Recipe: Chocolate Shards

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For a step-by-step guide to making homemade chocolate shards, click here.

There is a trick to making homemade chocolates: you have to temper it to make sure it will set properly. Untempered chocolate will be flabby and rubbery, refusing to snap when you break it. It's essential for the proper chemistry to use the best and freshest chocolate you can buy: fragrant and glossy with no trace of a gray bloom on the surface. This method of stirring chopped chocolate into the melted chocolate insures that the chocolate will harden properly and break into pretty shards.

You can improvise endlessly on this formula, devising unique combinations of chocolate and flavorings to embellish the chocolate. You can also simply stir the embellishments right into the melted chocolate before pouring.)

Makes about 1 & 1/2 pounds

    •1 pound fragrant premium chocolate such as Valhrona or Sharfenberger, bitter sweet (70% cacao), or milk chocolate

    • About 1 1/2 cups chunky embellishments, in any combination of the following:

    • nuts: pistachios, pine nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, peanuts, roasted and coarsely chopped, or t
oasted coconut)

    • dried fruit: raisins, currents, or cherries

    • candy bars: peanut butter cups, peppermint patties, nut brittle, nougat or torrone, diced or coarsely chopped


    • candied fruit: orange peel or crystallized ginger, chopped or diced. (These are potent and should be used sparingly.)


    • herbs or spices: unsprayed lavender, curry powder, garam masala, pimenton de la vera (sweet, smoky paprika), freshly ground pepper, Mexican cinnamon (a scant 1/2 teaspoon)
, flaky sea salt or fleur de sel
.

     •other: crisp bacon, blotted of all fat and finely chopped with coarsely ground black pepper (both are best stirred into the chocolate before you pour it).

Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper (or simply place the paper on the work surface). With a chef's knife or in a food processor, chop the chocolate into 1-inch or smaller pieces.

Place half of the chocolate in a heavy saucepan and place on a flame tamer over a low flame. Alternatively, use a double boiler, making sure that the bowl of chocolate is suspended over (not in) the simmering water. It is essential that no water get into the chocolate or it will seize up and turn to unusable clumps. Stir the chocolate frequently with a rubber spatula until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate until completely melted.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the wax paper and spread it about 1/8-inch-thick with a cake icer. Let the chocolate set about 5 minutes. This is your palette for improvising really fun and interesting combinations.

Scatter or arrange your desired embellishments over the chocolate. To dust with ground spices, let the chocolate sit until the surface has firmed up and the chocolate is still pliable, from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how cool the room is. (This way, the spices will stay visible.) Place the spice a fine strainer and gently sift evenly over the chocolate. Sprinkle coarser herbs or sea salt over the chocolate with your fingers.

Let the chocolate set 1 to 2 hours until firm.

Break the chocolate into shards.

The chocolate will keep up to two weeks in a sealed container at room temperature. Package it as gifts as you need them.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.
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