Every Christmas my friend Caroline and her daughters make home-made food gifts.One year they made dried tomatillo slices, this year they made lovely orange marmalade—last year they made a collection of different flavored chocolate bark.She wanted to have a variety of flavors and wanted one to be spicy. So, she asked me about using chilies in the chocolate; I told her I love using ancho chilies for nearly anything and that it was trendy to pair chipotle chilies with chocolate.I suggested she use Sweet Smokey Fire my all purpose chili-based dry rub (the ingredients are ancho chili, chipotle chili, maple sugar, turbinado, and Celtic sea salt).Caroline is a very good cook and didn’t need any other suggestions from me: What she created was amazing!
She used a high quality chocolate with the Sweet Smokey Fire rub, dried cherries, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and sea salt. Wow! And, as with most great cooks, when I asked how she made it she said, “Well, I melted the chocolate, sprinkled some dried cherries, pepitas, your spices, and sea salt” (or something along those lines).I did grill her a bit more and then experimented to create the recipe below, how does it compare with Caroline’s? Hard to say: It’s difficult to recapture a first experience.However, the recipe for the bark is excellent.It’s been a big hit everywhere I’ve sampled it over the past year—at Farmer’s Markets, at Dessert First in Portland, and up in Rockland at the Cellar Door Winery where they paired a delicious red wine with it (I think it was their Trilogy Blend . . . simply awesome!)
The key with making a spicy chili chocolate is to use a chocolate that is not too sweet.Using a chocolate that is too sweet with a chili or a chili-based dry rub will make your mouth and throat feel raw and you’ll lose the subtlety of the chili flavors —it’s too much!I like to use a semi-sweet chocolate, that’s a bit more on the dark side.Chocolate can be bought in a variety of strengths which are delineated through the percentage of cacao, typically (for dark chocolate) what is not cacao is sugar.But the whole story is not as straightforward as it might at first seem, and you can read extensively about it here; (my rule of thumb: bakers (unsweetened) chocolate is 100% cacao; bitter-sweet 70% +; semi-sweet 50-60%); I like to use Callebaut 55% (which I found at WholeFoods and can be ordered through callebaut.com).
The nicer the chocolate the better it melts and the more silky it feels in your mouth.I’ve had a couple of people come up to me after trying this chocolate bark and say, “Wow, how do you make the chocolate so smooth, when I make chocolate bark it’s waxy or it’s chalky.” And, as much as I’d like to think that some of us just have a knack for working with chocolate, the simple truth is that the higher the quality of the chocolate you use the smoother and tastier your bark will be.If you use cheap chocolate chips your bark will not be very good, no matter how well you spice it.One more note on chocolate: I never melt chocolate in the microwave. I know many people do, but I prefer to have my eyes on it the whole time.When it’s in the microwave it’s out of your control; and scorched, unevenly melted chocolate is not good.
When you add chilies to chocolate, or anything else for that matter, you want to think about building a full-bodied, round flavor.Chilies come in hundreds of varieties with an equal number of subtle flavors.If you only use a super hot chili like habanero or even cayenne, the flavor will be thin and watery.You want to create a full-bodied base using flavor chilies and then add accents and heat.Flavor chilies are chilies like ancho, pasilla, and cascabel they have rich fruity tones and a chili taste without much heat. Chipotle, arbol and guajillo add nice medium heat with high flavor accents. If you want to spice it up without adding much flavor add some cayenne.
(When spicing chocolate avoid paprika, even though you see it frequently used as the base of chili rubs:It’s too tomato-y and weighs too heavily on your tongue which, in my opinion, is no good for either a meat rub or for chocolate (even if it’s smoked).)
For Sweet Smokey Fire (the dry rub I used in this chocolate recipe) I began with an ancho chili base.Ancho chilies are dried poblano chili peppers.They are the sweetest of the hot peppers and are heavily used in Mexican cooking.I love to cook with ancho chili peppers! They are large and triangular shaped (about 4” long by 3” wide at the top) and they should be soft enough to be able to be sliced and chopped without being reconstituted. I always put them in my chili or in veggie stews; I add them to the dish when I’m sweating the onions and other aromatic vegetables; they add a lot of depth through their subtle heat, a bit of the rich sweetness of dried fruit (cherry and raisin), a little hint of smoke, and a nice deep red color.As a base for a classic chili dry rub I always use ancho chili peppers—the flavor is never flat, it plays off the palette in a way that is almost effervescent.When it’s paired with chocolate, ancho seems to enhance the chocolate flavor with its delicate smooth warmth and fruit tones.
To the ancho chili base of Sweet Smokey Fire I added chipotle chilies for a nice rich smoky accent.Chipotle chilies are smoked jalapeños.Their medium heat is set off by a natural earthy flavor—earthy, though brighter than the ancho.The heat from chipotle (and all jalapeños) is felt at the back of your throat, it has a slow, mellow burn that makes it the perfect match for a luscious chocolate experience; the chipotle-chocolate combination is to be savored, not gobbled!
If you’re creating your own chili combination for this spicy chocolate bark, you might want to think about adding a small amount of cinnamon; it plays nice with both chocolate and chilies!
Caroline’s Sweet Smokey Fire Chocolate Bark
- 1 lb Semi-Sweet Chocolate
- 1½ - 2 tsp ReginaSpices: Sweet Smokey Fire
- ½ Cup Dried Tart Cherries
- ¼ Cup Pepitas/pumpkin seeds (raw, unsalted)
- ¼ - ½ tsp medium coarse Celtic Sea Salt, or Kosher Salt
Line an 11 x 7 baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sprinkle cherries onto parchment. Melt the chocolate on the stove over low heat stirring until it’s completely melted, remove from heat, then mix in 1 ¼ tsp of Sweet, Smokey Fire.Don’t over heat the chocolate.
Pour chocolate over cherries (I swirl and shake the pan to distribute the chocolate).
Sprinkle the remaining Sweet, Smokey Fire over chocolate, then sprinkle the pepitas and finally the sea salt.
Chill in the freezer for 15 min or until set and breakable.
Break chocolate into pieces and refrigerate for a couple of hours.