Shards of chocolate embedded with surprising flavors and crunchy elements make terrific gifts for much less $ than pricey “artisan-made’ chocolates. Here’s an easy, step-by-step method – and a couple of tricks – for making unfussy homemade chocolates: a thin sheet of fine chocolate into which you’ve embedded surprising and delicious elements, like chopped Marcona almonds with a dusting of Pimenton de la Vera; or curry powder and sea salt; or dried cherries and lavender, or roasted pistachios and candied orange zest; the possible improvisations are endless.
Once the sheet of chocolate hardens, you break it into shards and pack it as a gift (and keep some back to serve at your own dinner parties, or as a restorative when your spirits are flagging).
Essential Homemade Chocolates for Improvising in words and pictures follows the jump. (And be sure to check out ‘the improvised life’s take on Holiday Food Gifts at The Splendid Table. You can listen to the show, and download the recipe for Alt-Malted Milk Balls, an improvisation on this homemade chocolate theme.)
Recipe: Essential Homemade Chocolates for Improvising
There is a trick to making homemade chocolates: you have to temper it to make sure it will set properly. Untempered chocolate will be flabby and rubbery, refusing to snap when you break it. It’s essential for the proper chemistry to use the best and freshest chocolate you can buy: fragrant and glossy with no trace of a gray bloom on the surface. This method of stirring chopped chocolate into the melted chocolate insures that chocolate will harden properly and break into pretty shards.
You can improvise endlessly on this formula, devising unique combinations of chocolates and flavorings to embellish the chocolate. (You can also simply stir the embellishments right into the melted chocolate before pouring.)
Makes about 1 1/2 pounds
1 pound fragrant premium chocolate such as Valhrona or Sharfenberger, bitter 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.
-Dried fruit such as raisins, currents, or cherries
-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)
-Crisp bacon, blotted of all fat and finely chopped with coarsely ground black pepper (both best stirred into the chocolate before you pour it)
Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper (or simply place the paper on the work surface). 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. Stir the chocolate frequently with a rubber spatula until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate until completely melted.
Pour the melted chocolate onto the wax paper and spread it about 1/8-inch-thick with a cake icer. Let the chocolate set about 5 minutes. This is your palette for improvising really fun and interesting combinations.
Scatter or arrange your desired embellishments over the chocolate. To dust with ground spices, let the chocolate sit until the surface has firmed up and the chocolate is still pliable, from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how cool the room is. (This way, the spices will stay visible.) Place the spice a fine strainer and gently sift evenly over the chocolate. Sprinkle coarser herbs or sea salt over the chocolate with your fingers.
Let the chocolate set 1 to 2 hours until firm.
Break the chocolate into shards.
The chocolate will keep up to two weeks in a sealed container at room temperature. Package it as gifts as you need them.
Here are a few ideas for packaging the chocolate as gifts: Pack into in cardboard candy boxes (lined with wax or parchment paper), bought or saved from a local bakery; antique or repurposed tins (available at flea markets, yard sales and Ebay); or paper bags or clear cello bags bought from your local market (they will often sell them by the piece) or online at Papermart.