French Chocolate Bark

French Chocolate Bark   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

French Chocolate Bark | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Festive Fun”

The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are having friends over for a pre-holiday celebration and christening the barn with its first dinner party.

The Menu: Seafood Gratin, French Chocolate Bark, Mulled Wine, Pumpkin Mousse

0:18 – Ina says everyone gets so busy preparing for the holidays that we forget to actually have fun. Preach!

1:20 – First up, she’s making Pumpkin Mousse instead of pumpkin pie although so far the ingredients seem to be the same.

2:31 – Ina says she’s not really a fan of pumpkin pie calling it “cloying and sweet”, which would be a treasonous statement to another audience, but sound spot on to be. Apple pie #FTW

3:09 – Home-Ec Ina says that she only needs the yolks for this mousse, so an egg-white omelet is on the menu for lunch.

4:42 – Another recipe calling for gelatin, but thanks to my marshmallow adventure I’m no longer intimidated!

5:13 – I’m honestly not fond of pumpkin-centric baked goods, but Ina is so good at “layered flavor” (who else would think to put a mashed banana into a pumpkin mousse?) I could almost be convinced.

6:29 – The pumpkin mousse is in the fridge, Ina says you could make it up to 3-4 days in advance, now it’s time to go shopping!

7:34 – First stop: a giant bunch of mixed evergreens from Michael the Florist TM who is decked out in his signature bright sweater (candy cane red). Then, onto the Seafood Shop for ingredients in the Seafood Gratin.

10:28 – Moving on the main course and Ina has designed this menu to be special and festive for company, but also something she can make in advance. Music to everyone’s ears.

11:45 – The seafood will cook in a fish stock based broth with cream, tomato and white wine, yum! Pro Tip #1: To make the shrimp bite sized while retaining the shape, cut them in half lengthwise.

12:06 – Oooh, tricky. Since some of the fish is cooked (the lobster) and some of it isn’t, Ina is cooking each ingredient separately and then lifting it out of the stock when it’s done.

13:30 – Now that all the fish is cooked stock continues to simmer and will reduce into a sauce. Clever way to retain all the flavors…

14:54 – Onward to the vegetables which are sautéed in butter while Ina makes a panko bread crumb topping.

15:23 – Friends, this will come as no surprise, but we’re not dealing with a low-cal recipe here. Lots of butter, cream, and cheese went into the making of this gratin.

16:12 – Pro Tip #2: the butter in the gratin topping is for flavor, but also ensures that it browns.

17:48 – Interesting, I thought at some point that the cooked seafood, sauce and vegetables would all be stirred together, but instead they’re layered in a large baking dish and then topped with the bread crumbs.

21:17 – Next on the docket: French Chocolate Bark starting with a combination of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate bricks. The two different kinds are meant to balance each other out.

22:21 – Ina is using toasted cashews, cranberries, and apricots, but she has also given us leave to top it with trail mix if that’s what suits you.

23:02 – Fun fact: American chocolate bark has the fruit and nuts mixed in, while French chocolate bark starts with a sheet of chocolate and is then topped with the ingredients so they’re more visible.

24:36 – Ina is not messing around with the chocolate bark either, she’s planning to use it in S’mores over coffee gathered around the outdoor brazier. Boom, gauntlet thrown.

25:05 – The table setting is in silver and taupe, because you know Ina probably isn’t going to rock red & green. She’s using large glass jars of lemons and clementines softened with some of her greenery from Michael the Florist TM and mercury glass votive holders. Gorgeous, naturally.

27:24 – Part of Ina’s strategy for the Mulled Wine is to serve it after dinner with the chocolate bark since it’s already on the sweet side, and it's a nice hot drink to have on a cold night.

28:50 – I honestly never knew what was in mulled wine but Ina is using a combination of sweet spices, apple cider, and a little honey. Sounds pretty good, actually.

29:49 – Dinner is served and everyone seems to be diving right in. Ina disappears to set up the s’mores tray and the mulled wine while her guests enjoy the fire. Looks like a blast – invite meeee! (please.)

Final Thoughts:
Add an outdoor brazier to my future home wish list.
s anyone else contemplating the thousands of different types of chocolate bark to make?
Just imagine if Ina had made her own marshmallows and the chocolate bark. Heads would explode.

French Chocolate Bark   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

French Chocolate Bark | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I’ve really been enjoying my starter candy course this month, and frankly this French Chocolate Bark, is even easier than the marshmallows I made last week, but I still managed to learn a few things along the way.

Double Boiler/Bain Marie – this really is the time to use a water bath to melt the chocolate. Nothing could be more tragic (okay, that’s an exaggeration) than ruining high quality chocolate by burning it. A double boiler allows you melt the chocolate through indirect heat and reduces the chances of a mishap due to inattention. Make sure the bowl is heat proof (ie. pyrex) and that the water doesn’t actually touch the bottom.

Advance Prep – The double benefit of using a water bath is that it allows you to get your other ingredients ready without stressing that your chocolate is charring. And, since the chocolate will cool and harden fairly quickly after it’s spread on the parchment it’s a good idea to have the toasted cashews and fruit ready before that step. Much less panic inducing….

Sweet & Salty – I realized as I was making this recipe that the cashews I had were toasted, but not salted. They’d still have worked and been quite good, but as we’ve discussed a balance of sweet and salty is what makes a dessert really amazing. Hence, the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency use of the Maldon sea salt. A good trick to have in your back pocket and regular Kosher salt (used sparingly) could work in a pinch.

French Chocolate Bark   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

French Chocolate Bark | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
100%. I used a medium Pyrex bowl, a medium sauce pan, a large cutting board, chef’s knife, and a rimmed baking sheet. Parchment paper is a must, and if you’re into precision then a ruler and a pencil to help mark the boundaries.

The Verdict:
I ask you, how bad could dark chocolate studded with tart cranberries, sweet musky apricots, and roasted cashews be? Add in a shower of coarse sea salt and this French Chocolate Bark could be your new favorite treat. It also would make a lovely gift for anyone who likes a decadent little something. I’m already plotting my next chocolate bark concoction – maybe spiced like Mexican Hot Chocolate or make use of those leftover starlight mints? What about crunchy pretzels? Candied ginger? Sky’s the limit!

French Chocolate Bark  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

French Chocolate Bark | Image: Laura Messersmith