Dark Chocolate Bark with Apricots and Candied Pepitas
In my youth, I looked forward to Halloween with the type of extreme excitement most people reserve for Christmas, puppies, or the birth of their first child. Costumes were planned months in advance (as I’ve mentioned before, I was once Sweetheart Barbie in the box), trick-or-treating routes were painstakingly mapped, and I even practiced Jack-O-Lantern carving skills on oranges. In August. My parents were very proud.
I remained a Halloween enthusiast through college, which wasn’t surprising given my well-documented affinity for the 3 C’s: cocktails, costumes, and candy. In fact, doing keg stands as a slutty Ninja Turtle and then eating my weight in candy corn was an eagerly anticipated annual event.
Given my lifelong love affair with the holiday, I was somewhat confused when I found myself straight-up dreading Halloween this year. At first I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I felt this way, but watching a semi-nude co-ed stumble past my apartment building last Thursday evening helped me figure it out…
The late twenties are Halloween purgatory. Like I said last year, I’m too old to put on a slutty nurse outfit and drag my feeble liver to the club until 4am, yet I’m too childless to hit the trick-or-treating circuit. Sad, but true.
So what’s a girl like me to do on this awkward All Hallow’s Eve? I suppose there are several possible answers to that question, but the only one I’m interested in involves Hocus Pocus, red wine, and an obscene amount of “Healthy Halloween Bark.”
Relax, my homemade-candy fearing friends, the fancy chocolate bark on your screen is a breeze to make, and it doesn’t require any scary equipment. All you have to do is roast some pumpkin seeds with maple syrup and spices, melt a few bars of chocolate, and spread everything on a baking sheet. Pop it in the fridge for 30-minutes, break the bark into pieces, and you’ve got yourself a sweet and spicy pile of chocolate heaven. Domestic witchcraft!
Even better, this delightful vegan and gluten-free Halloween treat is actually good for you! Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants and chemical compounds that have been shown to improve both mood and cognitive health, and pepitas provide plenty of immune-boosting vitamins and heart healthy omega-3s that promote clear skin and shiny hair. In short, Healthy Halloween Bark will make you happier, smarter and prettier. I can’t say the same for candy corn…
½ cup pepitas (aka raw shelled pumpkin seeds)
2 teaspoons liquid coconut oil
2 tablespoons good quality maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
14-ounces good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao) FYI, that’s 4 3.5-ounce chocolate bars)
2/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet (any size will do) with parchment. Line a second large baking sheet (or baking dish/pan) with foil.
In a bowl, stir together the coconut oil, maple syrup, cinnamon, cayenne (if using) and pepitas. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and let cool completely. Once cool, break up any pepita clumps with your hands. (Some maple syrup shards in the mix are a good thing!)
Now it’s time to melt the chocolate! You can do this in a double-boiler or microwave, the choice is yours. If using the microwave method, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place them in a large microwave-safe glass bowl. Microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring after each one, until the chocolate is completely melted. (This should take about 2 minutes.)
Pour the melted chocolate onto the foil-lined baking sheet and smooth it out with a spatula. Evenly sprinkle the candied pepitas and chopped apricots over the chocolate. (You don’t have to use all the pepitas and apricots if you want a higher ratio of chocolate to toppings, okay?)
Let the bark stand at room temperature for 3-hours until set, or pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes. (I’d go with the latter if I were you.) Peel off the foil, and break bark into whatever size pieces you’d like. Go to town on your fancy homemade treat, or refrigerate bark in an airtight container until you’re ready to dive in.
This chocolate bark makes an excellent host(ess) gift or holiday present. Hint, hint.
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