peppermint bark (or what to do with the leftover candy canes)
I love peppermint bark, but it’s ridiculously expensive to purchase. I’ve been wanting to make some all winter, but I don’t have any peppermint extract and I live in a grocery store desert – which means that those things are extra expensive at the few places where you can purchase them. So when I was visiting the beloved carnivore in DC and I went to the grocery store to pick up the fixings for dinner, I couldn’t resist buying the very affordable peppermint extract that was available there.
And thus, the peppermint bark experimentation began. I blended a couple of recipes, although almost all recipes follow the same basic format. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Now that I know, I’m going to make it a yearly tradition – and I get to keep all of the peppermint bark for myself, since the beloved carnivore does not believe that mint and chocolate should mix. He’s strictly a milk chocolate, white chocolate, and/or peanut butter with chocolate kind of a guy.
- 12 oz white chocolate (the white chocolate chips are easiest)
- 12 oz semisweet chocolate (again,chocolate chips are easiest)
- 1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract, divided (1/2 tsp and 1 tsp)
- 2 tsp vegetable oil, divided (any flavorless oil will probably do)
- 10 peppermint candy canes (or about 30 mini candy canes)
The candy canes have to be crushed. You can do this at the beginning and set it aside, or you can save this step and do it while the first layer of chocolate is setting in the fridge. It’s totally up to you – personally, I like to have all of my ingredients ready in case I start a small fire, or have to answer the phone, etc.
Unwrap the candy canes and put about half of them in a ziploc bag. If you’re using full size candy canes, go ahead and break them into about three pieces with your hands before putting them in the bag. Seal the bag – this is important, or candy cane bits will go flying. Trust me. Use something heavy like a rolling pin or a meat cleaver or, in my case, an empty wine bottle, to smash the peppermint candy canes into small pieces about 1/4 of an inch long. Some of it will be smashed really finely, which is fine, but try keep the piees as even as possible. I found that I got more even pieces by using the bottom of the wine bottle and hitting it straight down onto the candy canes, rather than using a rolling pin method. Repeat the process with the remaining candy canes. You should wind up with about 1 cup of crushed candy canes, total. Set this aside for now.
Prepare the first layer of the peppermint bark by melting the semisweet chocolate. You can temper the chocolate, which I attempted to do using the fake double-boiler method, but the beloved carnivore’s stove did not approve of my methodology and I wound up burning a hole in the dishrag I was using as a potholder [I found this strange – I’ve never had problems with it in my own kitchen, but perhaps the difference is that I have a gas stove and he has an electric one]. So I decided that everyone would be okay with it if they had to lick their fingers after eating the peppermint bark, and I melted the chocolate in the microwave instead.
Pour all of the semi-sweet chocolate chips (or well-chopped semisweet baking chocolate) into a medium to large, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds, stir, and return to the microwave. Heat in the microwave for 45 more seconds and stir. Repeat if necessary until you have only a few semi-solid chocolate chips remaining in a bowl full of melted goodness. If you have a microwave that’s 1100 watts or more, I would suggest melting the chocolate in increments of 20 to 30 seconds.
Remove from the microwave and stir until all of the chocolate has melted. Add one teaspoon of vegetable oil and 1/2 tsp peppermint extract and stir well. Be warned – peppermint extract has a strong odor. You will think “What, is Amanda crazy? I don’t want my candy to smell like this!!” but be not afraid – the smell will mellow and it will taste good.
Line a standard-sized cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spread the melted chocolate evenly over the foil. The easiest way to do this is to drop the chocolate in dollops over the cookie sheet and then spread it. The chocolate layer will be very thin. Don’t worry if the chocolate doesn’t cover the entire sheet perfectly – you’re going to break all of the candy up into pieces eventually and you can save the ugly edges for you.
Set the cookie sheet in the fridge on a level shelf for thirty to forty minutes. After that time is up, start preparing the white chocolate layer. Note: For the first batch of bark that I made, I only let the chocolate set for about thirty minutes before adding the white chocolate, because I prepared the white chocolate layer while the semisweet layer was setting. I wound up with a few spots where the hot white chocolate layer melted the semisweet layer, resulting in a slightly splotchy top layer. So, for the second batch, I waited a full thirty minutes after putting the first layer in the fridge and then prepared the white chocolate layer. The results were much better. Don’t wait too long to prepare the white chocolate layer, though, or your layers might separate a bit.
Prepare the white chocolate layer in much the same way as you prepared the semisweet chocolate layer. Melt the white chocolate in the microwave in 30 to 45 second increments, stirring each time the annoying buzzer goes off. When the chocolate is mostly melted and only a few semi-solid chips remain, remove from the microwave and stir until all of it has melted. Add the remaining 1 tsp peppermint extract and 1 tsp vegetable oil. Stir well and then stir in 3/4 cup of the crushed candy canes, reserving the remaining 1/4 cup of crushed candy canes for the topping.
Remove the cookie sheet from the fridge and dollop the white chocolate mixture over the semisweet layer. Even out the white chocolate layer and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of crushed candy canes and push them gently into the surface of the peppermint bark.
Return the cookie sheet to the fridge and let it set for at least an hour before removing from the fridge and breaking it into manageable pieces. I’ll warn you that this part is hard and you may want to wear kitchen gloves – when I broke the bark into pieces, I got a few scratches from the sharp candy cane bits.
If you did not temper the chocolate, store the peppermint bark in the refrigerator so that it does not melt. Separate each layer of peppermint bark with wax paper. If you did temper the chocolate, just throw it all in a cookie tin and keep it out on the counter for all of your New Year’s guests. Or, y’know, for you . . .