Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dark Chocolate Cherry-Pepita Clusters

My paternal grandmother was known for her peanut clusters, creamy candies made on the stove and begun with a base of sugar, caramel chips and evaporated milk. They were a favorite of my father's and part of the family Christmas tradition, which my mother continued when my grandmother no longer could.

Chocolate clusters are a staple of my annual holiday baking, too, occasionally making an appearance for other fall and winter celebrations. They are the perfect foil to the requisite sugar cookies and gingerbread men on our goodie trays. They can be made ahead, and they don't require a candy thermometer or other special equipment. And they are so easy, you can display your awesomeness by whipping up a batch while another treat is baking!

My usual MO is to melt a big block of dark chocolate and stir in whatever sounds good: peanuts, pistachios with dried cranberries, slivered almonds with dried blueberries. Inspired by a bag of dried cherries in my cupboard and the pepitas left over from making the Sweet Maple Snack Mix, I created these for Little Man’s birthday party a few weeks ago.

Ridiculously simple and ridiculously good, this recipe will take you through Halloween, Thanksgiving and into Christmas with its rich, decadent flavors. I may have licked the spoons after making these. And scraped out the bowl. And licked the spoons again.

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your neighborhood, Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips are an excellent option. Of course, microwaves vary, so use the directions as a guide. I use a Pyrex bowl with a large, flat bottom, which allows for the chocolate to be in nearly one layer. The chocolate may still have lumps after 2 minutes of microwaving, but the residual heat from the chocolate and bowl will melt them as you stir. I use dried Montmorency cherries, also from Trader Joe’s.

Dark Chocolate Cherry-Pepita Clusters

1(17.6 oz.) Trader Joe’s 72% Dark Chocolate Pound-Plus bar, broken into several large pieces
1 (8 oz.) bag dried pitted tart cherries
1 c. roasted and salted pepitas

In a large microwave-safe bowl, arrange chocolate in as close to a single layer as possible. Microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth. Stir in cherries and pepitas. Drop by spoonfuls on sheets of waxed paper and allow to set. Store in single layers on waxed paper in an airtight container.

Copyright 2011

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