If you cook half as much as I do, you probably have some favorite chefs and food writers. You recognize their names, and trust that their recipes will turn out right. I’m willing to bet that Ina Garten is on your list, as well as Chris Kimball, Deb Perlman of the Smitten Kitchen, and Melissa Clark from the New York Times (you didn’t hear it on my vegan blog, but her lamb meatballs are the bomb). I’d like to throw another name out there: Grace Parisi. For something like 20 years, she was the head of the test kitchen at Food & Wine, and her stuff is sooo good. It’s exactly the kind of food I love to cook: seasonal, simple, and a little unusual.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a recipe she developed for chocolate wafers sprinkled with sea salt, crystalized ginger, and candied fennel seeds. I wasn’t compelled to make it immediately, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. The candied fennel seeds had me at once intrigued and suspicious. Would they really be delicious, or would I end up wasting a lot of expensive vegan chocolate? I kept circling around it, reading over the instructions and looking at the picture, but ultimately chickening out and making something else.
But then (due to an unfortunate incident involving a bottle of maple extract) I had to clean out my pantry, and I found a package of fennel seeds that I forgotten about. I figured the universe was trying to tell me something.
Instead of Grace’s wafers, I decided to use a crispy chocolate bark as my base. Candying the fennel seeds sounds fussy, but in reality it only took about five minutes. In fact, the whole recipe was so easy that Owen was able to help me with it, but you’d never know from the results. This bark tastes like something you would get at a fancy chocolatier. The flavors are absolutely brilliant together. The sweet licorice notes of the fennel seeds are a perfect compliment to the spicy ginger, and the sea salt knocks the whole thing out of the park. Incorporating Rice Krispies into the base lightens everything up, so you can eat a bigger piece for fewer calories.
This is definitely a grown up treat. If you can’t quite wrap your brain around the candied fennel, here are a few variations on the crispy bark theme. Get creative and use what you love! One recipe yields enough for two generous holiday gifts. The bark will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about two weeks.
Peppermint Oreo Bark: Yes, Oreos are vegan! Leave out the fennel seeds, crystalized ginger, and sea salt. Top the bark with crushed candy canes and crushed Oreos.
Trail Mix Bark: Substitute granola (choose one that’s not super clustery) for the Rice Krispies. Leave out the fennel seeds, crystalized ginger, and sea salt. Top the bark with raisins and chopped roasted and salted peanuts.
Pistachio Apricot Bark: Leave out the fennel seeds and crystalized ginger. Top with chopped pistachios and chopped dried apricots. Don’t forget the sea salt!
Smoky Almond Cherry Bark: Leave out the fennel seeds, crystalized ginger, and sea salt. Top the bark with chopped smokehouse almonds and chopped dried cherries.
Pretzel: Leave out the fennel seeds, crystalized ginger, and sea salt. Top the bark with crushed pretzels.
Crispy Chocolate Bark with Ginger, Fennel, and Sea Salt
Makes enough for 2 generous gifts
Adapted from Food & Wine
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 (12-ounce) package vegan chocolate chips
1 tablespoon coconut oil (solid, not melted) or vegetable shortening
2 cups Rice Krispies
1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel
In a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat until warm and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts and coats the fennel seeds, 1 to 3 minutes. Scrape the fennel seeds onto a plate and let cool. Break up any clumps.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the chocolate chips and coconut oil or shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 20 second increments, stirring in between, until melted and smooth. Stir in the Rice Krispies. Using a spatula, spread in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with the candied fennel seeds, crystallized ginger, and sea salt. Using a second piece of parchment paper or your clean fingers, gently press the toppings into the chocolate.
Transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator and chill until the chocolate is set, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container at room temperature.