Experts say re-entry is one of the most difficult and critical parts of space travel. Get your trajectory wrong, and you’re subject to a whole host of problems, the biggest of which is drag. The FAA states that the reentry of spacecraft isn’t all that much different from a skipped rock entering a placid lake:
“[Astronauts] must plan to hit the atmosphere at the precise angle and speed for a safe landing. If they hit too steeply or too fast, they risk making a big “splash,” which would mean a fiery end. If their impact is too shallow, they may literally skip off the atmosphere and back into the cold of space.” -Federal Aviation Administration, section 4.1.7, Returning From Space: Re-Entry
I screwed up my re-entry, people – too big of a splash – and I experienced significant drag upon returning from vacation. I noticed at some point during the first morning that I was actually moving in slow motion as compared to a normal day, and no matter how hard I tried to snap out of it, I couldn’t. Once the inevitable migraine hit, I just knew I was done for and tried my best to act human until the next morning, with varying results.
It’s been a few days now, and I’m way better; I feel settled, the house has been rid of the debris which tends to gather when Mr. Table is left home alone for too long, and my mind is clear. I’m working because I want to work, which is exciting: being home gives my writing the proper perspective, whereas vacation just makes it feel awkward and out-of-place.
I wanted to tell you about these bars I made during my time away; easily the most notable thing I…”cooked” or “baked” are the wrong words to use, because I did neither here. Rather, I assembled these: a blissful no-oven, semi-good for you treat which requires no hot stuff beyond the heating of cream for chocolate ganache, which is really nothing, right? Technically, nothing gets cooked.
I’d say they were healthy, but with the ever-growing amount of news pieces out there devoted to the Paleo-izing and/or vegan-izing of desserts out there, I’ll spare you that lie; I’d rather just give you the facts, anyway.
Fact: These bars are made from a combination of nutty things: cashews, almonds, almond butter, alongside some unsweetened coconut and maple syrup – the real kind. Yes, there are dates in here, date-haters, but I implore you to give dates a chance here: they’re here solely to hold it all together (dates are truly nature’s superglue), and you wouldn’t even know they’re in here.
As for the chocolate tops, the original recipe called for using only chocolate chips melted with coconut oil. I tried to make them like that, but really didn’t love the results; the color was uneven and spotty, and the texture was, well, pretty lame. Alternatively, they’re draped in my absolute favorite chocolate ganache/chocolate sauce, seen covering these chocolate chip cupcakes, and used repeatedly in this house as an ice cream topping and food gift. It’s perfect here, and gives the bars the coating they deserve; satiny and dark with a soft finish. If you’d rather go straight-on chocolate here, be my guest, but I’d suggest a high-quality melting chocolate (like the Chocoley I used for these ice cream sandwiches, because it has actual flavor as opposed to those weird candy melts in craft stores) for this project.
To sum it up, these bars have mostly good intentions covered with a little bit of sin on top for. They last forever in the fridge or freezer, and actually seem to improve as they age. Even though you’re not going to want to, cut these in smaller squares: you can get 25 out of an 8 x 8 pan easily, if not more; they’re very dense and satisfying, so a little goes quite a long way.
In other news, I saw my first pumpkin spice-related post this week and died a little inside. Because it’s August, people, and no one gets a rush off of school supply lists, fall weather and baking smells more than I do, but come on now. Let’s do summer for a little bit longer.
Adapted from It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen. Roll thine eyes if you must, but Julia Turshen? She’s a chef and she rocks this book.
for the bars:
- 2 cups raw cashews
- 1 1/2 cups dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- 2/3 cup almond butter
- 1 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut shreds
- 1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (use less if you’d like; this amount gives the bars a solid almond flavor)
for the chocolate ganache:*
- 2 ounces 72% chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Ghirardelli)
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- fat pinch kosher salt
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
*although I myself can not imagine a world without my chocolate ganache, feel free to leave it off altogether if you’re not into it; the bars are still very good.
Make the bars:
Line an 8 x 8 square pan (Pyrex or metal, whatever) with parchment paper, long enough to hang over two sides like handles. For slightly flatter bars (and 36 versus 25 of them), use a 9 x 9 pan.
In the bowl of a food processor, add cashews, dates, almond butter, coconut, maple syrup, and almond extract, and pulse until you have a sticky, blended ball of dough. Seriously, it’s that easy; you may need to run a spatula through the mixture to scrape some straggler ingredients down from the sides, but that’s about it. It’s a workout for the processor, to be sure, but it can handle it.
Remove the ball of dough from the processor and press evenly into prepared pan with your hands or a rubber spatula; I like to finish things off with a flat-bottomed measuring cup to make sure everything is flat. Slide that pan into the refrigerator to chill for 8 hours or overnight; the firmer the better.
When you’re ready to cut the bars…
Make the ganache:
In a medium bowl, add the chopped chocolate, cocoa powder, and salt.
Combine the corn syrup, sugar, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. As soon as you see it begin to boil, remove it from the heat and pour the cream mixture over your chocolate mixture and allow to sit undisturbed for 1 minute.
Slowly begin to whisk the mixture by hand, for as long as it takes to dissolve everything together. Then pick up your speed, whisking at a decent clip and increasing your speed as you go (think of it as a cardio endurance challenge) for about 4 minutes, until your mixture is glossy and completely smooth. I say “completely” here because you will begin to get tired, and you will try to pointedly ignore the tiny granules of undissolved sugar still staring at you from the bowl. Do not leave them undissolved, people, because grainy chocolate fudge sauce does nothing for your presentation. Keep going until you can truthfully say you see no grains. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool and thicken slightly.
Assemble the bars:
While the ganache cools, remove the chilled bar mixture from the refrigerator; it should be very firm and not at all bendy when you lift it. Lift carefully out of the pan using the parchment handles and place onto your work surface. Using a sharp, clean knife (keep a damp towel nearby to clean knife after each slice, a la brownies), slice your bars into small squares: 4 slices horizontally and vertically will make the size you see in the photos, but you can push that to 5 and 5 if you want to.
If your bars have gotten warm while doing this, place them back in the fridge for a half hour or so to firm up (you can always reheat the ganache when you’re ready.) If your bars are still firm and your ganache has cooled and thickened slightly, start the dip.
Place the ganache in a small bowl to give yourself a nice, deep chocolate pool. Dunk each square into the ganache (as deep as you see pictured, so maybe 1/4-inch down) once, lift for a few seconds, then dunk again. Hold upside down over the bowl to let any excess chocolate fall, then spiral your wrist around and up to settle any chocolate drips. Transfer to a small sheet pan (or something you can easily slide into the refrigerator) and repeat until all the bars are coated. Slide your bars back into the fridge and let them chill for 1 hour or so to set up.
Keeps very, very well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for a month. This goes without saying by now, but store them in an airtight container.