Homemade Holiday Candy: Dark Chocolate Peppermint Bark

In my previous post, Last-Minute Homemade Holiday Gifts, I mentioned that I was planning to make some dark chocolate peppermint bark and English toffee as my food gifts this year. I ended up turning them out the day that I was leaving to drive up to Massachusetts to see my family for Christmas, and since they got such an enthusiastic response from both the kids and the adults I’m thinking of making more to share with friends on New Year’s Eve.

The recipes are very simple and only a few ingredients are required for each, so they’re actually quite frugal with regard to both the money and time you spend making them.

DARK CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT BARK
You could go out and buy it, but it is much cheaper just to make it yourself. Plus, it’s a practical way to use up all of those extra candy canes that are still hanging on your Christmas tree. I spent less than $10 on the bark ingredients (and I used premium chocolate and organic candy canes, so if you went with the standard stuff you could probably get away with paying half), but a smaller quantity of the same type of bark at Williams-Sonoma goes for $26.50!

Also, the name is a bit of a misnomer, since white chocolate is also a major part of the bark, but the base in this recipe is dark chocolate.

Classic Christmas Bark

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces of dark chocolate (preferably at least 60% cacao)
  • 8 ounces of white chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon of natural peppermint extract
  • Approximately 12 to 16 candy canes (I was excited to find organic candy canes with no artificial colors or flavors this year!)

You’ll also need a cookie sheet or glass baking dish (9×11 or slightly larger) lined with parchment paper.

Instructions

Setting Pan

  1. Prepare your cookie sheet or glass baking dish by lining it with parchment paper. You want the parchment paper to come up over the sides of the pan so you can lift the bark out with it afterward. It helps if you crease the edges inside the pan.
  2. I used a 9×13-inch cookie sheet for a slightly thicker bark, but you could use a bigger pan (or divide it between 2 pans) for thinner bark. Just keep in mind that if the bark is too thick it’ll turn out more like fudge and if it’s too thin it’ll crumble into tiny pieces. Aim for about 1/4-inch thickness.

Candy Canes

  1. Unwrap the candy canes. You’ll need to crush them somehow. You can do it the manual way with a mortar and pestle (or stick them inside a Ziploc bag and pound on them with a meat tenderizing mallet), or you can grind them up in a blender or food processor. Just don’t get overzealous — you want them to be crushed into little chunks, not ground to dust.
  2. Speaking of dust, there will inevitably be some no matter what method you use. When you’re finished with the crushing/grinding, pour the candy cane pieces into a strainer over a bowl to separate the chunky bits from the dust.
  3. If you want extra sweet bark, you can stir the dust into the melted chocolate just before you remove it from the stove. Otherwise, you can save the candy cane dust to sprinkle over fresh-baked cookies or to sweeten up a cup of tea or cocoa later. I added it to my first batch, but it was too sweet for me, so I kept it out of the second batch.

Dark Chocolate

  1. Melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can make your own by placing a metal bowl into a pot of boiling water. Stir the chocolate as it melts with a heat-proof spatula.
  2. Pour the dark chocolate into the pan and spread it around with your spatula until it covers the whole pan. Again, it should be about 1/4-inch thick.
  3. Now, you must wait for the dark chocolate to set before melting and pouring the white chocolate on top of it. This is a little tricky because if the dark chocolate layer is too soft, it’ll swallow up the white chocolate rather than letting it sit on top like the classic Christmas bark. If it gets too hard the layers may separate when you break the bark. Basically you want to wait until it the dark chocolate has the consistency of fudge and is a little tacky to the touch.

Bumbled Bark

NOTE: If your white chocolate layer does sink into the dark chocolate layer, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it makes a pretty marbleized pattern when you cut into it — and it still tastes good. My first attempt ended up this way, and I just layered these ones onto the bottom of the gift bowls and put the bark pieces from the second batch on top.

White Chocolate

  1. As it gets close to this point, start melting the white chocolate. In my experience, white chocolate always tends to be more temperamental, so you have to be really careful not to overcook it or it’ll start solidifying again. If this happens, you can try stirring a teaspoon of vegetable shortening into it to smooth it out.
  2. Just before you remove the white chocolate from the heat, stir in the teaspoon of peppermint extract.
  3. Pour the white chocolate all over the top of the dark chocolate layer. If you missed any spots, spread the white chocolate over them with your spatula, but keep the spreading to a minimum, since disturbing the dark chocolate will cause it to melt and taint your white chocolate layer with brown streaks.
  4. Immediately sprinkle the crushed candy canes on top of the white chocolate layer while it’s still warm and soft. Gently press down on them to help them stick into the layer.

Final Steps

  1. Let the bark solidify. It could take an hour or so, but you could speed up the process by putting it in the refrigerator.
  2. When the bark is solid, carefully remove it from the pan and peel the parchment paper off.
  3. Set the bark on a cutting board and cut it into serving pieces.

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