It's a cruel fact of life that the food trends that look most amazing on Pinterest are actually pretty hard to nail in real life. Anyone who has ever tried to carve vegan almond butter chickpea s'mores fudge into perfect mini flower shapes will know this. But then every so often, you stumble across one and think, HANG ON. I could do that.
Enter: bark. The rustic, earthy name for what is essentially just giant slabs of chocolate, swirled about a bit and then pimped up with fruit, nuts, sweets or anything else edible you have to hand to create a bespoke flavoured bar.
It can be 'healthy' (frozen yogurt bark; vegan coconut oil and cacao bark) or more loaded with fatty, salty, sugary accessories than my suitcase after a jaunt through a transatlantic duty-free.
Perfect as an edible gift, the beauty of bark is that it's actually allowed to look a bit rustic and earthy too (read: like a three-year-old might possibly have helped). Once it's set, break it up into big, satisfying shards and watch people's eyes light up with glee.
Sure, they could have melted chocolate, poured it onto a tray and topped it with things themselves... but they didn't, did they? You win.
How do I do it, then?
Pinterest and the blogosphere are full of beautiful bark recipes (try these for starters) but the most simple recipes go something like this: Melt chocolate. Spread chocolate on a baking sheet or baking tin lined with greaseproof paper. Attempt to create a beautiful pattern by swirling in a contrasting colour of chocolate, a nut butter or a sauce, or just skip straight to sprinkling nuts, seeds, dried fruit, sprinkles, candy or biscuit bits on top.
Once you're satisfied with the result, pop it in the fridge to set. And once chilled and solid, break it up into chunks to serve... or eat straight from the slab while pretending to be in Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
But when you're piling a whole heap of toppings onto your choc anyway, you might not care how shiny it is. Lazy bark, we've discovered, tastes just as good.
Homemade has a go...
To see if our bark is as good as our bite, we tried out two different recipes – one studded with vibrant, life-giving pistachios, hazelnuts and cranberries, the other marbled with peanut butter frosting and topped with as many pretzel pieces and broken Oreos as greed and gravity would allow.
Dark chocolate, peanut butter, pretzel and Oreo bark
Inspired by this photogenic recipe from Love and Olive Oil, we set about creating our own PB-swirled creation. Peanut butter and chocolate bark is also sometimes known as 'tiger bark' – presumably because of the pattern, though it could be the noise you make when somebody tries to steal a piece.
We added pretzels for saltiness and a crunchy, gnarly texture, and Oreos because it just seemed rude not to.
200g dark chocolate, melted
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
2 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Two handfuls pretzels, broken
1. Mix the peanut butter, butter, icing sugar and vanilla extract until smooth
To make the recipe vegan, just use a dairy-free butter alternative and good quality dark chocolate (yes, Oreos are vegan. And if you didn't know that already, you're welcome).
2. Melt the chocolate
Temper it if you want to, don't if you're feeling lazy.
3. Spread the melted chocolate onto a lined baking tray
Don't worry too much about getting it perfectly even – thick bits are all part of the charm. Let the chocolate cool for a minute or two. You want it thick but still molten enough to swirl.
4. Dollop on the peanut butter frosting
Now go to town with a chopstick or toothpick, creating beautiful swirls with the two contrasting colours.
5. Add the crunchy bits
Roughly chop or crush the pretzels and Oreos, then sprinkle them over the molten mixture, prodding a few pieces in to make sure they're firmly embedded.
6. Once you're satisfied with your handiwork, chill
Not you, the chocolate. In the fridge.
7. Once it's completely solid, it's ready to eat
Have fun breaking it up by hand into beautiful rustic shards, or chop it with a knife for a neater finish. Pop it in a tin or wrap it in tissue and ribbon to give as a gift. But beware: if you didn't temper the chocolate, it will melt at a lower temperature. Best keep it cool, or eat it quick.
Next up: Dark chocolate, pistachio, hazelnut and cranberry bark
Miles more photogenic than our brown-and-beige peanut butter attempt, this colourful fruit and nut bark looks accidentally festive. But it's delicious all year round.
200g dark chocolate
75g pistachios, shelled
75g hazelnuts, blanched
75g dried cranberries
1. Melt the chocolate
Temper it if you can. The glossy finish looks so pretty and it won't melt as easily either.
2. Spread the melted chocolate onto a lined baking tray
Save a spoonful back for drizzling at the end.
3. Crush the nuts in a pestle and mortar
You want chunky shards with a few bigger pieces, not finely ground.
4. Sprinkle the nuts liberally over the melted chocolate
Stop while it still looks attractive.
5. Sprinkle the dried cranberries over the chocolate and nuts
Give these a prod if you need to, to make sure they're firmly embedded in the chocolate.
6. Finish with a drizzle of the remaining dark chocolate
Look, you're an artist! Jackson Pollock.
7. Chill in the fridge until completely solid
Now break it up into nice big pieces, show it off on social media and enjoy. If you didn't temper your chocolate first it will melt more quickly, so keep it in the fridge.