It’s been one of those weeks: delays, fixes, and do-overs. Nail in the tire of my car (amazingly, same time as last year’s nail in the tire — what’s up with that?!). Clogged drain. Leaking shower. Browser that keeps screeching to a halt, forcing reboots. You get the idea: one step forward, two steps back. If you subscribe to theories about the state of the Universe and all that, Mercury retrograde is already in effect. Yeah, it’s been a bit of a rocky road this week — especially with the nail in my tire. So, in the spirit of re-visits, re-do’s, and fixes, I’m fulfilling a reader request for the recipe for my Easter Rocky Road.
As I mentioned a couple of months ago, if you’ve got tempered chocolate, marshmallows, and roasted nuts on hand, you’re good to go. I like to add a little dried fruit to the mix for flavor and texture. You can buy or make the marshmallows, all you need to do is cut them into smaller pieces. You can also buy already-roasted nuts, or roast them yourself. The only real prep work you need for rocky road is to temper the chocolate. If you’ve tempered chocolate before and are comfortable with the process, then feel free to skip ahead to the recipe. If not, you can follow the tempering instructions on food writer Aleta Watson’s blog (adapted from a class I taught at Gamble Garden House).
The process of tempering chocolate could take up a post all unto itself (which is why I’ve referred you to Aleta’s), but if you’re new to tempering chocolate, have no fear! It’s something that you can easily learn to do with practice and patience. What is this thing called “tempering chocolate?” you might ask. In short, it’s the process of heating and melting chocolate to a specific temperature, then cooling it to a specific temperature while stirring, so that you can mold it or coat other ingredients with it. That’s it! You’re basically using time and temperature to change the structure of the chocolate so that you can shape it the way you want. (You gotta break it down to build it back up.)
Summary of the geeky, science version? When you melt chocolate, you change its crystalline structure and its physical properties. It becomes “unstable,” losing firmness, shine, and snap. Tempering is the process of re-establishing a stable crystalline structure that returns those properties of shelf-stable chocolate: crispness, shine, and snap. Want more details about the science of chocolate? Check out this article by my favorite food scientist, Shirley Corriher.
Ok, enough about tempering chocolate. Let’s hit the road!
Recipe: Easter Rocky Road
Yield: 16 pieces (2″ square) or 64 pieces (1″ square)
What you need:
8 x 8 baking pan
Note: When it comes to working with chocolate, I really recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients, rather than relying on volume measurements.
1¼ pounds of dark chocolate, 61 – 70% cacao
4.5 ounces (about 2 cups) dried sour cherries
4 ounces (about 1 cup) roasted almonds
4 ounces (about 2 cups) ½-inch marshmallow pieces (vanilla or passion fruit)
- Roughly chop the cherries and almonds. Cut the marshmallows into approximately ½-inch pieces.
You’re not going for perfection here, just aim for ½-inch pieces or slightly smaller. Marshmallow pieces sticking together? Dip them in potato starch or corn starch, then shake off the excess powder in a sifter or sieve.
- Cut two (2) pieces of parchment paper: 8 inches wide by 12 inches long.
- Fit one piece of paper into the baking pan so that two sides are evenly covered.
- Turn the pan 90 degrees and fit the second piece of parchment paper into the baking pan, making sure that the sides are evenly covered.
- Temper the chocolate.
Use your instant-read thermometer to make sure that your chocolate is at the correct working temperature (generally, 89-91ºF). If you need to, test that your chocolate is in temper by wiping a bit of liquid chocolate from the tip of your spatula onto a piece of parchment paper. The chocolate should set up firmly, with shine, within 3-5 minutes.
- Fold the nuts, dried fruit, and marshmallows into the chocolate with a rubber spatula, until combined.
Keep in mind that the temperature of your ingredients — cherries, almonds, and marshmallow pieces — will be colder than the tempered chocolate. Once you add these ingredients to the chocolate, the chocolate’s temperature will drop, which means it will start to set up. Work somewhat quickly, but don’t rush. You need to combine the ingredients and transfer everything to your pan before the chocolate gets too fudgy, or you won’t be able to spread it evenly in the pan.
- Transfer rocky road mix to the prepared pan.
You can see in the photo below that my mix is already starting to get fudgy along the edges — that’s the chocolate setting up (cooling and becoming firm).
- Holding both sides of the pan, bang the pan on your work surface to even out the mixture and release air bubbles.
Seriously, pick up the pan and with a bit of force, tap the bottom of it on your work surface a couple of times, while holding onto the pan. Don’t drop it from four feet up, à la Emeril. Don’t get all medieval on its ass. Just hit it hard enough to help distribute the rocky road mixture evenly and remove any air bubbles.
- Put the pan in the refrigerator (top shelf) for about five minutes.
You’re helping the chocolate set up to a point where it’s less liquid and more fudgy because you still need to cut the rocky road before it hardens.
- After about five minutes, remove the pan from your refrigerator.
The rocky road should be firming up around the edges and fudgy in the middle.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the rocky road into either 16 pieces (4 x 4, or 2 inches square) or 64 pieces (8 x 8, or 1 inch square).
The chocolate will continue to harden as you work, just keep that in mind as you cut, so don’t dawdle. Again, no need for perfection. Also, if you need to wipe down your knife in between cuts, make sure the blade is dry before making additional cuts. Getting water (even a small amount) in your chocolate can cause your chocolate to seize. You don’t want that.
- Once the chocolate seems firm (but not hard) in the center, remove the rocky road from the pan.
Hold the sides of the parchment paper and pull the rocky road up and out of the pan. It should come out in one piece.
- Again, using a sharp knife, go over your cuts, making sure that the knife goes all the way through, and that you can separate the pieces.
- If your kitchen is on the warm side, put the pieces on a sheet pan (cookie sheet) and return the rocky road to the top shelf of the refrigerator for five minutes to help the chocolate finish hardening.
Otherwise, let them continue to harden on your work surface. Or, you know, start enjoying them now. Just know that the chocolate will continue to harden.
- Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to four weeks.