2 lbs bark Ingredients: 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli) 1 tsp. ground cardamom ¾ cup almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped ½ cup pistachios, lightly toasted and roughly chopped ¼ cup dried mulberries, chopped (or finely chopped dried figs) ¼ cup dried tart cherries, chopped 2 tsp. coffee beans, roughly chopped ⅛ tsp. kosher salt Directions: 1. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until melted, 8 minutes. (Alternatively, microwave in spurts of 20-30 seconds each, mixing in between, until chocolate is fully melted.) 2. Remove bowl from pan and stir in cardamom and half each the almonds, pistachios, mulberries, and cherries. 3. Spread mixture onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet into a 10” x 7” rectangle, about ¼” thick. 4. Sprinkle evenly with remaining almonds, pistachios, mulberries, cherries, the coffee beans, and salt. Gently pat down the toppings into the bark with a spatula. 5. Chill, uncovered, until bark hardens, about 2 hours. Break into pieces to serve.