A couple of Thursdays ago, I read an article in the paper lamenting the fact that many Australians would be letting down their employers by taking a sickie on the Monday before Australia Day. (The article did, at least, point out that employers should be reasonable about granting annual leave on this day, but something about the way it was written still left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.)
My scientists work ridiculous hours, and don’t tend to take sickies, even when they probably should (leading to the fun phenomenon of the Lab Lurgy – we are a sharing sort of team on 5 West!), but I thought that if others were getting a four day weekend, legitimately or otherwise, we should do something to make it worth coming in to work that day. Accordingly, I proposed a casual lab lunch – anyone who wanted could bring a plate to share, and we’d set up in the meeting room for a couple of hours, with people dropping in, chatting and eating when they had time.
It turned into a smallish but pleasant gathering – certainly worth doing again, with an interesting variety of food ranging from Turkish bread and dips provided by our German lab head and vegetarian sausage rolls from one of our British postdocs, to a proper Gallette des Rois, brought in by one of our French scientists.
Normally, I would make Nonna’s pizza for this sort of occasion, but my left wrist is still giving me a lot of trouble, and kneading is definitely beyond me. So instead, I decided to pursue my current favourite confectionery strategy of melting a lot of chocolate, and then opening the pantry and flinging any sweet contents that seem plausible into it. The results were very tasty – it’s quite a sophisticated, dark chocolate thing, full of glacé and freeze-dried fruits, but I also couldn’t resist pouring in some popping candy, and I got a great deal of glee out of hearing people go “oh, this is really nice – ooh! Oh my God what is that?” at irregular intervals through the afternoon…
All in all, an excellent way to liven up the day before a holiday.
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500 g good dark chocolate (I used half Lindt, half Green and Blacks, both 70% cocoa)
250 g glacé fruit (I used pineapple, peach and apricot, but cherries, pears, oranges, or anything else that takes your fancy would work. Probably not citron, though.)
50 g crystallised ginger
35 g freeze-dried fruit (I used strawberries and blueberries, but again, pick your own preferred flavours)
35 g popping candy
100 g praline paste (I used almond, but use whatever you prefer)
Now what will you do with it?
Line a large, shallow tray (25 cm x 40cm, or thereabouts) with baking paper.
Melt the chocolate in a large bowl by heating it in the microwave at 50% power for about 3-4 minutes, stirring after each minute.
While the chocolate is melting, chop the glacé fruit coarsely and the ginger finely.
Add the glacé fruit, ginger, freeze-dried fruit, popping candy and praline paste to the chocolate and mix well so that everything is coated in chocolate – there will be just enough chocolate to cover everything when well-mixed.
Scrape everything into the prepared tray and spread out to cover. It will not be very deep, but it doesn’t need to be, because it is quite rich.
Refrigerate until set, then cut into chunks.
Serve to the unwary.
This recipe is vegan and gluten-free. It is nut-free (and also rather cheaper) without the praline paste, but be aware that the praline paste helps soften the final texture of the chocolate.
You can swap in or out any glacé or freeze-dried fruit you like. Nuts are fine, too. Dried fruit is OK, but will change the texture. In terms of types of freeze dried fruits, consider what you would combine in a fruit salad and use that as a starting point.
You can, of course, omit the popping candy, but where would be the fun in that?