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When it comes to host gifts, a homemade take on the Almond Joy raises the bar

Bring Joy Coconut Chocolate Candies. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg / For The Washington Post)
Bring Joy Coconut Chocolate Candies. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg / For The Washington Post)
By Cathy Barrow Special To The Washington Post

When I’m invited to share a special meal with friends, whether holiday feast or birthday party, I always bring something along. Sure, some hosts might ask me to contribute a dish, but others respond with “Don’t bring a thing. I’ve got this.” I am unable, constitutionally, to appear on someone’s doorstep without something in my hand. It’s in these moments that I bring indulgences. Imported cheese and fancy crackers. Extravagant wine. Homemade candies.

Made with unsweetened coconut and plenty of hickory-smoked almonds, the Bring Joy Coconut Chocolate Candy is a modern twist on the beloved Almond Joy. As far as gifts go, with no baking and no chocolate tempering necessary, they are pantry-friendly and a breeze to pull together, even with only a couple hours’ notice. On point for either Easter or Passover, they can be made up to two weeks in advance, too.

Unsweetened coconut is sold in airy, crunchy flakes – great in granola but a little large for candy. I used my high-speed blender to blitz the flakes into small bits, careful not to pulverize. Using the same blender, I chopped the smoked almonds into equally small bits. The almonds and coconut are bound with powdered sugar and sweetened condensed milk, then kneaded like bread dough until cohesive and stiff.

I used a small juice glass with a flat bottom to press the dough into the loaf pan, forming a solid block. The filling is chewy and dense, so it needs to be compacted. After chilling, the dough is much easier to cut into crisp-edged squares. If egg-shaped candies are your goal, use a two- tablespoon scoop to portion, then with slightly damp hands, form them before chilling.

Tempering chocolate can be challenging for even the most accomplished cooks. To keep this recipe as straightforward as possible, I added shortening (or butter) to melted chips to make a dipping sauce that sets up in the refrigerator. No thermometers needed. Working with half the chips at a time keeps the chocolate the correct texture for enrobing. It’s so darn pretty, you’ll be congratulating yourself.

Finely chopped nuts and flaky salt make for a chic, grown-up party treat, but sprinkles and edible glitter aren’t outside the realm of possibility. Making these candies is an afternoon’s distraction for young cooks, and decorating is the best part.

Bring Joy Coconut Chocolate Candies

Note: The filling may be chopped by hand, but it’s easier to achieve the sublime texture with either a high-speed blender or full-size food processor, not a mini-processor. Organic, unsweetened coconut flakes are widely available at Trader Joe’s and other outlets.

2 1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut

1 cup hickory-smoked almonds

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

1 1/3 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons shortening or unsalted butter

Flaked salt, for decorating

Line a 9-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil, letting excess hang over the short sides; it will be used to lift the candies from the pan.

Use a food processor or a high-speed blender to whir the coconut flakes until chopped but not pulverized. Work slowly, checking frequently. The chopped coconut should yield about 1 1/4 cups; transfer to a mixing bowl.

Grind the almonds until finely chopped. Reserve 1 tablespoon for decorating, then add the rest to the coconut. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract to the almond-and-coconut mixture, stirring to incorporate.

Pour the condensed milk into the coconut mixture and use your hands to combine the ingredients until stiff. If this filling mixture is not cohesive, very judiciously add more condensed milk, 1 teaspoon at a time. Knead and press firmly, pushing the mixture away from you, folding, and repeating until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Press the filling into the prepared pan, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Place parchment paper on a wire rack. Lift the foil holding the block of filling and unmold it onto a cutting board, top side down. Score the block into 18 squares of equal size (3 across, 6 down). Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut the chilled filling; you might have a little trim, which is your cook’s snack. Place the filling squares on the parchment paper and let them dry out a bit as you melt the chocolate. (This drying step will help the chocolate adhere more readily.)

Fill a small saucepan with about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the water is barely bubbling at the edges. Place half of the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl that fits over the pan without its bottom touching the water, creating a double boiler. Melt the chocolate, whisking until smooth. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the shortening or butter until melted; take the bowl off the heat.

Working with one piece at a time, dip a cold filling square into the chocolate, turning it over and over to coat completely, and then transfer it to the parchment-lined rack. (I use a table fork and a soup spoon, lifting with the fork while spooning the chocolate over the top.) Let the chocolate fall back into the bowl through the tines of the fork, and then gently slide the candy on to the parchment.

After coating 9 candies, repeat the process, melting the remaining chocolate with the remaining shortening or butter, and then coating the remaining candies. (There may be leftover chocolate; use it to coat pretzel rods, dried apricots or Saltines.)

Sprinkle the top of the candies with the reserved chopped almonds and a small pinch of flaked salt.

Before eating, refrigerate the candies, uncovered, for about 1 hour, until the chocolate is firm and cold.

Make ahead: The filling mixture needs to be refrigerated for 1 hour. The finished candies need to be refrigerated for at least 1 hour before serving, and can be kept cold between layers of wax paper in an airtight container (ideally, a cookie tin) for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 18 1 1/2-inch squares

Nutrition per piece: 240 calories, 3 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 20 g sugar

Cathy Barrow is a writer, recipe developer and author of the award-winning “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry.” Her new book of slab pies, “Pie Squared,” is available for preorder.

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