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Building blocks

I have long entertained a little fantasy about weekends: namely, that they’re fun and restful. Most of the time, in reality, I fill them with way too much stuff. This stuff could be fun and restful in theory, but when you cram it all into 48 or so hours – leaving room for sleep, of course, and for finally cleaning the bathroom – it doesn’t look much like a fantasy. Sometimes it’s even kind of stressful, a word that should never, ever be associated with Saturday or Sunday. But this past weekend, blessed be, was like Christmas come early. We had the sort of weekend I wait all week for, sans Clorox and Windex and other commitments and duties. We had champagne and homemade ice cream sandwiches by the fire. We slept until ten(!) and drove to Columbia City Bakery for sticky buns and soft pretzels. We made homebrew with two friends and ate Szechuan take-out. And oh my stars, we even went to a show. Quel weekend!

I’m not sure how I got so lucky, but I wasn’t about to monkey with things by throwing a fussy baking project into the mix. So not only did I not fuss, but hell, I didn’t even bake. I just melted, stirred, chilled, and cubed.

Oh my, are these ever ea-sy. I know I say that about nearly everything around here, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Melt a pound of dark chocolate, stir in some dried fruit and nuts, slip it in the fridge, and poof! You’ve got yourself a pan of dark chocolate candies. These are as speedy and simple as it gets - and, more importantly, they’re spoil-your-dinner good. And despite the astounding ease of their making - you could so drink a big glass of boozy egg nog and not mess them up - they look fussy enough to earn you some good, old-fashioned fussing over.

Gourmet calls these candies “Fruit and Nut Chocolate Chunks,” but I like to think of them as chocolate “blocks.” They remind me of a child’s building blocks, squat and solid, but etched with appealing flecks of fruit and nuts rather than the boring old alphabet. With a set of these in my toy chest, I could have built my childhood forts from something much tastier than blankets and chairs and poster board, and oh, how popular I might have been! But later is always better than never, I believe, and so it goes with these. They’re made for an adult’s palate, anyway, with a dark, refined flavor that - by way of some mysterious fruit-cacao alchemy - hints at wine and liqueur and fancy chocolate truffles. They’re almost better than my weekend, and I don’t say that lightly. They’re one for the cookie tin.

Chocolate “Blocks” with Fruit and Nuts
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2003

Be sure to choose a chocolate whose flavor you love, because it’s the main player here. I can think of any number of excellent brands, but for the sake of affordability – goodness knows most chocolate ain’t cheap – I went with a few bars of Ghirardelli 60%. It’s not particularly fancy, but it is relatively easy on the wallet and has a very true chocolate flavor. Also, for the pistachios and peanuts: you can use either salted or un-, but bear in mind that chocolate and salt make very happy bedfellows, so if you have the salted kind, by all means, use it. I used salted peanuts and unsalted pistachios because that’s what I had on hand. And lastly, for the fruits: if you, like Brandon, feel a little nauseous at the thought of chocolate and raisins, feel free to substitute another fruit instead. Dried cherries would be lovely, I’ll bet, as would chopped dried apricots.

1 ¼ lb good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Vegetable oil, for greasing the pan
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup roasted, shelled pistachios, salted or unsalted
2/3 cup roasted peanuts, salted or unsalted

In the top of a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth.

While the chocolate is melting, line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the foil with vegetable oil.

When the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat, and stir in the fruit and nuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon or rubber spatula. Place the pan in the refrigerator, and chill for about an hour, or until the chocolate is firm. [I chilled mine for exactly one hour and found the chocolate to be the perfect temperature for cutting - not too hard and not too soft. If it’s too hard, the chocolate will shatter under the knife, and you’ll have trouble getting a clean cut.]

Use the foil overhang to lift the chilled chocolate mixture from the pan, and place it on a cutting board. Peel back the foil, and cut the chocolate into whatever size you desire. I like mine in rough 1-inch cubes.

Note: These candies keep in the refrigerator, sealed in an airtight container with foil between the layers, for up to two weeks.

Yield: About 60 1-inch cubes


Blogger karin said...

Hi Molly, thanks for the wonderful holiday recipes! I have a jar of prunes that have been stewing in armagnac for a few months in the fridge. How do you think they would do in your tasty little candies? Too moist?

11:16 AM, December 12, 2006  
Anonymous Jennifer Jeffrey said...

I've been having the same weekend "fantasy" - come to think of it, I've had that fantasy most of this year, and it hasn't materialized yet. Ah, well...

These do look marvelously easy, and that means they might elbow out another - far more complicated - recipe on my list, and create a bit of breathing room in the bargain!

11:25 AM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger hannah said...

oh yum, i can think of a thousand things to put in this! i saw something similar with espresso beans. good night. or not for that matter. i think i am going to get my hands on some hazelnuts and cherries and go to town!

ps. made the meyer lemon cookies last night, oh my. i couldnt find meyers, and i didnt have turbino sugar, but i tell you that regular lemon and a dusting of powdered sugar did the trick. although the little white dusting stuck on my chin gave me away later that night...

12:54 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger Dianka said...

So simple yet delicious and perfectly satisfying. Great idea!

1:02 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger Caty said...

They look yummy! Dark chocolate anything gets my vote. And they look so easy to make- perfect for making in the busy run up to christmas.

2:12 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger kickpleat said...

ooh, i always make something similar with nuts but i think i like the idea of adding dried fruit too. dried apricots? yum! and i like the block shapes, so pretty.

2:18 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger Anali said...

Oh this looks yummy and easy! Thanks for the recipe!

2:41 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger Tea said...

Might Brandon's dislike of chocolate and raisins come from a wee overdose of trail mix as a child?

Not that I would know anything about that (and let's not even mention carob covered raisins--blech!)

This looks delicious, my dear--without raisins, of course:-)

2:49 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger ByTheBay said...

Those look just fabulous, and even easier than my Chocolate-Dipped Apricots!

2:53 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger Erielle said...

I'll have to get over my new obsession with dried cherries another day, because this looks like a perfect use for them! I love the cherry-chocolate combination. Imhave been known to dip a piece of dark chocolate into the jar of cherry preserves and just eat that. But this is better for guests.

3:24 PM, December 12, 2006  
Anonymous becca said...

Yum! I once made something like this with dried cranberries, hazelnuts, and crystallized ginger and it was a dangerously good combination. I like the idea of a salty kick here, too... I think extensive taste-testing is in order.

5:58 PM, December 12, 2006  
Anonymous Katie said...

I don't know if Seattle has Trader Joe's but they sell Ghirardelli chocolate in bulk for $3.49/lb.

6:23 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I've never had the 'nog before...boozy or otherwise :(

8:05 PM, December 12, 2006  
Blogger s@bd said...



5:54 AM, December 13, 2006  
Anonymous Sarah said...

What I love about these "Blocks" is that they are just begging for lots and lots of different variations.

So glad you had a restful, perfect weekend. Don't you wish they were all like that?

7:24 AM, December 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These look great. Cranberries and almonds would be a great combination or different citrus zest. I was thinking that these could also work well in mini muffin tins - if you put in the liners, it would be even be guest-friendly!

12:06 PM, December 13, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

You're very welcome, Karin. My pleasure. And as for those prunes in Armagnac - yu-ummm! I do worry, though, that they might be too wet for this. You could certainly try it, though. It's definitely worth a shot. Definitely.

Jennifer, I hear you - this was the first time in recent memory that my fantasy weekend has become a reality. I think that's why I felt so very aware of how wonderfully relaxed and spontaneous it was. Ahhh. I hope you get a fantasy weekend of your own very soon.

Hannah, I'm so glad to hear about the Meyer (or not) lemon cookies! Whooop! I see a pound or so of melted dark chocolate in your future, ma petite...

Thank you, Dianka! And really, we both owe it to Gourmet. Great idea, Gourmet.

Caty, that's what I thought too: we all need a quick, last-minute gift or dessert idea, right?

Thanks, dear kickpleat! And you should know that I keep thinking about your caramels - got to try my hand at 'em!

You're very welcome, Anali.

Oh my dear Tea, I had a good laugh when I saw your comment! I should have known that you would guess the reason behind Brandon's raisins-with-chocolate aversion! Seriously, only the night before I posted this, Brandon was saying to me, "Why did you have to put raisins in there? Raisins and chocolate remind me of trail mix. Bleh." You nailed it, girlfriend. Man. That hippie trail mix will scar you for life. Geez.

BytheBay, I'll bet your chocolate-dipped apricots are pretty darn easy too, but yep, these are about as quick and painless as it gets!

Erielle, I see absolutely no reason to fight your obsession with dried cherries. No reason! Go forth! It probably is a good idea, though, as you said, to save the jam-jar dipping for private moments...

