Last month we said goodbye to my husband’s aunt Jans.
At the funeral her daughter Anneke spoke about a woman devoted to her family. An athlete – basketball, badminton, tennis, skiing. A long career with Unicef. A lover of summers at the lake. A woman who loved to have fun, but hated cooking.
Anneke said she was a fully grown adult before she tasted the inside of a dessert square. Jans may not have liked to cook, but she did know how to host a party. Raising kids and entertaining in the 60’s and 70’s meant serving up beef bourguignon and squares, lots of squares. Guests got the centre; the next day, the kids ate the edges.
It’s funny how recipes can forever be associated with a person. By the time I came along, Jans had toned down her beef bourguignon game, but upped her dessert repertoire. Bark was on the scene, and I couldn’t get enough of it. And like a square, once cut into misshapen pieces, little off-cuts are produced that are perfect for kids (or mamas in the kitchen.)
Some say bark came from Jans’ sister Jude. But Jude lived in Ontario; I never tasted her bark. To me, bark belongs to Jans.
So bark. It’s not a cookie or a brittle. It’s just bark. A chocolatey, caramel romance, held together by, wait for it, Premium Plus crackers.
I’ve made it for expecting mothers. New mothers. Friends in mourning. Family gatherings. Bake sales. I put it in my cookie book, and I’ve made it on camera on an episode of Love Food. I gave credit to both Jude and Jans, in case a cousin was watching. I added pistachios for a pop of green. That’s the beauty of a recipe. It twists and turns. It shifts and changes. Ingredients are added or taken away. We just use what we have. And somewhere, along the line, someone else will take ownership of it. Some say they love to make ‘my’ bark. I thank them, then set them straight. I tell them it’s Jans’ bark – a loyal, loving wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, sister, cousin and athlete who knew the importance of a winning dessert, and one that freezes well.
Now that’s a life well lived.
1 cup (250ml) butter
1 cup (250ml) packed brown sugar
1 sleeve Premium Plus Crackers, or other salted, square cracker or biscuit
1 cup (250ml) dark chocolate chips
100g (about ½ cup) sliced almonds, lightly toasted in a dry fry pan for 1-2 minutes
1 tsp lavender rock salt – optional, I have this one in the cupboard for special moments like these
Preheat broiler to high.
Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, shiny side facing up. Cover foil with crackers. Do not overlap.
Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking well to ensure sugar and butter are well blended. When mixture is smooth and bubbly, pour mixture over crackers – it won’t cover crackers perfectly – and place cookie sheet under the broiler. Watch carefully for 1-2 minutes. Pull tray out of the oven when caramel starts to bubble. Using a spatula smooth caramel mixture over all crackers. Squish crackers back together if they pull apart. Sprinkle chocolate chips over crackers. Return tray to the oven for 1 minute, or until chocolate chips turn glossy and are melted (chips will hold their shape when melted – be careful not to over cook!). Remove tray from the oven and spread chocolate to form an ‘icing’ layer over caramel. Sprinkle with almonds or whatever nuts, fruits or special salts you have on hand.
Place tray in the freezer for about an hour, or until firm. Leaving tray outside in the snow will also work ☺ Carefully remove bark from foil and break into bite-sized pieces.
Store bark in an airtight container for up to five days, or freeze for up to 2 months.