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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Resolution: renew my vows to chocolate

Moroccan Chocolate Bark Recipe with Ras-al-hanout

The holidays have brought me to the brink of chocolate exhaustion. 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 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 with anyone.) 

I considered a cleanse, but have never been able to stick to a diet. Then a post for the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse appeared on my FB newsfeed.  It was an oxymoron made in heaven: delicious and healthy. I yelped when I saw 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 Maldon salt flakes – a gold mine of grown-up tastes that left me completely satisfied me after a few nibbles. 

I started to meditate on ways to make it even more gratifying.

So the other night, making a tagine I was reminded how much I love the versatility of the traditional Moroccan spice blend, ras-el-hanout.

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. 

The ras-el-hanout I use is based on an Epicurious recipe. But it varies depending on what I have on hand. My current batch is a little heavy on cinnamon and ginger, making it perfect for desserts. Ras-el-hanout 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. I use it for tagines, as a rub on roast lamb, and even to spice up my coffee. Why not chocolate? The fruity spices and cayenne create a firestorm of flavor that is mellowed slightly by the chocolate. 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 sesame seeds
¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 -1 teaspoon ras-al-hanout*
8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (for a good one like Scharffen Berger or Valrhona) 

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. This is easier than you think. 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.

*Epicurious has a good recipe for ras-el-hanout, but you can also find it pre-packaged at places like Sahadi's. You can also order it online from other purveyors.


rutha said...

OMG to die for it seems. never, ever tire of your blog. reading it is as satisfying as eating.

Unknown said...

Thank you!

Tina said...

Thanks for the recipe!

Unknown said...

I'm glad you liked it, jabelchen. You must have some great chocolate in Germany.