Oh Becca, I'm all for extensive taste-testing - so long as you send some of your test specimens my way! I love your idea for cranberries, hazelnuts, and crystallized ginger - wow.

Thanks for the great tip, Katie. Seattle does have a Trader Joe's - several of them, actually - and although I go there once a month or so, I had forgotten that they carry some good chocolates. Very good to know.

Wheresmymind, DROP EVERYTHING and RUN to the liquor store. You MUST make that egg nog. It's very boozy, and very, very good.

That's what I said too, s@bd.

Sarah, you're right - you could do about a million different variations on these candies. And all delicious, I'm quite certain...

Anonymous, I hadn't thought of that, but yes, you could certainly try making these in lined mini-muffin tins. Could be a very pretty, ruffly-edged presentation, too.

1:30 PM, December 13, 2006  
Blogger Alice Q said...

Hi Molly! I loove chocolate and salted nuts! In order to make sure these come out glossy and snappy, it's a good idea to temper the chocolate. It's really easy - mistakes can lead to cloudy chocolate and are very frustrating! There's a quick guide at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate

8:20 AM, December 14, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Hi Alice Q - thanks for the tip! In this case, though, I actually chose not to temper the chocolate because I wanted it to stay somewhat pliable, rather than be hard and snappy. For one, it makes it easier to cut these into clean "blocks," and also, because the blocks are somewhat thick, top to bottom, I like them to yield a little to the tooth and feel more chewy than crisp. More candylike, say, than barklike. But yes, of course, you could certainly temper the chocolate, and the results would be lovely too...

9:11 AM, December 14, 2006  
Anonymous Kathrine said...

Thank you! You have saved my life! A non-fussy recipe to make for my company holiday party that I am sure everyone will love!

9:49 AM, December 14, 2006  
Anonymous beth said...

Trying the recipe with crystallized ginger bits, minced dried cherries and blueberries. Molly, without tempering the chocolate is the appearance going to look dull?

6:34 PM, December 14, 2006  
Blogger anna maria said...

Thank you! It's great to find a delicious sounding candy recipe that is easy to make. I usually don't bother with candy because it often seems complicated, but these are perfect.

8:22 PM, December 14, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

You're welcome, Kathrine! I'm sure your colleagues will love 'em.

That's a good question, Beth, but no, happily, the finish of the chocolate won't be particularly dull. It won't have the sheen that tempered chocolate often has, but it won't be dull either. I think it's perfectly pretty. Click on the photograph of my "blocks" above, and you can see an enlarged version of it that will show you a little better what the finished candies look like.

You're so welcome, Anna Maria. These are anything but complicated - phew!

8:54 PM, December 14, 2006  
Blogger AnnieKNodes said...

I can relate to action-packed weekends! I'm looking forward to a lazy one myself.

I can't believe Brandon doesn't like raisins in chocolate. Mmmm..Those squares look scrumptious.

1:13 PM, December 15, 2006  
Blogger The Gourmand said...

This sounds wonderfully indulgent & i'll make some for my partner who loves chocolate. I've previously made a Hot Chocolate as a dessert which he really loved and have also experimented with a chocolate & chilli sauce for game meats.
I love your recipes, keep up the great writing!

1:27 PM, December 15, 2006  
Blogger Shari said...

homemade ice cream sandwiches by a fire? um, ok this does sound like quite the fabulous weekend!! how was the homebrew? t has made a nice pink cranberry ale. :) and now...to make a list so i can make those building blocks. xoxo shari

3:14 PM, December 15, 2006  
Blogger Dave said...

Hi Molly,

I kind of like the choice of 60% chocolate. Good flavor and not too "much". I can't describe it but I've had 80% chocolates that I just don't enjoy as much. Maybe I just have depression era tastes. This looks fun to prepare. Thanks.

7:08 AM, December 18, 2006  
Blogger Roola Lenska said...

Hi Molly,

I just started reading your wonderful blog and I'm already hooked. I made a tray of these yesterday (roasted almonds, hazelnuts, dried cherries and apricots) with bittersweet Lindt chocolate. I can't wait to taste them but I'm a little nervous about cutting them into blocks without the chocolate cracking into a million little shards. Any suggestions for a smooth transition?

8:21 AM, December 18, 2006  
Blogger karin said...

I used the Armagnac soaked prunes and slivered almonds. The results were stupendous! the squares were a little soft like fudge, thanks!

