As the marketing and events manager of a fresh produce market (in a former lifetime), one of the initiatives I implemented was market tours for school groups. I felt a little bit like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, leading groups of 60 children or more, and their teachers, through the centre. With the help of the store owners, the tours became quite an adventure and the children were always delighted, awestruck and fascinated.
I'd take them to the Chinese butcher, where they'd learn about pig's ears, tripe and trotters, and how no part of the animal is ever wasted in that culture. We'd visit a greengrocer or two, where they would have a taste of new season's fruit, and Bruno, the fruiterer, would show them samples of more obscure produce, such as celeriac, Purple Congo potatoes, and yam beans or jicama. They would always come away with baby apples to munch on. In the delicatessen, they'd learn about olives and olive oil, and why some types of cheese have thick rind, mould and holes.
At the health food store, the children would see peanuts ground to peanut butter, and they would have a taste of their choice of crunchy or smooth on a celery stick (this was in the days before peanut allergies were so prevalent). At the organic butcher, they had to guess what colour crocodile meat might be, and they also had the opportunity to see a crocodile steak from the Northern Territory and frozen possum from Tasmania. In the fishmonger, their eyes would be wide open at the sight of giant sized mud crabs. They learned the difference between a boy crab and a girl crab, and why the claws were tied tightly with string! Finally, at the pet shop, they would be delighted by baby ducklings and colourful aquariums full of exotic fish.
As part of the tour, the children would sit in the piazza area to eat their 'play lunch' while we talked about the aspects of the market tour, as well as about food and healthy eating in general. I shared stories from my childhood and told them how potato crisps and chocolate bars were 'party food' when their parents, teachers and I were their age. It amazed me to see the types of foods that the children had in their bags for snacks. The contrast between good food and bad was sometimes jaw dropping. I will never forget one little person who had nothing else but a packet or two of Fruit Tingle lollies in a plastic bag! Another child had never ever peeled an orange. Many had chocolate in one form or another: biscuits, muesli bars, chocolate blocks and so on.
The point of this tale is that I love chocolate just as much as the next person and I believe that it's quite ok to snack on it from time to time (with me, it's sometimes more often than others, but certainly not daily). I also believe that if you are going to indulge in chocolate, then you should make it good, really good. Don't you agree?
This recipe for chocolate bark is inspired by the sheer abundance of nuts, dried fruit and berries that I seem to have stashed away for winter. I hope you will like this as much as we do.
CHOCOLATE BARK WITH FRUIT, NUTS AND BERRIES
500g good quality chocolate buttons: milk or dark or a combination of the two
2 cups mixed roasted hazelnuts, slivered almonds, cashews, pistachios, and dried cranberries, goji berries, pepitas, cherries and blueberries
Line a medium sized cookie sheet with baking paper and arrange 11/2 cups of the fruit, nuts and berries over the baking paper in a square or rectangular shape. Reserve the rest of the fruit, nuts and berries, as these will go over the top of the melted chocolate.
Place 350g of the chocolate buttons into a Pyrex bowl, which you will set over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the chocolate slowly and stir it with a silicone spatula. Carefully remove the bowl from the saucepan and wipe the base of the bowl dry with a tea towel (you don't want any water to get into the chocolate). Leave the bowl sitting on the tea towel. Now stir in the rest of the chocolate buttons, a few at a time, and continue to stir with the spatula until the chocolate is smooth and all melted. This is one method of 'tempering chocolate', a process which my lovely friend, Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, explains in a tutorial here. Stephanie from the Joy of Baking also explains another method in detail here.
You can check the temperature of the chocolate by placing a small amount onto your lip. It should be around the same as your body temperature. That is, not cold and not hot. I am not usually fussy with using a thermometer and my chocolate bark turns out beautifully, as you can see. Peter concurs, he is nodding as I write this.
Next, carefully spread the melted chocolate over the fruit, nuts and berries that you have arranged on the tray. Be patient and do this part slowly. Use the spatula to pull in the edges and make sure that all the nuts and fruits are covered. Now sprinkle the remaining fruit, nuts and berries over the top. Don't forget to lick the bowl, or at least offer the opportunity to your beloved. Chocolate making is to be celebrated, no?
Allow the chocolate bark to set in a cool part of the house (we took ours to the laundry bench) and leave it there for several hours or overnight. Cut it into serving sized squares or triangles and store in an airtight container.
Tell me dear readers, does chocolate feature as a regular snack at your place? What's your favourite... dark or milk?
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I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.