Monday, November 20, 2006

Peppermint Bark

Every year around this time the number of catalogs in my mailbox explodes. Catalogs for fruit, nuts, paper, teddy bears, flowers, you name it, they have a catalog and they will send it to you for free. I even received a catalog this year for English muffins. English muffins! After checking out all of the things they have to offer, I am always amazed at the prices of everything knowing that people order out of these catalogs all the time. If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a catalog dedicated to English muffins. I understand that. But still many of the things they offer for $25-$30 plus shipping and handling are easy to make and giving something homemade instead of out of a catalog just makes the gift that much more special.

Peppermint bark is one of those things. There are tons of different variations of peppermint bark. Most center on crushed peppermint candies in white chocolate or white candy coating. A few more will include peppermint extract. These recipes are good but it doesn't take that much more work to turn this into a treat people will rave about. The peppermint bark I make has two layers of chocolate plus peppermint extract and is topped with crushed candy canes. I like this recipe because of the combination of chocolate and peppermint. Most barks made with white candy coating or white almond bark have vanilla flavoring that you may or may not be able to taste. This recipe balances the peppermint flavor with the chocolate, you will taste both. Also, the dark and white layers plus the crushed candies looks cool and professional. People will think you ordered it from a catalog.

I also like this recipe because it is very easy to change. The bottom layer of chocolate can be anything you want: dark, semisweet, milk, etc. You can add more or less peppermint extract. The crushed peppermint candies can be put in between the layers or swirled in the white chocolate. Flip the dark and white layers or make it in a pan half the size and cut the thicker bark into smaller, bite-size pieces. You can do anything you want to make this recipe your own.

Peppermint Bark

Makes just under 2 lbs of candy

1 lb (16 oz.) chocolate (I use dark)
12 oz. white chocolate
3/4 tsp. peppermint extract
Ten 6-inch candy canes

Bring water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. There should be some space between the water and the upper portion of the double boiler. In the meantime, line the bottom of an 11′ by 17′ or similarly sized cookie sheet with sides with aluminum foil or wax paper. Once the water is boiling remove it from the heat and replace the top of the double boiler. Put about 3/4’s of the chocolate in the double boiler first and melt until it is smooth. Add in the rest of the chocolate and 1/2 tsp. of the peppermint extract. Stir until all the chunks have melted. Pour the melted chocolate into the lined cookie sheet and spread so the thickness is just under a quarter of an inch. Let the chocolate sit for a moment so it cools slightly and then place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. While the first layer chills, crush the candy canes. I usually start with ten 6-inch candy canes. If this is not enough for coverage, you can always do more. The size of the broken candy canes should be about the size of a pea. Take the bottom layer of chocolate out of the refrigerator so it warms slightly before the second layer is applied. Again boil water in the bottom of the double boiler. Clean out the upper portion of the double boiler with hot water only, no soap, and dry thoroughly. Once the water is boiling, remove it from the heat and put the top of the double boiler back on it. Place 3/4’s of the white chocolate into the double boiler and stir until it is melted. Add the remaining white chocolate and 1/4 tsp. of peppermint extract and stir until smooth. Pour this evenly over the first layer of chocolate. This layer will be thinner than the first. Sprinkle the top with the pieces of crushed candy canes. Again let it sit for ten minutes before placing it in the refrigerator to set. After an hour the bark should be ready to be broken into pieces. Store in an airtight container in a cool place or freeze. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

Just a note on crushing the peppermint candies. I place the candy canes in a freezer bag and use a hammer to break them to the size I want. It’s fun to take out your frustrations and beat the bag of candies against the counter top as some sources recommend but I don’t. First, I've found this method doesn’t break the candies evenly and you use more (and waste more) candies. The other issue I have is the broken candies tear even the stronger freezer bags and by the third hit, clouds of powdered peppermint candies are covering the counter top. Using a hammer or meat tenderizer will allow you to control how the candies break and avoid serious clean-up.

As posted at Sugar Savvy.

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