Are you making any holiday candy to give away as gifts or serve to guests? We've been inspired to experiment with some new candy recipes, but first we wanted to get some expert advice. So we turned to Lauren Pett of Rich Chocolates & Candies, part of Chicago's Sweet Collective. Before you start your next batch, check out her tips below.
We're big fans of Lauren's Pub Bark – dark chocolate topped with pretzels, peanuts, and corn chips. It's salty, sweet, indulgent and addictive. It made us think about other unusual toppings for bark. Could we put Cheez-Its on our bark? Potato chips? Gummi bears? We were overwhelmed with crazy ideas, so we sought out Lauren's help. Here are some of her tips for picking ingredients and some other tricks of the trade:
- Experiment, but start small. Dip a Cheez-It in chocolate and taste it, or even eat a Cheez-It with a piece of chocolate, just to see how they work together. You can only do so much in your head. In the end, the only way you'll know if it works is to actually taste it (someone had to be the first to actually dip bacon in chocolate).
- Don't be afraid to try different chocolates. I feel like everyone automatically reaches for dark chocolate, but it's not always the best flavor match.... The great thing about something like bark is you can make really tiny amounts of it so you are really free to go crazy and experiment. If you've ever thought to yourself, "I wonder how this would taste with chocolate," bark is a great way to find out.
- You can't go wrong with the classics. There are lots of classic bark ingredients – for example, you really can't go wrong with dried fruits or nuts. You can start with something basic and experiment with additions. Think about flavors you like together in other applications and see how they taste on chocolate.
- Think about balance. For Christmas this year, I made a special bark that I wanted to reference the holidays without being overly 'Christmasy.' I immediately thought of crystallized ginger, which I thought would go great with dark chocolate. To balance out the spiciness of the ginger, I added roasted hazelnuts. But it was missing something ... of course! Candied orange peel. So, it was really well balanced – the richness of the chocolate, the spicy ginger, the sweet orange, all tempered by the nuts.
- Skip the expensive warming bowl – use a heating pad. The trickiest part about working with chocolate is keeping it in temper. A lot of people think you need a fancy warming bowl, but those are really expensive. All you need is a couple of stainless steel bowls, and a heating pad. Nestle the pad in a large stainless bowl, and temper your chocolate in a separate bowl. Once the chocolate is tempered, rest that bowl on top of the pad, and voila – your chocolate will stay tempered. For a while, at least.
- Stick with the old-fashioned candy thermometer. I know there are all kinds of fancy thermometers out there, but for making caramels and toffees, I think the old fashioned ones are the most reliable. They don't have any sort of timer so you have to keep an eye on it, but they're really affordable and accurate.
If you'd like to learn more about candy making, Lauren recommends the book Making Artisan Chocolates by Andrew Garrison Shotts.
(Images: Vanessa Churchill and Michael McAtee, via Rich Chocolates & Candies)