Festive Foods: Peppermint Bark and More
Guest food writer Amanda Mahnke shares Patch readers with thoughtful and tasteful gift-giving ideas.
Peppermint bark and chocolate bark are favorite treats for many at this time of year. Making "bark" is simple, quick, and something that can easily be personalized for the tastes of each person on your list.
Essentially, bark consists of chocolate chips or discs that are melted, then spread thin on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. To the melted chocolate, you add whatever mix-ins you want—crushed candy canes, nuts, pretzels, cookie pieces, cranberries— and then freeze the chocolate until hard, at which point it is broken into chunks or cut into pieces.
Since chocolate bark is easy to make in small batches, it is easily adapted for the tastes of those to whom you're giving it. If your neighbor loves peanut butter, try mixing in peanut butter chips, Reeses Pieces, or peanuts. Mint and chocolate? Mix in peppermint oil, crushed candy canes, Andes Mints or peppermint patties.
Need some ideas? Here's two recipes for holiday bark.
1 c. dark chocolate chips
1 c. white chocolate chips
½ - 1 tsp. peppermint extract (start with 1/2 tsp. and add more for a stronger peppermint taste)
¼ c. crushed candy canes
Melt dark chocolate chips (I put them in a microwavable bowl for 2 minutes at 30% power, stirred and did 1 minute more. You can melt them on the stove if you prefer, but be careful not to burn them). Use a spatula to thinly spread melted chocolate on baking sheet lined with wax paper. Place in freezer or refrigerator until completely cool and hardened, about 15 minutes. Remove from freezer. Melt white chocolate chips, mix in peppermint extract, and spread overtop the dark chocolate. Immediately press in crushed candy canes, and return to freezer to harden.
Dark Chocolate Bark With Hazelnuts, Cinnamon and Sea Salt
1.5 c. chocolate chips: a mix between semisweet and dark chocolate is what I used (1 c. semisweet; ½ c. dark chocolate)
1/2 c. chopped hazelnuts
Sea salt and cinnamon, for sprinkling
Toast hazelnuts in a skillet over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, shaking skillet constantly, until aromatic and golden brown. Set aside. Mix semisweet and dark chocolate chips together and melt them. (I put them in a microwavable bowl for 2 minutes at 30% power, stirred and did 1 minute more. You can melt them on the stove if you prefer, but be careful not to burn them). Pour melted chocolate onto a large sheet of wax paper (or parchment paper), then spread into a relatively thin layer with a spatula. Sprinkle hazelnuts on top and press into chocolate slightly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and cinnamon, then place sheet in freezer for 15 minutes, or until hardened. Break or cut into pieces and enjoy.
Mixing it up: Layer different kinds of chocolate on top of each other (such as dark chocolate and white chocolate). To do this, melt your first layer of chocolate and let it harden completely before melting and spreading the next layer on top. Or, for a swirled appearance, melt both kinds of chocolate. Spread one kind on baking sheet, then dollop the second kind over the surface. Drag a knife through each dollop to swirl it into the other chocolate.
Presentation ideas: Instead of spreading the melted chocolate onto cookie sheets, use cookie cutters as molds for your bark. Just refrigerate the cookie cutters until ready to use, place them on wax paper; and pour bark into mold to desired thickness. Press on mix-ins, then refrigerate until completely hardened. Gently remove from mold.