Chocolate bark is the workhorse of homemade holiday gifts: easy, crowd-pleasing, expected.
But you’ve never seen chocolate bark like Tom Faglon’s chocolate bark. Instead of nuts or dried fruit or chopped-up, peppermint candy canes, he scatters fresh pomegranate seeds over the surface, where they glisten like rubies. Chewy bits of candied ginger are hidden inside the bittersweet chocolate, lying in wait to surprise you with their spiciness. Then, to make things even more interesting, he strews the top with crunchy sea salt.
His bark is as sweet and juicy as a box of chocolate-covered cherries, but a lot more sophisticated.
I came across Faglon’s recipe as I was poring over the nearly 150 messages that Dining section readers sent to us with their favorite, sweet, homemade holiday gifts. Recipes came in from all over the world. A stable homemade sweet that is just as tasty, if not quite as strikingly pretty as Faglon’s bark, is the spiced pecan praline recipe sent in by Elizabeth Choinski of Oxford, Miss.
Living in the South, Choinski has seen plenty of pralines in her time, flavored with the likes of chocolate and coffee. But she had never come upon pralines imbued with the classic spice flavors of the holidays. So she made her own, mixing cloves and cinnamon into the pot.
Dark chocolate and pomegranate bark
Adapted from Tom Faglon
Time: 10 minutes, plus chilling
Yield: About b pound of bark (8 servings)
5 ounces dark (bittersweet) chocolate pieces
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 cup fresh pomegranate seeds
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
1. Fit a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Place the chocolate in the bowl and stir until fully melted, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the pot and stir the crystallized ginger and half of the pomegranate seeds into the melted chocolate.
2. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour melted chocolate mixture onto the sheet. Use a spatula to smooth the chocolate into one even layer about v inch thick. (It does not need to fill the entire sheet.) Sprinkle chocolate with remaining pomegranate seeds and sea salt.
3. Chill for 20 to 30 minutes or until firm. Break or cut into pieces and store in an airtight container, separating the layers with wax paper. Best served the day it’s made; otherwise condensation may form on the surface.
Spiced holiday pralines
Adapted from Elizabeth Choinski
Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen pieces
2 cubes granulated sugar
a cup Steen’s cane syrup or light molasses
2 cups pecan halves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a teaspoon ground cloves
1. In a saucepan, combine sugar, cane syrup, pecans and z cup water. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Remove saucepan from heat and immediately stir in butter, vanilla extract and spices. Allow mixture to cool for 10 minutes.
3. Carefully, using a hand-held mixer – or a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment – whip until mixture changes to a lighter color and becomes creamy and just starts to stiffen as it cools. (It should still be warm.) The pecans will break up a bit.
4. Use a tablespoon-size cookie-dough scoop to drop mixture onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper (12 pralines per sheet). Use a spatula to flatten each praline. Let cool completely and store in a tin, creating separate layers with wax paper.