I hesitated to come in here with this, comically late with such an obvious Christmas treat, and especially after my long absence in this space, but since I am loathe to let this holiday end, here I am.
With a Christmas recipe.
Holidays this autumn were a bit sketchy, you see. Over the past three months, we have celebrated Princess Hazelnut's third birthday, our tenth wedding anniversary, and my own, um, (let's see, I was born in 1973...) 37th birthday, but there was also a funeral, a frightening and unexpected vacation in ICU for The Carnivore, and the general mayhem that goes along with such life-pausing events (a few of which happened concurrently).
So it was with great relief and pure delight that our Christmas was cozy, warm, simple, full of light and love, and devoid of illness and stress. There were handmade and secondhand gifts under the tree and homemade treats shared with family and friends. We did not travel, we did not shop at the mall, we did not spend very much money, and we enjoyed every easy, lovely minute of the season.
And there was snow. In Georgia! On Christmas!
But most importantly, there was Peppermint Bark.
This treat is new only to me, I suppose, since everyone I know seems to have heard of some permutation or another of bark candies, but it was a revelation to me. I had never had Peppermint Bark before, not in any form, and it rocked my world in the way that Pain au Chocolat does the first time one bites into it while walking down the street on a first visit to Paris, or the way, from what I hear, one feels when they skydive for the first time.
Not that I would ever jump out of a plane. For any reason.
This Peppermint Bark recipe came from a nearly-vintage issue of Bon Appetit, but found it's way to me via Orangette (even though I paid little attention at the time) and Soule Mama (who had to write about it two years in a row before I sat up and took notice). I might have even passed over it again, but I was on the lookout for a gift that would travel well through the mail, would not run counter to various dietary restrictions, and would not weigh much.
That's right. I was worried about shipping weight, but not about the weight the recipients might adorn themselves with after, ahem, scarfing down a few handfuls of decadence cut neatly into triangular shapes. It is Christmas, after all, or at least it was Christmas, and everyone knows you're supposed to go overboard in some way or another during the holiday season. And as I kept the spending under tight control, I felt the calories should have free rein to run amok.
I made two batches of this bark on the first attempt, something I am generally loathe to do, but this recipe came well-pedigreed, so even though peppermint is not usually my flavor of choice, I felt certain I could trust this would make a good gift (and that I would want a little extra to keep around for personal snacking purposes). As it was, the recipients should consider themselves lucky to have gotten any at all. It was truly that good. So good, in fact, that I am highly tempted to buy more ingredients for another batch when the world thaws out tomorrow.
Either that, or I will not have the self-control to avoid dipping into the two containers I am holding onto for the lame friends who were unable to get together to play last week.
This candy is what love would taste like if I were in charge of assigning specific flavors to emotions. Though white chocolate can be cloying at times, the layer of dark chocolate ganache in the center of the candy tempers the overall sweetness, and the level of mint flavor is spot-on. I kept the finished candy refrigerated, for textural reasons mostly (I prefer for my chocolate to not get too soft), and I loved the way the warmth of the mint played off the chilled chocolate.
The bark was not terribly difficult to make, despite the layering, the un-sanctioned use of candy thermometers and the awe-inspiring beauty of the finished product, so I feel a little silly that I was so intimidated by the recipe initially. The whole thing came together in the latter part of an afternoon, and with the exception of the mess that I made when crushing the peppermint candies, there was next-to-no hand-wringing involved.
Christmas may be officially over, but I do not intend to stop celebrating yet. More bark is coming, of that I can be certain.
PEPPERMINT BARK (adapted from Bon Appetit), makes 36 pieces
- 17 oz good-quality white chocolate (make sure cocoa butter is in the ingredients), finely chopped
- 30 red-and-white striped hard peppermint candies (about 60 candies), coarsely crushed (ideally, there will be large and small pieces, and plenty of peppermint dust as well)
- 7 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 6 Tbs heavy cream
- 3/4 tsp pure peppermint extract
- Turn large baking sheet upside down and cover with foil. Mark 12x9-inch rectangle on the foil (perfection not required).
- Put white chocolate in double-boiler or in a heat-safe bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water (bowl should not touch water in pan). Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth and candy thermometer registers about 110 degrees F.
- Pour 2/3 cup melted white chocolate onto foil. Using offset spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle (imperfection at the edges should not be cause for alarm).
- Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crushed peppermints.
- Chill until set, about 15 minutes.
- Stir bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Cool for about 5 minutes, until barely lukewarm, and then pour it in long lines over the white chocolate. Quickly spread it in even layer over the white chocolate, and then chill until cold and firm, about 25 minutes.
- Re-warm the remaining white chocolate to about 110 degrees F again. Quickly pour atop bittersweet chocolate layer and spread to cover (a little swirling will occur here and, again, panic is not necessary). Sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints.
- Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.
- Cut bark crosswise into 2-inch wide strips, and then remove foil (if you don't take it off now, it can be difficult to peel it off the individual pieces). Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections, and then cut each piece diagonally into 2 triangles. If these directions seem constricting, feel free to cut in whatever fashion you prefer.