11:15 AM, December 18, 2006  
Blogger Roola Lenska said...

Reposting to say that I figured it out. I used my serrated knife. There were plenty of little shards left over and they were delicious! I'm bringing this batch to a cookie swap tomorrow. Now I want to make more to have over the weekend . . . addicting!!

5:53 PM, December 18, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

I know, AnnieKNodes. I like to think of Brandon as a real equal-opportunity food lover, but then BOOM! - no raisins with chocolate. Oh well. I didn't used to be so keen on the combination myself, but I saw the error of my ways. Maybe the same will be true for Brandon someday?

A chocolate and chili sauce, Gourmand? For meats? That sounds wonderful. Is the recipe on your blog?

Shari, it really was a special weekend. The homemade ice cream sandwiches and the fire were both at the home of our friends Chris and Ashley, who had us over for a cozy winter dinner of soup, salad, and biscuits. So, so nice. And as for the homebrew, it's currently fermenting in our basement. Brandon and our friend John made two different kinds: a Mac and Jack's rip-off and a Belgian trippel. I can't wait to try them. Ooh, and we would LOVE to hear more about Tom's cranberry ale! Please? Pretty please?

I know what you mean, Dave. I do love those 80% chocolates, but for things like this, a 60% is just right. Not too bitter, not too sweet, completely enjoyable for all. Maybe you and Frankie should make a batch?

Roola Lenska, I'm so sorry for not replying sooner. The day just zipped by too fast! But you figured it out without me - good! A serrated knife is a great choice, although I have to say that I really had no trouble cutting my chocolate cleanly into blocks with a big chef's knife. It helps to cut it when the chocolate has just become firm, so it's still a little pliable. I cut mine after an hour in the fridge, and it made quite clean little blocks. But then again, a few stray shards would have been pretty tasty...

Oh my gosh, Karin - WHOOOP! It worked! And it sounds so good. Sweet lord, lady. I've got to buy some Armagnac.

10:45 PM, December 18, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

These sound so delicious, Molly! And I hadn't thought of adding salted nuts to chocolate candies, which is actually great, as I can only find salted pistachios here at home and had almost given up on making anything with chocolate and nuts for this Xmas..

12:15 AM, December 19, 2006  
Blogger The Gourmand said...

Hi Molly,
Yes the recipe for the Chocolate & Chilli sauce is in my blog. Just don't be tempted to over do the chocolate or you will end up with a dessert sauce, just a hint of chocolate to add a mysterious quality. It goes best with dark game meats. Enjoy! My blog is eatmefood.blogspot.com

12:45 AM, December 20, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Absolutely, Pille - salted pistachios would be just lovely here. Go for it! And merry Christmas.

Thank you, Gourmand! For anyone else interested, the recipe is here.

11:34 AM, December 21, 2006  
Anonymous jenny vorwaller said...

oh my goooosh! everything here is so mouth watering, but even more, love to read your entries...:)

can't remember how i found you (think on flickr..?) but so glad i have!

xoxo merry christmas!

8:16 PM, December 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molly, these look great, but not as supremely great as the coffee-walnut toffee as if anything could be). That, as I posted on the eG Christmas Cookie thread, is total crack!


9:40 PM, December 21, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Aw, thanks, Jenny! I'm so glad you found me. And it's funny - I've been exploring your photos on flickr lately, and your blog too! So, so lovely - just stunning. Hope you and yours have a very merry Christmas.

Thank you, Abra! I combed through that Christmas cookie thread until I found your posts, and lord have mercy, lady, your cookies are gorgeous. What a selection! I am very impressed, and humbled. A merry, merry one to you.

11:53 AM, December 22, 2006  
Blogger pomegranate said...

Oi! A bit late on the draw I am but better late than never. These were so open to variety that I had to have a go. I found a mix of pistachios, cashews and almonds and paired that with a mix of dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries. They're great!

9:55 PM, December 23, 2006  
Anonymous LynneM said...

Oh, these were delicious, but soooo hard to cut! How did you get such neat little squares. Next time, I'll probably just chunk them, but I love the little blocks that you were able to achieve.

8:22 AM, December 31, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Oooh, pomegranate, I love your combination of fruit and nuts! That sounds so good.

