According to the media, we should all be making homemade gifts this year, what with the economy as bad as it is. True, many of us may find ourselves frugally filling jars with mom’s granola recipe; mixing up homemade hot chocolate and bagging it with ribbons; placing shortbread and gingersnaps toe to toe in cellophane-lined boxes; steeping vanilla beans in vodka in tall, pretty bottles; or wrapping our own version of almond bark in glittery gift bags. But I’ve always loved making gifts of food for friends and family (and using a lot of “F”s in one sentence, too, apparently).
[Freshly made nut bark still in the pan, just set.]
A gift of food is more than an inexpensive way to fulfill the need for a present. It represents time spent thinking about what the person might like, as well as time spent carefully preparing, baking (or soaking, or drying, or stirring, or whatever), and then carefully packaging the gift. It’s the personal dimension that makes it so special–and so cherished.
Well, having been on the ACD for almost 2 years now (I know, time flies when you’re fighting fungus), I thought about those of us who can’t enjoy the tradtional almond bark. I knew that an all-chocolate version (unsweetened chocolate with added stevia) could be bitter tasting, so I almost abandoned the idea. Then, about a month ago, I stopped in to the local health food store on my way home from work. I’d forgotten to bring a lunch with me (bad, bad) and was ravenous. I posed my usual enquiry: “Do you have any snack-like foods that are vegan, unprocessed, gluten free, without sweeteners of any kind except stevia, with no yeasts. . . etc.?”
“On a candida protocol?” the clerk asked. Smart cookie, that one (though, inevitably, one likely containing gluten, sweetener, or yeast).
“Why yes! Yes I am!” I responded. As expected, she led me to the bags of Mary’s Sticks and Twigs. Snack-like, yes, but not sweet.
“Oh, wait!” she went on, heading toward the bulk section. “We just got these carob-covered almonds. They’re vegan, with no added sugars. Just carob coating. I actually tried them and they’re not bad at all. . . ”
Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. “You’re sure they’re vegan?” I insisted. “Yep,” she replied. “Just carob and almonds.”
Perhaps it was my near-blinding hunger,* or perhaps just that they looked so much like chocolate-covered almonds. Either way, I managed to consume the entire portion on the way home. While perhaps not the most ACD-friendly snack (I’m sure the oils used weren’t top quality), at least there were no sweeteners to spike my blood sugar, I reasoned.
Sadly, the next time I visited the same store, they had posted the ingredient list for the almonds–and the second from the top was “whey powder.” A DAIRY PRODUCT!!! Never mind that dairy is a hidden source of natural sugars not recommended for the ACD; but whey is most definitely NOT vegan. I really hate it when I find out, after the fact, that I’ve eaten something I don’t want to eat. Grrrr.
That made me more determined to create my own version. I decided to combine the concept of barely-sweet carob coating with various nuts to create a carob-based stevia-sweetened nut bark! After playing with proportions of carob vs. chocolate, I came up with a very appealing variation that uses very little stevia, retains a smooth, chocolatey consistency, and offers up a tiny hint of peppermint in reverence to the season. It would make a perfect gift for anyone who’s on an anti-candida regimen, Type II diabetics, or anyone concerned with blood sugar levels (which would be everyone around the holidays, I’m guessing).
Of course, if your dietary habits allow, you can make this the old-fashioned way, with semisweet chocolate instead of the carob; omit the stevia in that case.
* Who am I kidding? I’ve never experienced “near-blinding hunger” in my life. . . I always make sure to eat long before that!
[. . . and revealing the nutty goodness inside.]
Dark “Chocolate” Nut Bark for Gift Giving (ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
A perfect gift for those you love. . . this nut bark won’t spike blood sugar levels and contains minimal caffeine because of the carob. Plus it’s filled with heart-healthy oils courtesy of the nuts.
3/4 cup (60 g) unsweetened carob chips (see note)
1.5 ounces (45 g) good quality unsweetened chocolate (I used Cocoa Camino), chopped (see note)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin coconut oil, preferably organic
pinch fine sea salt
15-25 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp (45 ml) coconut milk powder
1 cup (240 ml) unsalted toasted nuts–your choice (I used cashews and almonds)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) lightly toasted seeds (I used sunflower, but pumpkin would be stellar)
Line an 8 x 8 inch (20 cm) square pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the carob chips, chocolate and coconut oil over lowest possible heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the salt, stevia and vanilla. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a mini food processor or blender.
Add the coconut milk powder and process until perfectly smooth. Stir in the nuts and seeds to coat.
Working quickly (the carob chips will cause it to set fairly fast), pour the mixture into the prepared pan and tilt the pan this way and that until the mixture is evenly distributed (if you try to spread it out with a spatula, you will dull the naturally glossy sheen on top). Set aside at room temperature and allow to set; mine took about an hour in a cool kitchen. Or place in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
Once set, remove from pan, peel off the plastic, and break into shards of “bark.” Wrap in decorative cellophane, bags, or boxes as gifts.
