I have long entertained a little fantasy about weekends: namely, that they’re fun and restful. Most of the time, in reality, I fill them with way too much stuff. This stuff could be fun and restful in theory, but when you cram it all into 48 or so hours – leaving room for sleep, of course, and for finally cleaning the bathroom – it doesn’t look much like a fantasy. Sometimes it’s even kind of stressful, a word that should never, ever be associated with Saturday or Sunday. But this past weekend, blessed be, was like Christmas come early. We had the sort of weekend I wait all week for, sans Clorox and Windex and other commitments and duties. We had champagne and homemade ice cream sandwiches by the fire. We slept until ten(!) and drove to Columbia City Bakery for sticky buns and soft pretzels. We made homebrew with two friends and ate Szechuan take-out. And oh my stars, we even went to a show. Quel weekend!
I’m not sure how I got so lucky, but I wasn’t about to monkey with things by throwing a fussy baking project into the mix. So not only did I not fuss, but hell, I didn’t even bake. I just melted, stirred, chilled, and cubed.
Oh my, are these ever ea-sy. I know I say that about nearly everything around here, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Melt a pound of dark chocolate, stir in some dried fruit and nuts, slip it in the fridge, and poof! You’ve got yourself a pan of dark chocolate candies. These are as speedy and simple as it gets – and, more importantly, they’re spoil-your-dinner good. And despite the astounding ease of their making – you could so drink a big glass of boozy egg nog and not mess them up – they look fussy enough to earn you some good, old-fashioned fussing over.
Gourmet calls these candies “Fruit and Nut Chocolate Chunks,” but I like to think of them as chocolate “blocks.” They remind me of a child’s building blocks, squat and solid, but etched with appealing flecks of fruit and nuts rather than the boring old alphabet. With a set of these in my toy chest, I could have built my childhood forts from something much tastier than blankets and chairs and poster board, and oh, how popular I might have been! But later is always better than never, I believe, and so it goes with these. They’re made for an adult’s palate, anyway, with a dark, refined flavor that – by way of some mysterious fruit-cacao alchemy – hints at wine and liqueur and fancy chocolate truffles. They’re almost better than my weekend, and I don’t say that lightly. They’re one for the cookie tin.
Chocolate “Blocks” with Fruit and Nuts
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2003
Be sure to choose a chocolate whose flavor you love, because it’s the main player here. I can think of any number of excellent brands, but for the sake of affordability – goodness knows most chocolate ain’t cheap – I went with a few bars of Ghirardelli 60%. It’s not particularly fancy, but it is relatively easy on the wallet and has a very true chocolate flavor. Also, for the pistachios and peanuts: you can use either salted or un-, but bear in mind that chocolate and salt make very happy bedfellows, so if you have the salted kind, by all means, use it. I used salted peanuts and unsalted pistachios because that’s what I had on hand. And lastly, for the fruits: if you, like Brandon, feel a little nauseous at the thought of chocolate and raisins, feel free to substitute another fruit instead. Dried cherries would be lovely, I’ll bet, as would chopped dried apricots.
1 ¼ lb good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Vegetable oil, for greasing the pan
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup roasted, shelled pistachios, salted or unsalted
2/3 cup roasted peanuts, salted or unsalted
In the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth.
While the chocolate is melting, line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the foil with vegetable oil.
When the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat, and stir in the fruit and nuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon or rubber spatula. Place the pan in the refrigerator, and chill for about an hour, or until the chocolate is firm. [I chilled mine for exactly one hour and found the chocolate to be the perfect temperature for cutting – not too hard and not too soft. If it’s too hard, the chocolate will shatter under the knife, and you’ll have trouble getting a clean cut.]
Use the foil overhang to lift the chilled chocolate mixture from the pan, and place it on a cutting board. Peel back the foil, and cut the chocolate into whatever size you desire. I like mine in rough 1-inch cubes.
Note: These candies keep in the refrigerator, sealed in an airtight container with foil between the layers, for up to two weeks.