Spice blends make great gifts – consider small jars of handmade Italian Spice blend (from Killing Thyme) or herbes de Provence (from Assault & Pepper).
We were very popular the year I discovered the Spiced Glazed Nuts and Pretzel mix.
And no one said no when we handed over a bag of Cinnamon Pumpkin Seed Brittle.
Pour a cup or two in a small cellophane bag—find them in the gift wrap or housewares sections—and tie with a ribbon. Or use a ziploc and a bow.
This year’s offerings: a quartet of easy, yummy barks. (So delish, I got carried away!)
About chocolate: We're fans of Scharffen Berger, even since its acquisition by a conglomerate. It's no longer available locally, so once or twice a year, I order online.
Keep in mind that flavors may differ if your berries are sweetened with added sugar—common with commercial varieties of dried cranberries. Those sweetened with fruit juice are usually labeled “naturally sweetened.”
I’ve never hesitated to melt chocolate directly on the stove in a small, heavy pan, but it must be watched and stirred frequently; remove from the heat before the melting is finished and stir to complete the process. Other cooks use a double boiler or the microwave. I was gratified to see that Mark Bittman, author of the aptly named How to Cook Everything, says melting chocolate is easy, and recommends the saucepan method, with the microwave as an alternative.
Be aware that white chocolate scorches easily; the microwave works best. Use the real thing, not the chunks sold as candy coating. White chocolate can clump; the trick of adding oil helps ensure smoothness.
Recipes often say to refrigerate to cool. To me, that gives the chocolate a fragility and a bitterness I don’t care for. And if the chocolate is melted with butter, it can separate. Then again, I live in a cold climate and tend to make barks and fudge only in the holiday season, so I can get away with cooling the pans—which doesn’t take long anyway—in the laundry room! (Mr. Right called it my Bark-o-Lounger.)
If you share these treats—and I hope you will—be prepared for the sound effects from your friends. “Oh, yum!” will quickly be followed by “woof, woof!”
Leave a comment below, with your email address, for a chance to win a signed copy of GUILTY AS CINNAMON or KILLING THYME, the second and third books in my Spice Shop Mysteries!
White Chocolate Berry BarkThe original recipe called for dried blueberries, which I couldn’t find; a mix of golden raisins and naturally sweetened dried cranberries made a perfect substitute!
8 ounces white chocolate
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 ounces (about 1 cup) dried blueberries or a mix of golden raisins and naturally sweetened dried
Line a flat baking sheet with parchment paper.
Stir together the fruit, breaking apart any clumps.
Makes about 3 cups.
Dark Chocolate Bark with Toasted Almonds and Dried Berries1/3 cup almonds, chopped, or a mix of sliced, slivered, and chopped almonds
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup dried blueberries or naturally sweetened cranberries
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix or chop almonds; toast for 10 minutes. Cool slightly.
Melt the chocolate until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds and berries. Scrape onto parchment; spread and cool.
Makes about 1-1/2 cups bark.
The original recipe called for all milk chocolate; we didn’t have enough, so I blended in semi-sweet. I think it could easily be made with all semi-sweet, or a mix of semi and bittersweet; the coffee might make an all bittersweet version too bitter.
1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso powder
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the chocolate and stir in the coffee crystals or powder. Spread on to the parchment and cool. Break apart.
Makes about 1-1/2 cups.
Rum Raisin Toffee BarkThe rum adds flavor; all the alcohol burns off. I used my food processor to chop the chocolate. I used half Thompson raisins (the standard variety) and half golden raisins, for a great flavor and color combo.
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
4 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate chopped fine
10 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
½ cup water
½ cup white rum
1/4 cup honey
2 cups raisins
Preheat oven to 325. Line a 10-15 inch jelly roll pan (with sides) with parchment paper.
Chop the chocolate and set aside.
In a 2 or 3 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar, water, run, and honey. Bring to a boil, then use a candy thermometer and cook to 220 degrees. This will take about 15 minutes.
Stir in the raisins and bring to 225 degrees, the soft thread stage.
Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake 20 minutes.
Makes about 3 cups bark.
What's your favorite holiday candy? Leave a comment below with your email address for a chance to win a signed copy of GUILTY AS CINNAMON or KILLING THYME! Winner's choice. Giveaway closes midnight Saturday, December 10. (US and Canadian addresses only, please.)
At Seattle Spice in the Pike Place Market, owner Pepper Reece is savoring her business success, but soon finds her plans disrupted by a killer…
Pepper Reece’s to-do list is longer than the shopping list for a five-course dinner, as she conjures up spice blends bursting with seasonal flavor, soothes nervous brides fretting over the gift registry, and crosses her fingers for a rave review from a sharp-tongued food critic. Add to the mix a welcome visit from her mother, Lena, and she’s got the perfect recipe for a busy summer garnished with a dash of fun.
While browsing in the artists’ stalls, Pepper and Lena drool over stunning pottery made by a Market newcomer. But when Lena recognizes the potter, Bonnie Clay, as an old friend who disappeared years ago, the afternoon turns sour. To Pepper’s surprise, Bonnie seems intimately connected to her family’s past. after Bonnie is murdered only days later, Pepper is determined to uncover the truth.
But as Pepper roots out long-buried secrets, will she be digging her own grave?
Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. The 2015-16 president of Sisters in Crime, she lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher.
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