So here I am telling you all about mindfulness and blessings and being a middle aged hippie. Well, what I haven’t admitted yet, though you may have guessed, it that I am also intensely competitive. I have a complicated relationship with this aspect of my personality, but I’m a first born. We usually need to be better than…
My kids know this about me. They capitalize on it. If they like something they’ve eaten in a restaurant, they make sure I get there to taste it. If they read about an interesting recipe, they share it with me. If they have something good at a friend’s house or a party, I get a picture and a description. They know that I won’t be able to help myself. Not only will I have to make that dish, but I’ll also have work at it until it’s better than the original. They enjoy watching me knock myself out trying. More importantly, they enjoy being my tasters. Both of them have developed very sophisticated palates and they are good cooks (and bloggers) in their own right. So, they spur me on to greater heights of culinary creativity.
Right before the holidays last winter, one of Brian’s friends showed up with a tin of treats his mother sent us as a gift. Well. Brian took one look at my face when I tasted this “bark,” and he knew he was in for some fun. It was a kind of edible crack! The gauntlet had been thrown. This stuff hit all the right notes-sweet, chocolaty, salty, crunchy and chewy. I snapped right into action finding recipes on the interwebs and shopping for ingredients.
The first batch I made was a lot like the original version. The base was saltines and the toppings were butter caramel, chocolate and almonds. Next, I tried a pretzel base. I varied the nuts. Then I tried graham crackers. There was a white chocolate drizzle in there somewhere. In the end, we settled on the rendition I am sharing here. It is the best. Hands down.
Salted Caramel Chocolate Crack Bark
A good coarse-grain sea salt, like Maldon, is nice here, but not necessary. I like Ghirardelli chocolate chips. Nabisco saltines are fine, but I used some organic ones (yeah, yeah, I know…) and they are great, too. You can use matzah and be the hit of the seder. If you want to do a white chocolate drizzle, just melt some white chips and have at it! And you can use any nuts you like.
1 package saltines
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 package chocolate chips (we like milk, but bittersweet are good, too)
1 cup toasted almonds, chopped
sea salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Lay the saltines out on the sheet. You will have a few leftover for the deer.
Melt the butter in a heavy, medium saucepan and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar melts and then cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes until the bubbles begin to look frothy (look at the pictures below; the bubbles get smaller and, well, frothier). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and a pinch of salt. Now, be really careful, this stuff is super hot, pour the caramel over the saltines and spread with an offset spatula.
Bake for 10 minutes. Leave the oven on. Take the sheet out and sprinkle the chocolate chips over, try to disperse them evenly-ish. Pop the sheet back into the oven for 2 minutes. Now, take them out and turn off the oven. Have the almonds and salt nearby. Using the offset spatula, spread out the now-melted chocolate. Immediately, sprinkle with salt and then the almonds.
Now, they have to cool. If you are making this for the holidays, you can put the pan outside for a half hour or so.
If it’s warm out, or you are worried about hungry neighbors, or dogs, you are going to have to try to find space in your freezer. The fridge will work, too. You just need the caramel and chocolate to set. Once this happens, you get to the fun part. Break up the bark and try to resist eating the whole pan all by yourself all at once!