My first experience with spicy chocolate was when I was an undergraduate. I was living in Burlington, Vermont, and one of my roommates, Susan, worked part-time downtown at the most fantastic locally owned chocolatier. At the end of each of her shifts, she’d return to our apartment with a box of assorted chocolates – all the leftovers that were too old to sell but were still perfectly fine to eat. The two of us, and our six other roommates, would gather on her bed with bottles of wine and sample all the fancy, artisanal chocolates we couldn’t actually afford but completely craved. It was a broke college student’s dream.
It was on one of those nights when Susan spoiled us with a box of miniature dark chocolate bars blended with cinnamon, pumpkin seeds and spicy cayenne pepper. While the crunch of the seeds and the fragrance of the cinnamon felt vaguely familiar, the slow burn of the cayenne on my tongue and the back of my throat felt like a revelation. Chocolate was suddenly so different, so open to the possibilities that lay hidden in my spice cabinet.
One of my home cooking goals for the year is to cook more with healing spices that don’t typically make the rounds in my daily home cooking. These past few weeks, I’ve been beginning each day by adding a heaping spoonful of cinnamon to my normal breakfast smoothie (almond milk + ground flax + mixed berries + banana) in order to help ward off inflammation. I’ve been sprinkling a generous bit of turmeric on our vegetables, which is supposed to benefit everything from our bellies to our brains. I’ve also been experimenting with cayenne, which is rumored to be good for our hearts and our circulation.
Since I don’t cook much with cayenne, I’ve been on the hunt for some good recipes that incorporate the spice. While scouring Pinterest and our cookbook collection for ideas, I was reminded of those happy days spent crammed onto a full-sized bed with my roommates, talking about books and boys and all our dreams for our then twenty-something lives, the quiet burn of cayenne lingering on our lips as we spoke.
This Spicy Orange and Almond Dark Chocolate Bark is a bit of a homage to those nights. The cayenne in this recipe is subtle; it releases just enough of a burn to make it satisfying without feeling overwhelming. And like all barks, it requires the most basic of steps (melt chocolate, stir in a few goodies, let set), but looks incredibly impressive to guests. I like to store mine in an airtight container that I tuck into the freezer so that the bark stays good and firm. Despite its simplicity (no fancy kitchen equipment required), it is quickly becoming one of my most favorite recipes of the new year.
Spicy Orange and Almond Dark Chocolate Bark
– 10 ounces dark chocolate
– ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
– zest from 1 orange
– ½ cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
– sea salt
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the cayenne, ¾ of the orange zest and ¾ of the toasted almonds. Spread the chocolate mixture onto the prepared sheet, being sure to smooth it into as thin a layer as possible. Sprinkle with the remaining zest, almonds and a generous pinch of coarse sea salt. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.