August 10th is National S’mores Day, celebrating a combination of graham crackers, marshmallows and melted chocolate that made famous by the Girl Scouts (the history of s’mores).
It’s an interpretation of chocolate bark, itself a popular variation of a chocolate bar.
Chocolate bark is actually a large sheet of chocolate that is broken up into pieces that resembled (to some) tree bark. It’s easy for the surface of homemade bark to have a rougher, craggy surface resembling bark. Professional barks tend to be smooth. While not bark, see the difference between the smooth surface of the professional mendiants in photo #6 and the swirly surface of the homemade mendiants in photo #7.
Bark, which is made in dark, milk and white chocolate as well as peppermint-flavored chocolate, is often covered with a variety of candies, dried fruits, nuts, mini marshmallows, pretzels, seeds, or whatever catches the eye off the confectioner.
When did a slab of chocolate become “bark?”
We haven’t been able to discover the first appearance, but Fanny Farmer, the See’s Candies equivalent on the East Coast (alas, closed in 2004), sold almond bark since at least the 1960s, maybe earlier.
Bark became a popular item in chocolate shops: Served to company or given as gifts, grabbing “just a piece” was a better than eating a whole chocolate bar.
The concept of bark derives from a 19th century Provençal French chocolate confection called a mendiant (photos #6 and #7). The word means “beggar,” and one idea was that the chocolates were so tempting, that a person would beg for a piece.
But first, there was a religious theme:
The original mendiants paid tribute to the Catholic friars and nuns who helped the local poor. The first chocolatier (whose name is lost to history) created a disk of chocolate topped with with nuts and dried fruits.
There were four different combinations of fruits and nuts to honor each order: Augustinians, Carmelites, Dominicans and Franciscans (here’s more about it).
This recipe below comes to us from Dandies, maker of superb vegan marshmallows, can be made with vegan or conventional ingredients.
Vegan or not, we have long been fans of Dandies. They’re delicious, fresher-tasting than supermarket marshmallows, and no one will suspect they’re anything other than great.
Dandies makes full-size and mini marshmallows, plus holiday flavors. We’re especially fond of the pumpkin marshmallows and peppermint marshmallows.
What makes Dandies special?
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lay out the graham crackers.
2. COMBINE the butter and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until dissolved. Pour this mixture over the graham crackers. Use a spatula to spread evenly if needed.
3. BAKE for 5 minutes and remove from the oven. While still hot, sprinkle on the chocolate chips, and spread with the spatula as they melt.
4. SPRINKLE on the marshmallows and garnish with a chocolate drizzle made from melting more chocolate chips. Spooning the melted chocolate over the bark. Once completely cooled…