When I head out to exercise in the mountains, the snack most often tucked in my backpack is not a homemade power bar. I do love my homemade bars, and every week I cook up at least one batch of rice muffins, tahini ginger bars, Backcountry Bars, or good old granola bars. But I have a hard time keeping up with demand. In a household of four active people, two of them growing teenagers with bottomless appetites, there’s never enough time to keep all supplied with homemade snacks every day.
Chocolate is what saves me. I have been snacking on chocolate my entire adult life. When I was routinely skipping meals as a medical student pulling 48-hour shifts, I always had a good bar of chocolate tucked in my pocket. When I was in private practice and never had time to eat lunch, I snacked on chocolate (and nuts, fruit and granola) to get me through the day.
Like most chocoholics, I collect different types of chocolate wherever I go. I have single origin bars from Ecuador, Panama and Bolivia. I have an array of artisanal fair trade chocolate that I found at a chocolate shop in Mexico City. When in San Francisco, I stop by the Sharffenberger chocolate factory and stock up on small bars laced with cacao nibs, crushed coffee beans, almonds and toffee. When Chocolove bars go on sale (as they often do at Jackson Whole Grocer), I load up on my favorite flavors: cherry chili, almonds and sea salt, peppermint and extra dark. And when I go to Caputo’s Italian grocery store in Salt Lake City, I buy bags of chocolate for baking in all different strengths, which describe the percentage of cacao, from the 55 percent semisweet up to the intense 85 percent bittersweet Abinao.
Sometimes I’m faced with the problem of having too much chocolate in my chocolate stash — that out of the way cool cupboard where I hide my treasures. Hence the Chocolate Bark Your Way, a recipe designed to transform random bits of good chocolate and pantry staples into homemade bars. I think of these as my very own chocolate bars, and I make them perfect for backcountry snacking by adding nuts, dried fruit and other goodies.
Making chocolate bark takes only a few minutes. First, scour your chocolate stash for odds and ends of baking chocolate — just don’t use chocolate chips as they contain emulsifiers and won’t melt down quite right.
Now scan your pantry for anything you’d like in your bark. You can make bark with single ingredients, such as crushed peppermint sticks, toffee and crushed coffee beans. Or you can invent combinations of ingredients, such as cacao nibs and roasted hazelnuts, pistachios and dried cranberries, almonds and flaky sea salt. I even make chocolate bark with Pig Candy, that crunchy caramelized bacon treat made by Café Genevieve in Jackson Hole.
After the chocolate is melted, poured over the ingredients and allowed to set up, you just break it up into pieces with your hands. Stash the chocolate bark in your purse, in your backpack, and in your desk at work. Chocolate is rich in antioxidants and has numerous health benefits if you enjoy it in moderation. What’s a moderate intake for a chocoholic? For me, two, 1-ounce squares of good dark chocolate are just right most days. One or two pieces of my homemade chocolate bark are perfect after a big hike or a long bike ride.