When it comes to sushi and chocolate, I am a purist. I'll take my raw fish one species at a time, thank you very much. Rainbow rolls make me nervous. I can't even handle spicy mayonnaise on my tuna, let alone a double or triple reinforcement of yellowtail, salmon, and who knows what else? I've tried to indulge, but my tongue is never able to sort it all out. It's the same with chocolate. I like it best super-dark and unencumbered. No nuts, no fruit, no toffee. In other words, no distractions.
Yet in recent years I have loosened up a bit. Slip some avocado alongside my salmon and I don't complain. On a good day I'll even admit that it's kind of yummy. The thought of extraneous ingredients taking up space in a bar of chocolate where there could be, say, more chocolate, is not as easy for me to stomach. The unadulterated 70% and up stuff is just so darn delicious, it is hard to imagine why anyone would want to mess with it. Well, gentle readers, I have discovered the answer in the form of this candy.
The original recipe calls for a long list of dubious interlopers: dried cranberries and raisins and peanuts and pistachios. I get a little twitchy just thinking about it. At first, all I could picture were the tooth achingly sweet Chunky bars my dad used to eat when I was a kid. I'm on the same page with my dad about most things, but his inexplicable love for these nutty, raisin-y bars was enough to make me momentarily question my parentage whenever he so much as crinkled the foil wrapper.
Nevertheless, I decided to give this recipe a shot, with some serious toning down. I chose one nut, almonds, and one fruit, cherries, and got cooking. If you can even call it cooking. This recipe is as easy as they come. Simply melt the chocolate, stir in the almonds and cherries, chill, and cube. This week and last, I have served these candies alongside cakes and cookies that require considerably more time and effort. They steal the show every time.
My family and friends are not the only ones offering up rave reviews. I not only like these cherry almond chunkies, I love them. I have no idea why, but unlike raisins, which have a bad habit of getting in the way of things, the cherries all but disappear among the toasted almonds and rich curtain of chocolate. A sweet tang and occasional mild chewiness is all that remains of them. As for the nuts, they make themselves known, but they are content to let the chocolate do the talking.
So, yes please. I'll take my chocolate with almonds, cherries, and a few pinches of salt. I guess I'm not so pure after all.
Cherry Almond Chocolate Chunkies
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2003
The cherries, toasted almonds, and chocolate in this recipe add up to a winning combination no matter how you slice it. But what really puts these treats over the top is the salt. It brings out the best in all three players. Don't be afraid of a few generous grinds!
1 and 1/4 lbs. (20 oz.) high-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I like to use 70% cocoa for this recipe.)
Neutral flavored oil for greasing the pan
1 and 1/2 c. almonds
1 heaping c. dried cherries
5-6 grinds or 1 scant tsp. sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until fragrant, approximately 8 minutes. Halfway through, give the nuts a stir so that they toast evenly.
Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until smooth.
While the chocolate is melting, line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with foil. Leave a 2-inch overhang so that you can easily lift the chilled chocolate from the pan when the time comes. Lightly oil the foil.
When the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the heat, and dump in the toasted almonds, dried cherries, and salt. Stir, and pour into the foil-lined pan. Press evenly into the pan with a spatula.
Chill in the fridge for an hour. (Don't wait much longer than that or it will crack when you try to cut it.) When the chocolate is once again a solid block, lift out of the pan, and peel away the foil. Using a sharp knife, cut into chunks. Keep refrigerated.
Yields about 60 1-inch candies.
[Special thanks to Elisha, for lending me a bowl from her grandmother's beautiful set of china. The candies found it quite comfy.]