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The first time I ever attempted to make homemade chocolate bark, I was on national television.
No, that’s not some kind of kitschy Yiddish expression. Rachael Ray made me do it.
It was the Halloween episode of her show, and Rachael needed a helper to assemble fun, interactive treats for kids. I’m not much of a crafter (though my dad still has that clay bowl I made in second grade by his bathroom sink…). But I was up for the challenge.
Also, the producers told me what to do.
The segment featured a super-sweet bark that plunked leftover Halloween candy into a pool of melted chocolate. Although the end result was as exceptionally silly – thanks to the addition of some edible googly eyes – as it was delicious, it was a touch too sugary for my liking.
When it comes to dessert, my palate requires several different punches of satisfying flavor, and this spicy chili pepper bark hits that nail right on the head.
It begins with dark chocolate, which is known for being more bitter and less sweet than milk chocolate. I like to use a variety that’s at least 45% cacao.
If the percentage on the chocolate packages seems confusing and all you really care about is how fast you can tear off the wrapper, I’m right there with you.
But just for your own future knowledge, here’s the lowdown.
Although the words “cocoa” and “cacao” can mean different things depending on their context, when they’re slapped on the outside of a chocolate bar, they’re basically interchangeable. There are other factors that go into the equation (depending on the chocolatier in question), but for the most part, the main rule to keep in mind is as follows:
The higher the percentage of cocoa/cacao, the less sweet and more robust the chocolate flavor will be.
In the case of this chili pepper bark, I chose a middle-ground dark chocolate that offers the best of both worlds.
The added cocoa powder that I include in the mix to make this candy enhances the deep chocolate notes, giving the base of the bark more intensity. And while we could have stopped there, like I said, I don’t like when my sweet indulgences are one-note in terms of flavor.
But we’re not reinventing the wheel here. I’m sure you’ve heard of spicy chocolate bark before, or maybe spicy hot chocolate with chili and cinnamon (a flavor combo that also shines in these cookies).
In my opinion, however, the addition of sweet paprika, tart dried cherries, and a sprinkle of salt make this a dessert that frolics and twirls all over your tongue.
Who wouldn’t want to receive a dancing dessert as a holiday gift?
Chocolate and cherries are unquestionably a match made in heaven, and cinnamon and chocolate are old pals, but who knew paprika would be such a natural partner to the mix?
Delicate, uneven flakes of salt give the final presentation a rustic feel. Not to mention, a pinch of salt in a sweet dish is a classic taste amplifier.
In case the scientist in you is curious, sodium ions home in on bitter flavor compounds and suppress them. This makes sweet flavors seem more pronounced, and bitter foods more pleasant.
Chemistry aside, the moral of the story of this homemade spicy bark is that, with just a handful of ingredients and a little patience while the sweet treat solidifies in the fridge, you can make a divine dessert that’s fully acceptable as a last-minute gift.
Or a late-night snack. Your call.Print
Everyone loves an edible gift, and this cinnamon-spiked chocolate and cherry bark gets a spicy lift from chili flakes and cayenne.
- 12 ounces dark chocolate chips (at least 45% cacao)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons chopped dried cherries
- 1/4 teaspoon large-flake salt
- Line a quarter-size rimmed sheet pan (9.5 x 13 inches) with parchment paper.
- Pull out your double boiler and add about 2 inches of water, or create a makeshift double boiler by adding the water to a medium saucepot and placing a heatproof bowl over the top. Make sure there’s a gap between the water and the bowl.
- Place over medium heat. Add the chocolate, cocoa powder, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne, paprika, and cinnamon to the bowl (or top of the double boiler) and then bring the water in the base to a simmer. Turn off the heat, and whisk the chocolate mixture constantly until it’s melted and smooth.
- Pour the chocolate into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly with an offset spatula. It’s okay if it doesn’t reach the edges of the parchment paper.
- Immediately sprinkle the bark with the dried cherries and salt. Chill in the fridge until set, about 2-3 hours.
- Once the bark has hardened, break it into big chunks. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
- Category: Candy
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Dessert
Keywords: chocolate bark, cayenne, dried cherries, dark chocolate
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Gather and Measure Bark Ingredients
Line a quarter-size rimmed cookie sheet (9.5-by-13-inch size, or sometimes 9-by-13) with parchment paper. Measure the chips, cocoa powder, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne, paprika, cinnamon, and salt. Roughly chop the dried cherries.
You can also use your favorite dark chocolate bar, chopped into chunks.
Use regular paprika for a sweet fruitiness, or try the smoked variety for a richer, more intense flavor.
Any large-flaked coarse salt will give the bark a salty snap, but I prefer Maldon sea salt for its clean bite. You can find it in an 8.5-ounce box, available on Amazon.
Step 2 – Melt Ingredients in a Double Boiler
You can either use an actual double boiler, or create a makeshift version by adding about 2 inches of water to a medium saucepot and placing a medium-size heatproof bowl (such as one that’s metal or glass) over the top. Make sure there’s a gap between the water and the bowl.
The reason to use a double boiler is that chocolate is a temperature-sensitive ingredient and melting it requires gentle, indirect heat.
With the pot over medium heat, add the chips, cocoa powder, crushed red pepper flakes, cayenne, paprika, and cinnamon to the bowl. Bring the water in the pot to a simmer.
Turn off the heat, and whisk the mixture constantly until it’s melted and smooth.
If your mixture has seized (meaning it has become stiff and grainy), you don’t need to start over. Turn to this how-to article on saving seized chocolate for guidance.
Step 3 – Spread and Top with Cherries and Salt
Pour the melted mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly with an offset spatula. It’s okay if it doesn’t reach the edges of the parchment paper. You should aim for about a 1/4-inch thickness, but it doesn’t have to be exact.
Immediately sprinkle the bark with the dried cherries and salt. You want the base to still be wet during this step, so the ingredients stick to the top.
Step 4 – Chill and Break Bark
Chill the bark in the fridge until it’s set, for about 2 to 3 hours. As it sets, you’ll start to see the edges peeling away from the parchment paper.
Once the bark has hardened, break it into big chunks. For 1-ounce servings, you’ll break it into about 12 to 14 pieces.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks.
Barking Up the Right Tree
If it’s customization you’re after, you’ve come to the right recipe. Since this dessert requires no baking and very little schlepping all over your kitchen (other than to the spice cabinet and back), take a peek in your pantry for other ideas to jazz things up.
Nuts are a no-brainer for adding some crunch, a swirl of peanut butter adds contrast, and candied ginger brings a different kind of spice.
And if you’re gifting your homemade bark, don’t forget to save some scraps for make-ahead snack packs.
So, dried cranberries and pecans? Extra salty with just a hint of spice? How will you buff up your homemade bark? Share your sweet suggestions in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Chocolate is a choice landing pad for other ingredients of all kinds, and these recipes will give you the inspirational burst you’re looking for if you’re craving more:
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Lorna Kring on December 16, 2015. Last updated on December 14, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”