It’s not tough to find a specialty chocolate shop in Portland, or in most any other city, I suppose, but it is certainly not easy to find a shop that is not only staffed by some of the friendliest, most knowledgeable chocolate fans around (sidenote: I once knew someone who worked in a chocolate shop and was allergic to chocolate, which is just absurd when you think about it, because wouldn’t you think, and hope, that a chocolate shop, selling chocolate and all, would want to hire people who could, you know, readily sample and talk honestly about their product without breaking out in a rash?) but also offers a truly creative selection of chocolate treats. Alma Chocolate, in Northeast Portland, is that chocolate shop. Sure, everyone makes salted caramels nowadays, but how about habanero caramels? Or a Thai peanut butter cup, a dream of a chocolate confection that layers your mouth with hits of lime, chili, and ginger? How about a chevre and black pepper truffle? Do you see what I mean? It’s chocolate taken just a step further, from pleasingly creative to utterly inspired.
Though not their most unusual of offerings, Alma’s ginger almond toffee bark is a great example of the way their take on confections can be given a bit of a lift. The toffee is perfectly melt-in-your-mouth, enveloping large chunks of spicy candied ginger and toasted almonds. Most people take the timid route with this type of toffee, unfortunately, peppering it only moderately with tiny little bits of ginger, and pulverizing the almonds into an almost powdery layer that only hints at its presence. But Alma knows better, and they know that if someone wants to eat ginger almond toffee, they want to eat ginger, and almonds, and toffee, each component standing front and center.
It might seem odd to wax rhapsodic about a chocolatier and then immediately turn around and attempt to make their product at home instead of heading out and buying something to support that chocolatier, but, when I have an affection for something, this is how I show it. If I am truly enamored of something, I like to make it a part of my life, and a toffee of this caliber is most certainly worthy of being part of my life, and the lives of other people I know who happen to be partial to smooth chocolate, rich toffee, snappy ginger, and crisp almonds.
Ginger Almond Toffee
Inspired by Alma Chocolate
1 cup toasted whole almonds
heaping ¼ cup crystallized candied ginger
1 ¼ cups white sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons water
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon molasses
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon baking soda
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Separate the almonds into ¾ cup and ¼ cup piles. Chop the ¾ cup pile very roughly, basically just chopping each almond roughly in half (you want these almonds to maintain a good bite). Chop the remaining ¼ cup pile into a medium-fine dice and set aside.
Coarsely chop the heaping ¼ cup of crystallized ginger. Line the bottom of an 8”x13” baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper, and evenly scatter the ¾ cup of almond chunks and the chopped crystallized ginger over the parchment.
In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the white sugar, brown sugar, water, butter, molasses, and sea salt. Over medium heat, cook the mixture, stirring occasionally with a heatproof spoon or spatula, until it turns a rich, dark golden brown and just reaches a heat of 300 degrees. (This process can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat of your stove’s burner and the heating capabilities of the saucepan you are using.) Immediately remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the vanilla and baking soda. The mixture will bubble up when the baking soda is added, so be sure to stir carefully but thoroughly.
Quickly pour the mixture evenly over the almonds and ginger. When the toffee is still hot but just starting to set (about 2 minutes later), sprinkle the chopped chocolate over the surface of the toffee. Allow the chocolate to melt from the heat of the toffee, then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup chopped almonds over the chocolate.
Allow the toffee to cool completely before breaking into pieces. If you want to speed up the cooling process, you can place the toffee in either the refrigerator (more patience) or the freezer (less patience).