I grew up in Germany and am a chocolatier, so you can correctly assume that I’m pretty meticulous. Yet one of my favorite treats to make and give at holiday time is chocolate bark—jagged, uneven pieces of chocolate coated with a smattering of toppings. What can I say? Chocolate bark is fun to make (I like coming up with wild flavor combinations), and people love it.
Where my exacting nature comes into play is in my tempering the chocolate to ensure that the bark has a smooth, glossy sheen and crisp snap and that it will store well for a while without becoming dull and fuzzy-looking. A little background: Most high-quality chocolate starts out tempered, meaning it’s been stabilized through a melting-and-cooling process. Once chocolate is heated to above 94°F, as it must be to be melted, it loses its temper. While tempered chocolate isn’t usually necessary for baking, it is for most chocolate-covered confections and bonbons. And bark benefits from it, too. Without tempering, the cocoa butter in the chocolate can form unstable crystals that give the chocolate a dull appearance with gray streaks called fat bloom. Untempered chocolate can also have a grainy texture.
You may have seen chocolatiers tempering chocolate by “tabling” it, or working melted chocolate over a cool marble surface. Or maybe you’ve come across expensive machines that temper. The method I use, sometimes referred to as “block seeding” and shown below, is simple, requires no specialized tools, and is tidy. Read on for more about making delicious bark to give away; just be sure to keep a little for yourself.
Bark like a pro
10 tips for making gift-worthy bark
• Start with excellent chocolate, preferably made with beans from South America or Madagascar. For dark chocolate, choose 60% to 75% cacao.
• Be sure no stray water gets into the melting chocolate, or it will seize and become grainy.
• Spread the melted chocolate thinly. Thin bark breaks into attractive shards and is easy to eat.
• For toppings, consider color and texture as well as flavor. A little crunch, whether from a nut or whole spice, is nice.
• Work quickly to add toppings before the chocolate begins to set.
• Scatter toppings with abandon—the more organic looking, the better.
• Store the bark in a cool (between 60°F and 65°F) room as it sets. The temperature encourages the edges to retreat and curl, which looks really pretty.
• Once the topping is on, leave the bark alone for at least 12 hours. If you fiddle with it too soon, you may leave fingerprints or scratches on the chocolate.
• Don’t refrigerate chocolate bark. Condensation will occur when you take it out. When the water evaporates, dissolved sugar remains on the surface of the chocolate, leaving an unpleasant residue known as sugar bloom.
• Use cellophane or food-grade tissue to package bark for gift-giving. A mix of a few flavors is especially nice.