Moroccan Chocolate Bark Recipe with ras-al-hanout
The holidays have brought me to the brink of chocolate exhaustion. It feels like overspending on a credit card: I know that if I keep going it will become a problem and someone will start hunting me down, even if that someone is the skinnier ghost of my ass crying, “What have you done to me?!”
It peaked around Christmas, a chocolataganza of chocolate pecan pie, chocolate peanut butter cookies, and a stocking gift from my sister: a pretty little gold box of See’s Candies from San Francisco that somehow has carried me, in stealth tastings, through the New Year. (This will be the first my family knows about it; I didn’t share them with anyone.)
I began casting around for ways to ramp the healthiness of my diet. Several friends reported that going on a cleanse for the New Year. I thought about joining one but I’ve never been able to stick to diet. Who wants to start the New Year feeling like a looser? I needed something that wouldn’t strain my taste buds.
Then, like manna, a post for the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. It was an oxymoron made in heaven: delicious and healthy. I yelped with delight when I saw that Day One included a chocolate bark dessert. It was svelte version of a chocolate bar studded with roasted pumpkin, sesame and flax seeds, with a spare sprinkling of Malden salt flakes – a mine of grown-up tastes that left me completely satisfied me after a few nibbles. More importantly, it revived my enthusiasm for chocolate and got me to thinking about it in a different way. I started to meditate on ways to make it even more gratifying.
So the other night I was playing around with beans and greens and came up with a deconstructed Moroccan version that used roasted chickpeas spiced with ras-el-hanout as semi-crunchy croutons on top of a greens and lamb merguez stew. It reminded me how much I love the versatility of the traditional Moroccan spice blend.
Ras-el-hanout means “top of the shop” in Arabic--the best spices that the shop has to offer. There are many variations, often kept secret by the purveyor who may blend up to 100 spices. (I couldn’t find a 100-spice recipe; if anyone does could you let me know?) Some day I’d like to do a ras-el-hanout tour of Marrakech spice shops. At one time, the blend included aphrodisiacs like Spanish Fly. I don’t have access to Spanish Fly, but love does seem embedded in ras-el-hanout. Just what my chocolate relationship needed!
The ras-el-hanout I use is based on an Epicurious recipe that varies depending on what I have on hand. My current batch is a little heavy on cinnamon and ginger, making it perfect for desserts. It involves roasting a bunch of spices and blending them up – a slight pain so I mix up a bunch at a time and store it in a well-sealed jam jar. My supply has been used in several tagines, as a rub on roast lamb, and even to spice up my coffee. Why not chocolate?
It didn’t disappoint me. The fruity spices and cayenne liberate a firestorm of flavor. It made me very happy again. Just what chocolate is supposed to do.
Moroccan Chocolate Bark Recipe
Adapted from Bon Appetit
1/4 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
½ teaspoon ras-al-hanout
8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
Heat a dry skillet over medium-high heat to toast the seeds. I like to use cast iron. The key is to avoid burning so rely on your nose and do not leave the stove. Add pumpkin seeds and toast, stirring often, until the pumpkin seeds first start to pop. Remove to a bowl. Toast flax seeds in the same skillet, stirring frequently, until fragrant and just starting to turn color, about 30 seconds. Add to bowl with pumpkin seeds. Toast sesame seeds in the same skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant and just starting to turn golden, about 30 seconds. Add to bowl with other seeds.
Place chocolate in small pan and heat over medium-low, stirring constantly, until melted. Stir in ras-al-hanout.
Pour melted chocolate onto wax or parchment paper with a spatula and smooth out into a thin even layer. Sprinkle seed mixture over chocolate. Let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours, until set. Break into 6-8 pieces. Store airtight in refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature for a few minutes before eating.
*Variations: You can substitute with nuts on hand, such as roasted hazelnuts, chopped to pumpkin-seed size. The next time, I’d like to up the Maghreb-ness of it by adding some lemon or orange zest and a little more cayenne.