Endlessly Riffable Chocolate Bark

To begin, first let's pretend "riffable" is actually a word. Because truly, it appears so often in my personal lexicon that I would be mortified to learn that it's not.

(Related: Let's talk about people (note--not me) who use the word "orientated". As in, "I am perfect for this job because I'm very detail-orientated" or "This map has me all disorientated". I should add that if you've ever said either of those sentences, you probably A) did not get the job, and B) should know that's it's likely not the map's fault.)

Anyway, regardless of the legitmacy of the word, I'm all about recipes that offer high a riffability factor. In fact, some of my favorite back-pocket sort of recipes aren't really recipes at all, they're more like ideas that open you up to a whole bunch of different variations. That's part of the reason that I'm so bananas in love with marshmallows that I actually wrote a whole book about them and stuffed every available bit of white space with variations and ideas for riffing on the basic recipe. Homemade mallows are the perfect building block for some serious confectionery creativity and giving you all kinds of ways to blow minds and take names.

But with mallows, no matter how simple the process and how large the payoff, there is most definitely a recipe involved it takes some doing. So say you want the glorious, candied blank canvas, with even less effort. Well, I'm picking up what you're laying down and I've got just the thing for you. Like most things in life, the idea begins with a slab of good chocolate. I don't see how this could not go well.

What you want to do is start with the good stuff. If you're like me and live in an alternate universe, you go to your chocolate drawer and pick out the best of what's in there. And it can be odds and ends of wayward bars and chips and chunks, since we're going to melt it all down anyway. Think of it like very delicious scrap metal. Or not, if that sounds wholly unappetizing to you. If you are a regular person that doesn't house many kinds of chocolate at a time, just pick a bar of something that speaks to you, something that has a little complexity that you would savor all on its own.

Whatever chocolate you choose and however much you want to work with, break or chop it all down into relatively evenly-sized pieces. Take about two-thirds of it and put it in a heatproof or microwave-safe bowl. Melt it slowly and gently--this can be over a pan of simmering water, double-boiler-style, or in the microwave, with 30-second bursts of high power, stirring well after each interval (or medium power if you have a micro that tends to run hot). Once that first batch of chocolate is melted and smooth, throw in the remaining third of the chopped chocolate and stir until it melts into the mix. This is sort of a quick-tempering method of melting chocolate (since I can never be bothered to do it the "right" way with thermometers and what not) that will give the set chocolate bark a nice sheen and snap, and keep it from "blooming" or turning grayish in spots.

Once the chocolate is melted, spread it onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. I personally use Silpat mats and I covet them. Nothing sticks to those puppies and they're awesome for candymaking in particular. Spread the chocolate in an even layer, however thin you like it. I try to get mine as thin as possible without seeing through it anywhere so it sorts of snaps in the teeth and then quick begins to melt in the mouth. That's just my jam when it comes to chocolate bark. You do what you like.

As soon as the chocolate is spread out, go crazy with whatever kinds of things you personally enjoy combining with chocolate. You can be kind of gourmand about it and do really good dried fruit bits and salted nuts (these photos have dried apricots and cherries and toasted, salted pistachios), or embrace the childlike wonder of being faced with an entire sheet of chocolate, and sprinkle it with more candy bits of all sorts, sugary cereals, sprinkles, whatever. Here's a few riffs I personally find seriously joy-inducing:

With dark chocolates: Pretzel bits and mini-M&Ms or peanut butter chips or heck, BOTH Salted peanuts and mini-marshmallows (homemade or not, I don't judge) Crushed graham crackers and mini-mallows (hello, s'mores) Crushed malt balls and more malted milk powder sprinkled about

With white chocolate: Banana chips, toasted coconut, dried pineapple bits Candied citrus rind Freeze-dried berries Salted almonds and dried cranberries or any other tart dried fruits

Now go forth and riff away, chocolate bark-style. What are some of your favorite flavor combinations with chocolate?

CandyShauna Sever