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Mendiant is the French word for "beggar" and also can refer to a type of dessert or treat that is made from chocolate. Most often, a mendiant is a disc of chocolate that has dried fruits, candied fruits or nuts applied to the surface or mixed in with the melted chocolate before it hardens. The term sometimes refers to chocolate bark, a mixture of chocolate, dried fruits and nuts that are mixed together, formed into a sheet, solidified and broken into pieces. The confection originally was made as part of the tradition of the 13 Christmas desserts observed in the Provence region of France, with four specific dried fruits and nuts placed on top of the chocolate medallion to represent the color of the robes worn by each of the four Christian mendicant monastic orders of the time.
The most important part of the preparation of mendiant is the process of melting the chocolate and letting it harden again into the final shape. Although there are several ways to go about melting chocolate, one of the most reliable ways — one that prevents burning, separating and the formation of unwanted sugar crystals — is the use of a double boiler. This means placing the chocolate in a metal bowl or pan that sits on top of another pot containing water that is kept at a gentle simmer. This allows the heat from the water to evenly and slowly melt the chocolate in the top bowl.
Chocolate for mendiant is melted in a double boiler, and then removed from the heat to stir, returning it to the heat if it begins to thicken too much. Once the chocolate has a glossy surface and is smooth, it can be poured out to form the chocolate base. Alternately, the fruit and any nuts that are being added can be mixed into the melted chocolate before it is poured.
The melted chocolate is poured out onto a surface, such as a sheet of parchment or a reusable silicon baking sheet that will release the chocolate easily, where it will set and harden. Individual cookie-like circles can be made, or the entire batch can be allowed to form a sheet of chocolate to make bark. Once the chocolate is down, the toppings are added quickly so the toppings are firmly attached to the mendiant when the chocolate sets.
Some common toppings for mendiant are hazelnuts, walnuts, candied papaya, raisins or dried apricots. The original four items that were used to represent the different monastic orders are raisins, almonds, hazelnuts and dried figs. The nuts that are used can be crushed, used raw or roasted in an oven before being added to the chocolate.
The chocolate is allowed to set for several hours so it becomes solid. This stage should happen at room temperature, because placing the chocolate in a refrigerator or freezer could alter the texture and allow sugar crystals to form. The finished mendiant can be served on a plate or wrapped and given as gifts.