I’m not one to get overly excited for cupid’s arrival on February 14th. But I do get excited about the excuse to eat chocolate. Or play with it. Or both.
This year my valentine will receive chocolate bark hearts – heart-shaped chocolates enhanced with a variety of garnishes. Usually bark is broken into irregularly-shaped shards (named for tree bark), but with Saint Valentine as inspiration, I used a heart cookie cutter to transform my bark into loving bites. And it’s easier and cheaper than sending flowers.
The smell that lingers up from the bowl as the silky, luscious cocoa liquor melts is irresistible! Do melt far more chocolate than you plan to use. Don’t let a solitary drop of liquid near the bowl, it will cause the chocolate to seize up, or harden. Most of the chocolate you buy at the grocery store is already in temper, or the sugars are crystallized appropriately so it will set shiny and snap. But…
Just in case, I temper any chocolate I procure for coating or confections like bark (it’s one of these tricks we learn in culinary school). First melt chopped chocolate in a double-boiler on low heat until it is smooth (don’t let it get hotter than 110° F), then off the heat and stirring constantly, add chopped chocolate to cool it down to 80° F (it will feel slightly cooler than the inside of your wrist which is about 90° F). Warm it back up to about 88° F (no more than 90 ° F) over the water bath and you are ready to craft, coat or consume straight off the spoon.
Spice up the bark with any garnish you lust after, and spread it thin onto parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Once it cools, you have a simple Valentine’s Day treat that was made with love. And in a jiffy. Leaving more time for cupid’s musings and cuddling. Okay, maybe I do like romance after all, as long as it involves chocolate.
Chocolate Bark Hearts
makes 8-10 hearts
Ingredients: 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (Ghirardelli recommended) Garnishes (marshmallow cream, toasted or candied nuts, dried fruit, etc.)
Method: Over low heat, bring an inch of water to a simmer in a small pot. Combine all but about a quarter of the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Once the water simmers, place the bowl over the pot and melt the chocolate until smooth, stirring only occasionally.
Off the heat (and far away from any water), add chopped chocolate and stir constantly until chocolate feels a little cooler than the inside of your wrist. Check to see if it is in temper by coating a spoon and letting it harden in the refrigerator for five minutes. It should set shiny and smooth (if not, start the process over). Always keep chocolate in bowl warm, and stir frequently.
Warm chocolate back up to about 90° F, add any garnishes to fold in, and spread thin on parchment paper. Sprinkle any additional garnishes on top. To craft hearts, when chocolate is almost hard, use cookie cutter to punch out the hearts, but only pull them away once it is completely set. For traditional bark, simply break into shards when hard.
Candied almonds (or other nut), chopped
Dried cherries, apricots or cranberries
Toasted peanuts and peanut butter
Butterscotch or white chocolate chips
White chocolate (melted and drizzled over the top)