Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Clusters

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We are less than nine days away from the Philadelphia Marathon start line, and along with the nightly marathon-based dreams (some of the nightmare variety) comes the depressive restlessness, the feeling of helplessness in the face of the marathon taper. We curtail our miles and our intensity in the last few weeks to rest and repair our micro-torn muscles, catch up on sleep, and get our twitchy legs itching to go on race day. It’s a necessary evil; evil only because the nerves that we baste with long tempo runs are dried out and frayed by the forced hiatus of intensity. When something stressful completely unrelated to running creeps into my comfort zone, I’m now thrown into disarray, reduced to tears by the tiniest infraction (like, say, a torn pie crust). When they say that running is a drug they’re really not joking.

Enter the candy monster. Or, more specifically, these chocolate pumpkin spice clusters. Truth be told, I spent a good many hours the other day/night working on what I hoped would be the perfect apple pie, and just couldn’t get myself to do it all over again the very next day when I realized it still needed modifications. Well, that, and there’s still one more slice of pie that needs to be eaten before I can use the pie plate again. That’s where simplicity comes into play.

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These little chocolates take all of five minutes to put together, and then maybe another five minutes to drop onto a baking sheet and left to set. Deep, dark chocolate infused with pumpkin spice, they have a bit of heft, but corn flakes give them a light, airy crunch. A dusting of cinnamon or ginger on top lends an extra kick. They’re perfect for that post-dinner, pre-dessert period on Thanksgiving when everyone is just sitting on the couch digesting, watching football, and waiting for coffee and pie.

They’re also perfect for today, right now. They’re not calming any nerves, but there’s something satisfying about digging my teeth into cooled, hardened chocolate flecked with little crunchies. And sometimes accomplishing one thing, even if it’s just making something super tasty in the time it would take to gear up for a run, is enough to help me take a deep breath and give a little perspective.

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These chocolate pumpkin spice clusters are whispering in my ear this cold November evening, telling me this: tapering is the time to give yourself some love. You’re going to be kicking your own ass, ripping out your soul and pulling it back in during 26.2 hard miles. Cut yourself a break right now, and cut yourself a break when you toe the start, if you hit the wall, when you cross the finish. Love yourself. Eat me and all my friends. Be happy, run happy.

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Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Clusters

After storing and sampling these for several days, I couldn’t in good conscience keep the pumpkin in the recipe. Normally these chocolates, which I’ve adapted from Jacques Torres and have made over many, many years, stay incredibly crisp from the cornflakes. The chocolate just coats and binds them, keeping the cereal in tact. But the moisture from even the minimal amount of pumpkin left the cornflakes tasting stale and soggy. The flavor mostly comes from the spices anyway, so I’ve cut the pumpkin and upped those a bit in this updated version.

yield: about 30

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch ground ginger
2 healthy pinches kosher salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 cups cornflakes
extra cinnamon or ground ginger, for dusting (optional)

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

In a large bowl, melt chocolate by microwaving in 20-second increments, stirring in between, to ensure that the chocolate does not get scorched.

Stir in the spices and salt, then stir in corn flakes, making sure to coat well.

Use a teaspoon to scoop mixture, and a second teaspoon to scrape off onto parchment-lined baking sheet, shaping into clusters.

Let chocolates set on the counter (or, if your kitchen is hot, put them in refrigerator to jumpstart the process for 5-10 minutes). When they’ve hardened, dust lightly with cinnamon or ginger. They will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

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