**Note: If you prefer, you can use sugar-free chocolate chips (such as Lilys) to replace the carob chips and unsweetened chocolate. In that case, omit the stevia as well.
Variations: the recipe is infinitely adaptable–you can add dried fruits if permitted, cacao nibs, coffee beans, candied ginger, or whatever strikes your fancy.
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Pearl Lee says
bark looks delicious! i can’t get over how cute your dogs are!
Aw, thanks! I think so, too. 🙂
jodye @ 'scend food says
Ooh I love nut bark! I made one with pistachios last year and it was delicious. I think I’ll have to make some again soon. Yours looks delicious!
I’d love to make mine with pistachios, too (and dried cranberries, for color), but I’m not allowed pistachios. Maybe just the cranberries. . . !
I’m still recovering from my laughing fit over your offhand comment “I know, time flies when you’re fighting fungus”.
Thanks for the laugh and a great recipe for Almond Bark. We are being frugal this year over the holidays and counting ourselves lucky and blessed to have good health and good laughs and good books and a somewhat good pet to tide us over to better economic times. Thanks Ricki!
Glad you enjoyed it (the line, not the fungus!). And I liked your “somewhat good” pet line as well! 😉 I’m being frugal this year as well. . . partly to save the money, but partly because I just think it’s fun. I’m weird that way. 🙂
How annoying when people don’t give accurate ingredient info. If I had those I would have had a bad tummyache. He hee near-blinding hunger, been there!
Yes, very annoying! Luckily I have an iron stomach (most of the time), so no reaction.
This looks great! I love making food gifts. And chocolate made with coconut oil is one of my favourite treats ever.
I also hate when people assure me that there is no (fill in the blank) in something, and I later find out that there is! I usually find out the hard way (meaning, I get sick) and it is incredibly frustrating. I just try to be as cautious as possible, without being SO strict that it interferes with my life.
I agree–imagine if I were celiac and she told me there was no gluten! Grr.
Argh–I am so sorry about the dairy in the carob almonds. That is SO annoying. At first I was super impressed with the employee–to know about candida!??!? That is amazing! But to give out misinformation on one of their products? That is unacceptable! Grrrr.
That particular store tries to hire holistic nutritionists as clerks, so they do know their food stuff most of the time. I think she may not have really known and was just “bluffing”–once the ingredients were posted, though, she acknowledged that they weren’t vegan. DUH!
Oh my gosh, I want some NOW! I am a sucker for almond bark and this looks perfect! Thanks Ricki!
PS Did you notice a reaction to the little bit of dairy in the chocolate? I hope not!
No, I actually didn’t notice a reaction. . . that day. But with candida, it could have happened a day later. I’ve had little flareups here and there, and the past week hasn’t been great. . . maybe that’s why!
MMm, both the cookies and the bark look delicious! I too am thinking of doing some goodie making for gifts this year (although my original plan of quick breads in these cute little mini loaf pans that Michaels has for my coworkers at dance seemed like it might not end up being that frugal after all- 13 pans means I need to start stalking their sales! :D).
Also I am so sorry to have been MIA re: the iHerb giveaway; I feel like I have been a bit of a pain in the butt for you the past few months (I had better shape up if I want more than coal in my stocking this year, eh? ;)) but I have sent off my email, plus apologies, to Abby, and hopefully remedied the situation.
K, no worries! I think as long as you contact Abby all is well. 🙂 And too bad about those pans, but I bet they were darned cute, too!
Ellen @ I Am Gluten Free says
This is jumping right off the page into my mouth. Looks mouth-wateringly delicious!
It is. Maybe a little *too* delicious. . . none left over here for gifts!!
That bark looks wonderful! Would there be a good sub for the soy milk powder?
I used the soymilk powder to replace the whey and milk ingredients in the original, and to add a bit more creaminess to the final texture. You could try a bit less of coconut flour, though it might be gritty. . . I think I’d just leave it out, in that case, and go with a more conventional (harder) chocolate texture. 🙂
If it is a creaminess thing, I wonder if maybe 1/2 to 1 TBS coconut milk might work. I’m not opposed to keeping chocolate in the fridge.
Shirley @ gfe says
You crack me up as usual! Hey, even though you used a lot of “F” words, you didn’t use any bad ones. LOL
Bummer on being misinformed by the otherwise helpful salesperson, but bravo on this bark! I’m in except for the soy powder. Will have to think of something else to use in place of that.
