I've been making some variation of chocolate haystacks for years, and whenever I do, I feel a little sly because they are unexpectedly simple - and more healthful than you'd think.
A melt-in-your-mouth chocolate confection with a cookielike crunch, the haystack comes across as exacting to make, yet all that's involved is coating shredded wheat cereal in melted chocolate and mounding the mixture into small piles on a tray.
The haystacks also register as completely indulgent, but they are pretty healthful as candy goes. I sometimes add chewy dried fruit and/or toasted chopped nuts to the mix. I particularly like them with dried cherries. Here, I sprinkled the tops with a pink shock of crushed, freeze-dried strawberries.
Wrap these festive haystacks in a cute box and give them to someone you love. When you get raves about how good they taste, you can divulge how easy and good-for-you they are, or you can keep quiet and relish that feeling of being a tad sneaky.
Chocolate Haystacks With Crushed Strawberries
Yield: 8 servings (makes 16 pieces)
1/3 cup freeze-dried strawberries 3 large shredded wheat cereal biscuits (about 2½ ounces) 6 ounces dark chocolate (60 percent to 70 percent cocoa solids), chopped
Place the freeze-dried strawberries in a resealable plastic bag and use a mallet or rolling pin to crush them until they are mostly pulverized with some small pieces remaining.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Use your hands to crush the shredded wheat into threadlike pieces over a medium bowl.
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan filled with a few inches of barely bubbling water (medium heat). Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Melt the chocolate, stirring frequently, for about 1 minute, then remove the bowl from the pan. Add the crushed shredded wheat to the chocolate and stir until well coated.
Use your fingers, a large spoon or both to transfer 16 tablespoon-size stacks of the cereal-chocolate mixture onto the wax paper. Sprinkle some of the crushed strawberries on top of each stack. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes, or until set.
Store and serve at room temperature.
Note: Freeze-dried strawberries are typically in the dry-goods section of a grocery store produce department.
Nutrition information per piece: 80 calories, 1 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar.