Chocolate bark is the workhorse of homemade holiday gifts: easy, crowd-pleasing, expected.
But you’ve never seen chocolate bark like Tom Faglon’s chocolate bark. Instead of nuts or dried fruit or chopped-up, peppermint candy canes, he scatters fresh pomegranate seeds over the surface, where they glisten like rubies. Chewy bits of candied ginger are hidden inside the bittersweet chocolate, lying in wait to surprise you with their spiciness. Then, to make things even more interesting, he strews the top with crunchy sea salt.
His bark is as sweet and juicy as a box of chocolate-covered cherries, but a lot more sophisticated.
Even better for the busiest time of the year, a pound of it takes less than 10 active minutes to make.
I came across Faglon’s recipe as I was poring over the nearly 150 messages that readers sent to us with their favorite, sweet, homemade holiday gifts. Recipes came in from all over the world. There was an unusual, anise-oat crescent cookie from Rome. A recipe for chocolate-dipped, marzipan-covered apricots was sent from Paris. From Brooklyn came a farmers’-market-inspired fruit compote.
So I put on my apron and got to work, testing my way through a dozen of the offerings. My methodology for choosing what to test operated on a gut level. If my mouth started to water as I read the recipe, I printed it out.
There were plenty of variations on chocolate bark, but none as intriguing as Faglon’s.
The only downside to Faglon’s recipe for chocolate bark is that, because the pomegranate seeds contain a lot of moisture, the bark isn’t something you want to keep around for very long. It will start to weep after a day or so. This said, it’s easy enough to make in the morning and give out that afternoon. And it will still taste good days later even if it starts to look a little tear-stained.
A more stable homemade sweet that is just as tasty, if not quite as strikingly pretty, is the spiced pecan praline recipe sent in by Elizabeth Choinski of Oxford, Miss.
Living in the South, Choinski has seen plenty of pralines in her time, flavored with the likes of chocolate and coffee. But she had never come upon pralines imbued with the classic spice flavors of the holidays. So she made her own, mixing cloves and cinnamon into the pot.
“I thought it would be a good combination,” she wrote in her email. “I was wrong; it’s a great combination.”
Her pralines are superb: aromatic, creamy as they melt in your mouth, then crunchy from the nuts.
Some of my favorite, sweet holiday gifts come in liquid form. I made a cranberry cordial submitted by Corey Balazowich of North Canton, Ohio, which required only two weeks of steeping. Scarlet-hued, with just enough sugar to offset the tartness of the berries, this vodka-based spirit was a resounding success. It’s also a good place to use up cranberries left over from Thanksgiving.
Your friends will be thrilled to receive any of these homemade holiday gifts. I know mine will be, too. And we all have you, our readers, to thank.
Dark Chocolate and Pomegranate Bark
Fit a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Place the chocolate in the bowl and stir until fully melted, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the pot and stir the crystallized ginger and half of the pomegranate seeds into the melted chocolate.
Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour melted chocolate mixture onto the sheet. Use a spatula to smooth the chocolate into one even layer about ¼ inch thick. (It does not need to fill the entire sheet.) Sprinkle chocolate with remaining pomegranate seeds and sea salt.
Chill for 20 to 30 minutes or until firm. Break or cut into pieces and store in an airtight container, separating the layers with wax paper. Best served the day it’s made; otherwise condensation may form on the surface.
Yield: About 3/4 pound of bark (8 servings); Source: Adapted from Tom Faglon
Spiced Holiday Pralines
In a saucepan, combine sugar, cane syrup, pecans and ½ cup water. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches 235° on a candy thermometer.
Remove saucepan from heat and immediately stir in butter, vanilla extract, and spices. Allow mixture to cool for 10 minutes.
Carefully, using a hand-held mixer — or a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment — whip until mixture changes to a lighter color and becomes creamy and just starts to stiffen as it cools. (It should still be warm.) The pecans will break up a bit.
Use a tablespoon-size cookie-dough scoop to drop mixture onto two baking sheets lined with parchment paper (12 pralines per sheet). Use a spatula to flatten each praline. Let cool completely and store in a tin, creating separate layers with wax paper.
Yield: 2 dozen pieces; Source: Adapted from Elizabeth Choinski
In a large saucepan, bring sugar and 1½ cups water to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Place cranberries in a food processor and pulse until they are broken up. Add cranberries, vodka, and citrus zest (if using) to the sugar syrup in the pot. Stir well, then transfer to a large jar or two, cover, and shake well. Shake the mixture every day for two weeks. At this point, you can either strain the mixture into smaller bottles for gift giving or continue to infuse the spirit in the large jar. It will keep for up to two months.
Yield: About 1¼ liters; Source: Adapted from Corey Balazowich