I first heard about the concept of dipping wood ear mushrooms in chocolate on one of the wild food groups I’m a part of on Facebook. A successful forager brought home their wood ear mushrooms, and turned to the group for advice in cooking. In the midst of suggestions for soup, stir-fry and salads was a suggestion that seemed so out of place, I read it several times. I really liked the idea, but I had just read an article talking about the prevalence of trolls in mushrooming groups, and I really didn’t want to embarrass myself and fall into a trolls trap. I scoured the internet, searching for “chocolate” “wood ear” and other terms, but to no avail. If this was an earnest suggestion, there was little evidence on the internet to back it up-so I decided to experiment, and if the results were favorable, I would leave documentation to the next person searching for fungi and sweets.
I contacted the person who had originally suggested the combination- Hadley W.- who seemed genuine and not very troll-like at all in his advice for the chocolate-covered treats. I also started to read descriptions of wood ear mushrooms that commented on the fungi’s lack of strong flavor and chewy, jellied texture. It seemed possible, that if you could instill enough of a pleasant flavor in the mushrooms, the texture dipped in chocolate would be fun and delicious. I also learned a little about the nutritional and medicinal properties of wood ear- they are high in fiber and protein, relatively low in calories, fat, and salt, and completely free of sugar. They contain healthy amounts of riboflavin (B2) and iron, as well as contain blood thinning compounds (because of that, if you are on some medications you should not consume wood ears).
Wood ear mushrooms can be found in stores (most reliably your Asian grocery store, or even on Amazon), sometimes fresh, sometimes only dried. If you end up purchasing the dried mushrooms, keep in mind that they will increase to 3 or 4 times their weight in water, so while this recipe calls for 6 oz of fresh mushrooms, a pound or a little more of dried mushrooms will be enough. and can also be foraged in the fall, spring and warmer parts of winter. They are found on dead hardwood trees, and have softer, velvety outer surfaces that are smooth and shiny on the inside. Sometimes they will be lighter, and more brown or purple than the ones I’ve got. Although there are some mushrooms that look similar, none are poisonous. The two indicators to determine that what you have is a wood ear, and not an imposter, are the edges (which on a wood ear should be very thin) and the squish factor (although wood ears seem very jellied and squish like, unlike the imposters if you try compress them there is little give). Of course as always take cautions when foraging wild mushrooms, and eat what you find at your own risk.
Whether store-bought or wilderness foraged, it is important to cook mushrooms to remove any bacteria or dirt clinging to the mushrooms. Since we don’t really want our mushrooms very cooked, a 3 minute boiling time will kill off most of the unwanted microorganisms, while leaving your mushrooms raw tasting with a springy texture. The next step is to soak your mushrooms in juice for several hours (I leave mine over night). I’ve tried this with both orange and cranberry juice, and they were both delicious! In the end I made the recipe with cranberry juice, primarily because it’s close to Christmas time and the cranberries felt more festive- but if you like orange, use orange juice! You really can’t go wrong either way.
Once the mushrooms have soaked, you’re near the finish line- and this is where the work really starts. Make sure the chocolate chips you’ve found are free of milk products (my go-to are the Trader Joe’s brand, but be wary- while the chips are vegan, the chunks are not!). Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments, taking them out and stirring each time. It should only take a couple minutes for the chocolate to be melted smooth. Because chocolate chips actually have less cocoa butter than higher quality chocolate, it’s important to add a little fat in to get it to reach the smooth, liquid state for dipping. I added 1 tbsp. of coconut oil at the beginning, and about half way through as my chocolate started to harden and get chunky I added another tsp. to the mix. You can always add more coconut oil, and zap a little longer if needed while dipping, but do so sparingly as you don’t want your chocolate to get hard and clumpy.
Before dipping the mushrooms, use a cloth or paper towel to blot off as much moisture as possible. When the mushrooms are done, let set on a wax paper lined baking tray in the fridge for around 15 minutes. If possible, eat them now because they’ll never be better. If you do need to store them for later, keep them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator but know that as time goes on it becomes likely that the mushrooms will expel some of their liquid, causing the chocolate casing it to fracture.
Chocolate-Coated Cranberry Wood Ear Mushrooms
- 6 oz. of fresh wood ear mushrooms (around 1-3 oz. dried)
- 2-3 cups of pure cranberry juice
- 1 12 oz. bag of vegan chocolate chips
- 1-2 TBSP coconut oil
1. If you are using dried mushrooms (if you are using fresh mushrooms, skip to step 2) soak the mushrooms in warm water until they are dark, shiny, jelly-like and have increased in size.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the wood ear mushrooms, and wait until the water has resumed boiling- then set a timer for 3 minutes. Once they’re done, drain and briefly shock under cool water.
3. Place the mushrooms in a large bowl, and cover with cranberry juice and place in the fridge for at least four hours (overnight is better).
4. Remove the mushrooms from the fridge and strain out the liquid, shaking well. Line a baking sheet with wax paper and set aside.
5. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the entire bag of chocolate chips, plus 1 tbsp. coconut oil for 30 seconds in the microwave. Take out and stir. Continue heating for 30 seconds at a time and stirring until the chocolate is smooth and fluid. Take one mushroom at a time and use a cloth or paper towel to pat the mushroom completely dry. Then dip both sides into the melted chocolate, shaking of as much excess chocolate as possible without leaving the mushroom exposed (some of the smoother inside of the mushroom might not hold the chocolate well- you can either use thicker layers of chocolate or just be okay with not completely covered mushrooms).
6. Place the dipped chocolates directly onto the lined baking tray, and place the filled trays in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. Store any mushrooms you wish to save in air-tight containers in the refrigerator.