I taught a cooking class at Book Larder a couple weeks ago, my first class in a long time. It was invigorating to get up in front of a group again, and although perhaps I was a bit overambitious with the menu (so many vegetables to chop - ha!), I enjoyed the sense of gathering and the people who came to join me at the table.
I talked some about mindful eating in the class, which truly deserves a separate post on its own, but these little bars fit right in with such a topic and the class that night. I've riffed slightly on the original version by the brilliant Anna Jones, London-based food writer and author of "A Modern Way to Cook". But these, THESE, will surely compel you to take a pause with even the slightest of bites.
The bits of flaky sea salt, ever the attention-grabbers, give such a nice punch here and, likely, will jolt you fortuitously from whatever previous mode you were in. I think you'll find the grit and chew of the ground almonds and shredded coconut immensely satisfying sandwiched between thick shells of chocolate. Sweet will mingle with salty and all will feel right in the world for a moment. Our senses could use a good thrill now and then, yes?
I find that these come together fairly quickly and are just the thing for an afternoon pick-up or post-dinner nosh, best with a cup of tea. They keep well in the fridge for up to a month, although I doubt they'll last that long.
Choose high-quality dark chocolate here if you can, striving for organic and fair-trade to promote sustainability, ensure fair wages for farmers and workers, and advocate for safe and environmentally sound working conditions. I like to aim for around 70% cacao to maximize health benefits (antioxidants!) and taste.
If you're new to using a fresh vanilla bean, I assure you, you'll never look back. Here's a little how-to for fetching the tiny seeds: Lay the bean on a cutting board and split it down its length using a paring knife. Open the "flaps" on each side of the split as much as you're able. Extract the seeds by holding the tip of the bean against the cutting board and scraping the dull side of your knife down the length of the bean. There's a good tutorial here. You can save the pods to infuse into milk or cream or pop them into a jar of sugar for a subtle vanilla flavor.
On another note, is anyone else desperately ready for spring? I think last week's snowfall rendered me completely quenched of winter and wishing I had booked a tropical vacation for February. The sun is out today, however, and I'm encouraged that a change is just ahead. Until then, I think a little more winter baking and cups of coffee held with mittens will do just fine.
And for fun, a snap of little Crew, who just turned two in late January. He is ever the enthusiast for eating, and naturally, these bars were no exception. Sweet tooth, indeed.
salted almond butter chocolate bars // makes 24 bars
adapted from "A Modern Way to Cook" by Anna Jones
These are just the thing I crave in the middle of the afternoon or at the end of the day. Heady and rich, I find that just one tends to do. Cooling the chocolate for a bit after it melts is important here so the bars will be well coated, but you'll want to take care not to let it cool so long that it hardens and loses its gloss. If this happens and you're finding the chocolate too thick and clumpy to coat the bars, simply place the bowl of chocolate back over the pot of water and bring it to a simmer again to loosen up the chocolate, stirring as you go.
7 oz/200 g raw almonds
3 tablespoons runny honey
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
the seeds from 1 vanilla bean pod
5 oz/150 g unsweetened coconut
14 oz/400 g dark chocolate, preferably around 70% cacao
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Line a small square tin or baking tray with parchment paper. Put the almonds into the bowl of a food processor and blitz for 5 minutes, until the nuts are beginning to turn into a soft butter. Add the honey, coconut oil, vanilla bean seeds, and a good pinch of salt and blitz to combine. Add the coconut and blitz again until you have a scruffy dough-like mixture.
Tip the dough into the lined baking tray and use clean wet hands to even it out into an even square, about 3/4" or so. Put the tray into the freezer for a few minutes. If you've got a double boiler, use that to melt the chocolate. Otherwise, create a makeshift one like I do by filling a pot with an inch or two of water and placing it on stove. Break the chocolate into another pot or heat-safe bowl that will comfortably sit on top of the pot. Bring the water to a simmer, place the bowl on top of the pot (making sure the bowl doesn't touch the simmering water), and let the chocolate melt, stirring all the while.
Meanwhile, take the almond mixture out of the freezer and cut it into 24 bars by making 6 vertical slices and 4 horizontal ones. Pop them back into the freezer to chill.
Once the chocolate has melted, take it off the heat and allow it to cool a bit, stirring occasionally. Line a second baking tray with parchment. Take the frozen bars out of the fridge and dip them into the chocolate, using two forks to turn them, then lay them on the parchment. You likely won't use up all the chocolate, but having a little extra makes it easier to coat the bars evenly. Enjoy the leftover chocolate by the spoonful or pour it into a container to harden and break into pieces for later. Once you have coated all the bars, put them into the fridge to set.
These bars can be stacked in a container and kept in the fridge for up to a month. They freeze well too. Enjoy!