And LynneM, I'm so, so sorry to hear of your chocolate cutting woes! Ack! It's strange - I was just talking with a friend in San Francisco about this recipe on Friday, because she had the same problem. Here's what I told her: I chilled my chocolate for exactly an hour, and since it then was cool and felt firm and solid to the touch, I cut into it. I found that it was plenty sturdy to form blocks but still just barely pliable - that's how I got those clean cuts. I suspect that, had I chilled it much longer, the chocolate would have gotten too cold, and I would have run into trouble when I tried to cut it. I'm sorry that I didn't specify that more clearly when I wrote the recipe above. You'll note that I have revised it, so hopefully you (and any others who had trouble with too-hard chocolate) will have better luck next time!

8:59 AM, December 31, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

Just to let you know that I made these (see here), they cut into cute little neat blocks, and tasted absolutely gorgeous. Two of my Estonian friends made them as well, to great success, so thanks again for a wonderful recipe!

6:01 AM, January 03, 2007  
Blogger TomTool71 said...

Yeah, what they said! YUM!

8:44 AM, January 14, 2007  
Anonymous sue said...

prunes, walnuts and chocolate are a match made in heaven. Gram and Mom always made stuffed prunes at Christmas. Fondant-stuffed for Gram, and fondant/walnut stuffed for the rest of us. Then dipped in milk or dark Ghirardelli chocolate. So very good.

11:50 AM, January 21, 2007  
Blogger Vee said...

Well, I am just way late for posting at the appropriate Christmas, but look at that willya? almost in time for this year's!

tx for the chocolate blocks...Personally I think chocolate is next to massage in the answer department no matter what the question was....

I love "bloghopping"... found u through The Recipe Box... which I found through Posie who I found from a bear maker's site....

2:31 PM, September 08, 2007  
Blogger Mal said...

oh good god. i just made these, i'm throwing a midsems cocktail party for all of my friends that are more loaded down with work than i am. i just chopped them and snuck one (okay, three) in the process, and they are so good. you're right, they're deceptively fancy and fussy-looking. i used apricots, cherries, and roasted salted almonds. yum!

10:50 AM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Lyn said...

I tried these last year with dried cherries, walnuts, and raisins, and they were WONderful.

My friend Bird just made them with marshmallows, Guittard chocolate, and no fruit and said they're the equal of or better than Whole Foods' holiday Rocky Road.

Mm: take a look, since you can't take a bite: http://www.box.net/shared/9thhum83fi

5:02 PM, December 01, 2007  
Blogger Kim said...

OK, so I'm licking my wounds over here after stupidly attempting nougat last night and a reader said she was still smarting from her failed attempts last year so this year was making "Orangette's chocolate blocks". So here I am and now off I go to make these (I just happened to buy some dried cherries as I was considering attempting the nougat once more but now, now I know what they'll be going into).

7:33 PM, December 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice blog....

10:39 PM, March 12, 2008  
Anonymous laura said...

My gosh, these are so very, very good. I made them for gifting this year and used just salted peanuts and cranberries. Can't stay out of them. Thank you!

10:01 AM, December 20, 2008  
Blogger kittymama said...

I made these in mini muffin cups as I couldn't cut nice, neat squares with my first batch. It was much easier and cuter. I reserved some of the fruit & nuts and sprinkled it on top before chilling. (Ina Garten does this with chocolate bark in her new book). I used candied ginger, salted peanuts, almonds, dried cherries, golden raisins and fleur de sel. Absolutely adorable & delicious - thanks for the inspiration.

6:28 PM, December 21, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, these are remarkably simple to make and absolutely delectable! I used dried cherries, macadamia nuts, almonds, and cashews. Heavenly. I will definitely put this in my dessert and gift rotation!

9:27 AM, February 20, 2010  
Blogger Lynn said...

i made these yesterday (peppermint bark, today) and brought them to a holiday party and i became a rock star. they were delicious. everyone ranted about them and their maker. thank you!

7:05 AM, December 22, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my combo: crystallized ginger, coconut flakes, cashews and almonds, plus a dash of an orange salt we have since the nuts were unsalted. So yum!

11:24 PM, December 31, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh I'm late to the party! Just made these with dark chocolate, dried apricot paste (chopped up), dried cranberries, toasted cashews, and toasted walnuts.

Now I'm thinking of a rocky road version with marshmallow and pecans. My question is this:

Do you think chopped-up petit beurre biscuits would stand up to this treatment?

2:46 PM, December 16, 2014  
Blogger Molly said...

Re: Petit Beurre biscuits, yes, absolutely! Do it.

3:17 PM, December 16, 2014  

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