broad branch market. the location of one of the greatest joys of my childhood. a shop full of promise. full of candy. a place of friday afternoon freedom. this mecca of childhood happiness sat on the corner of broad branch road and northampton street, catty-corner to my elementary school in northwest washington dc. every friday after picking jake and joey and me up from school my mom would generously hand us $2 each (each!) to save or spend as we pleased. i can still recall the delighted exhilaration i experienced walking up the steps to what seemed to me to be a shining structure full of wonders and hope, and which, in retrospect, was more likely a dilapidated shack with questionable health code status.
jake used his allowance money to buy things like mushrooms so he could saute them, or brie so he could concoct cream of brie soup. i am convinced joey saved every single dollar of his allowance and has thousands of it just sitting in his bank account. and what did i do with my riches? i bought candy, of course! back then $2 was enough to buy four whole candy bars. i ran right to that colorful candy aisle and walked up and down, back and forth until i'd assembled the perfect quartet of textures and flavors. on any given friday this might include a box of gobstoppers, a pack of hubba bubba gum, a bar of hershey's chocolate, and a bag of skittles. or maybe it was a bag of m&m's, a pack of starburst, a three musketeers bar, and a box of nerds. by dinnertime friday they were gone. apparently "saving for later" wasn't my thing. you'd think i was otherwise deprived of sugar as a child, which wasn't at all the case. we got to eat sweet treats. but we got to eat them in reasonable proportions. a couple cookies. a piece of cake. an ice cream cone. and at reasonable times. after lunch. after dinner. at birthday parties. but that wasn't quite enough for me. i wanted more. wanted to be wholly in charge of my candy intake. i vividly recall, at the age of 8, trying to convince my mom to buy me some sugary concoction or other at the grocery store and being told no. no! a disaster! i tried negotiating. didn't work. i tried whining. really didn't work. i wasn't above crying, but before i got there, my mom let me in on a little secret. she told me that when i grew up i could buy all the candy i wanted, whenever i wanted. i could eat it every single day. all day long. she said so. the key to eternal happiness was within my reach. all i had to do was grow up...
bag of mini pretzel twists
2 sticks salted butter
1 cup sugar
12 oz. bag dark or bittersweet chocolate chips*
*i used a little bit more than this because a little extra chocolate never hurt anyone
to make the bark:
1. preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line a cookie tray with tin foil
2. melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat. while it's melting line the cookie tray with an even layer of pretzels.
3. when the butter is melted add the sugar and stir it until it's incorporated. the butter and sugar will start bubbling, but make sure it doesn't boil. stir it occasionally as it caramelizes. when it looks like caramel, quickly and evenly pour it over the pretzels. it will help to do this in rows, back and forth, up and down the cookie sheet. even out the caramel using a spatula if it needs it. then pop the cookie sheet into the oven for 5-7 minutes.
4. while the pretzels and caramel are working their magic, melt the chocolate chips. you can do this in a bowl in the microwave, over a double boiler, or even in a pan on the stove top. just make sure the chocolate doesn't burn or start to harden before the pretzels come out of the oven. when they do, pour the melted chocolate evenly over them, spreading it with a spatula as needed.
5. sprinkle sea salt evenly over the chocolate and stick the pan in the fridge for about two hours. when the chocolate has hardened, peel back the tin foil and break the pretzels into small, bark-like pieces and enjoy!
something to try: i think smoked, salted almonds add a wonderful, interesting flavor to this bark. you can buy then at most grocery stores in a little can. just throw them in a bag and hit them with a can of something a bunch of times, then sprinkle on top of the chocolate along with the sea salt.
something else to try: giving chocolate gifts!
a few years ago, jake and joey and i took josh on a tour of our old neighborhood. we drove past the house we grew up in, pointed out our crossing guard stations, the homes of our friends, our school, and of course, we made a stop at broad branch market. it's now some kind of fancy organic shop where things like coconut juice, heirloom tomatoes, and spelt flour are sold. i bought an organic, fair trade chocolate bar just for good measure...