Great job per usual, dear! I’ve got to get my post up later today (got delayed … arrrgh), but I think you’ve already tipped everyone off on most of the gift ideas it will contain. 😉
Well, I did use “fungus,” too, which is most definitely a “bad” F-word to me! 😉 Re: soymilk, see my comment above–not sure what might work! If you think of something, though, let me know. . . !
Yikes, if I add any more desserts to my Thanksgiving menu I’m going to have to invite more people! The nut bark sure is tempting, though.
Never too many desserts, I say! 😉
oh my i LOVE carob covered almonds. and i’m with you, as soon as i think i’m hungry i have a hard time staying away 🙂 unless i’m really busy at work!
Hmmm. . . busy at work doesn’t evenwork for me. 😉
I’m sorry about the whey powder – so annoying. But it got you making your own, so that’s cool. I almost always give homemade gifts at the holidays (cookies, chocolate barks, etc.) mostly because I just think homemade/handmade means more/is special. I hope I don’t make Guppy think I’m a nerd when she grows up.
I agree totally–homemade is always better! And it really is the thought that counts: I always appreciate a handmade gift whatever it is. 🙂 And are you kidding? Guppy will be SO proud! 🙂
how frustrating on the carob-covered almonds, Ricki. grrrrrrrrr…..but soooo awesome on your dark “chocolate” nut bark! it looks ooooh-soooo delicious! i never thought i’d like carob having so many people talk about their dislike for it. i tried it (finally!) about a year ago and absolutely loooooooved it. i think i’ll make your bark with hazelnuts and almonds – oooh, or maybe brazils nuts. i could add in goji berries, or dried cherries…..zomg, mmmmmmmmm! the possibilities are endless. yay!
“time flies when you’re fighting fungus” made me laugh out loud. i love your attitude, Ricki! makes me most happyfaced. making delicious treats and eats is a wonderful idea for holiday gifts, and one i am gonna have to partake in. w00t!
So glad you love carob! I don’t think of it as a chocolate substitute, really, but just something delicious in its own right. And I am always happy to make anybody laugh! 🙂
Mom (Gretchen) at The Gluten-Free Edge says
Yeah, that “near-blinding hunger” thing . . . there was a time when a totally oblivious date took me way past my hunger limit even when I kept insisting on lunch. I finally grabbed a Coke with real sugar and then made him take me home. It wasn’t pretty. He asked his Dad, a doctor, WTF? To which his Dad replied ‘next time feed her’. Stuff happens.
Argh! Too bad you didn’t have a bulk store nearby to quell the hunger with some almonds. 😉
This looks so great! I love nuts+chocolate, but alas, I can see how frustrating it’d be to fill that craving without the sugar. Great job on this, and this would be such a great gift!
I’m going to give some to a friend who doesn’t eat sugar, either. 🙂
I love, love, love nut bark!! I have a recipe for it on my site, but given that it’s made with coconut oil and cocoa powder, it gets melty outside the fridge for too long. I am going to try this one soon — my mom would love it, too. She’s a freak for almond bark as well. As always, thanks for being an inspiration!! : )
Oh, and for awhile I was getting this arepa at a local restaurant that had cheese melted into it. The menu failed to list the cheese as one of the fillings, so I would eat it thinking, “wow, this is pretty amazing for not having any cheese!” Finally I inquired, and sure enough, they had to update their menu to add white cheese, which had accidentally been omitted. Your experience is a lot more justifiably than mine, as it’s a TAD harder to detect hidden whey than it is CHEESE. Oh, the power of denial… Of course, this was all before I went vegan, just couldn’t have the cheese because of my dairy sensitivity. Now I know better — curiosity is a good thing!! : )
Wow, you’re right–cheese is definitely more easily detectable than whey!! Makes me want to scream sometimes. . . but glad you like the bark recipe (which has no hidden whey) 😉
this looks great, but I’ve never seen a carob chips that are vegan AND sugar free AND gluten free. What brand do you use?
I get them wholesale from a natural foods supplier. . . they come in a huge bag with no label. I have been assured by the company that they’re okay for me. . . now you’ve got me worried! I will call and ask them tomorrow–would hate to be consuming yet more stuff that I shouldn’t and don’t want to be eating! Argh! 😉
Hi Ricki~ I just stumbled across your post above and was wondering if you can reviel the carob chips that you get?? I need something that is all the above, also a good dark chocolate chip that is sugar, gluten free and vegan.:)
BTW~ I love your recipes!!
Thanks so much, Becky! I just looked at the label of my box and it says they contain carob, palm kernel oil and soy lecithin. They are made by Kargher Corporation from Hatfield, PA. I looked them up and they don’t seem to have a website, but they’re on Google Plus! Re: chips, if you find a vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free version, please let me know. I tend to just use the carob in cookies or bars, and if I need melted chocolate, I use unsweetened and add my own coconut sugar and/or stevia. I know a lot of bloggers make their own, too, but I’ve never tried that.