Apparently peppermint bark just isn't everyone's favorite winter candy, and admittedly once in a while I get a bit tired of the same 'ol treats. This however, this is something completely different.
Prized by the Aztecs, the cacao was ground into a drink and flavored with chiles and other ingredients. "Xocolatl" was often served during important ceremonies and was thought to improve one's stamina and help fight fatigue.
While not an exact recipe, the flavor echoes from those earlier and exotic times. This chocolate bark is studded with toasted pumpkin seeds, ancho chile, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper creating a nutty, seasonal, and spicy treat.
I suggest using some high-quality chocolate to ensure superior bark, and you can usually find hulled pumpkin seeds (also called pepitas) at your local natural foods store or Whole Foods.
If you are having troubles finding ancho chile powder, chipotle chile powder could be used in a pinch as well while adding a slightly smoky flavor.
How Did the Aztecs Eat Cacao?
Cacao trees, which bear the fruit that cocoa beans come from, are indigenous to the upper Amazon River basin. Cacao had a long and storied history before Europeans ever set foot in Central America. This recipe is inspired by what some might call "new world" ingredients, but it's still quite far from the cacao preparations that pre-Columbian indigenous people so valued centuries ago.
The way civilizations such as the Aztecs and the Mayans used and consumed cacao differs greatly from how we think of chocolate today. In the mood for a deep dive? We recommend The True History of Chocolate by Michael D. Coe and Sophie D. Coe, which probably cites more primary texts than any other book on the subject.
Tempering Chocolate for Spicy Chocolate Bark
If you don't want to store this chocolate bark in the fridge, you'll need to temper it. Tempering is a process that results in chocolate that sets without white streaks and melts smoothly in your mouth. Tempering will make your chocolate look glossy and have a nice snap! when you break it apart or bite into it.
We're fans of this tempering tutorial from David Lebovitz. Tempering can be a little tricky, so if you don't want to bother, just follow the recipe as written, and be sure to refrigerate the bark.
Spicy Chocolate Bark with Pumpkin Seeds
- 1/2 cup hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus a dash extra
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, plus a dash extra
- 3/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder, plus a dash extra
- 12 ounces bitter or semi-sweet chocolate
Toast the pumpkin seeds:
Place the pumpkin seeds in a skillet over medium-low heat. Toast the pumpkin seeds for about 5 minutes, they'll pop and jump a bit as they release their oils and moisture. Allow to cool.
Melt chocolate, stir in spices, pumpkin seeds:
Melt the chocolate according to the manufacturer's directions. Once melted add the cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ancho chile powder, and most of the pumpkin seeds saving some to decorate the top with.
Spread on lined baking sheet and chill:
Spread onto a flat baking pan lined with a Silpat or parchment paper.
Sprinkle over and press into the chocolate the last few pumpkin seeds and sprinkle on a dash more of the spices for color and taste.
Place in the freezer for 5 minutes or until hardened. Break into pieces and serve or store in the fridge in an airtight container. Best consumed in one or two days.