Peppermint bark grows up with extra dark chocolate, a smattering of cacao nibs, and a few flecks of flaky salt, no tempering required.
Something unexpected happened this year as I baked my way through an entire cookbook of desserts: my tastes changed, in a direction I never saw coming. I would have thought that eating more sweets would cause me to crave more sweets, or that I would become so immune to sweetness that I would need more and more sugar to register things as sweet enough.
Instead, I seem to have become hyper-sensitive to sweet. I find myself choosing a glass of minerally white wine over cocktails, salty snacks over cloying energy bars, and a gooey triple-cream cheese over (or at least in addition to) dessert. I cringe at sugar-containing salad dressing. I find the thought of biting into a conventional candy bar nauseating. And I’ve become the type of diner to ask the bartender/server prior to ordering a beverage/dessert, “Is it very sweet?” with a wrinkle of the nose.
The recent chill in the air brought on a fierce yearning for peppermint bark, and when I found a tin of bean-to-bark variety made by Askinosie with all-natural ingredients and goat’s milk in the white chocolate, I snapped it up. It was perfectly balanced: a little sweet, a little bitter, a little funky, and just the right degree of pepperminty. I happily munched away at piece after piece (with a small glass of whiskey) after dinner each night (while watching Gilmore Girls with Jay and Catamus) until it was empty, and I realized that I’d better hurry up and make my own not-too-sweet, all-natural peppermint bark before I became destitute.
I knew I needed a deep, dark chocolate and perhaps a handful of bitter cacao nibs and pinch of flaky salt to balance to balance the inescapable sweetness of crushed candy canes and white chocolate. So I headed to the co-op for provisions, certain I would find some candy canes devoid of red dye #40 as well as my preferred brands of chocolate. After searching every aisle for candy canes and asking a similarly bewildered worker, I finally found them with the holiday herbal teas. Just one more reason to love that place.
Next came the eternal chocolate question: to temper or not to temper? Inspired by this stunning recipe from Laura at Tutti Dolci, I wanted to swirl my bark, and I knew that getting the timing right if tempering both chocolates would be tricky. I remembered my teacher from pastry school telling us that oil could be added to chocolate to give it a fake temper, meaning that it won’t bloom or become streaky at room temperature, the downside being that it won’t have the snap of tempered chocolate.
I went with coconut oil, and it worked like a charm. The pockets of white chocolate end up with a soft texture, almost like a firmly set ganache, and the dark chocolate is stable enough to keep at cool room temperature and, though it’s a bit softer than regular chocolate, it doesn’t melt too terribly fast in your fingers. The bits of nibs add crunch, and just enough peppermint extract makes the bark delightfully minty without reminding one of toothpaste.
Peppermint bark is about the easiest thing you can make, perfect for gift-giving. I’ve loved watching peoples’ eyes light up when I offer them a piece of peppermint bark, and I find myself reaching for the tin more throughout the day than I would expect, sweet tooth or no.
Also, I’m imagining doing all sorts of things with this bark: chopping it up to sprinkle over ice cream, folding it into Double Chocolate Chip Cookies, or baking it into boozy brownies. I guess I’m still a little bit into desserts after all…
If you’re looking for more edible gifts, here are a few favorites from this site:
And cookies, cookies, and more cookies (all gluten-free): Mexican Chocolate Polvorones, Chewy Ginger Molasses, Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip, Vegan Chocolate Chip with Maple, Buckwheat and Almond Butter, Cranberry Port Jam and Chocolate Rugelach
I’ll leave you with my favorite song about sweets by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, an upbeat cautionary tale of sugar addiction.
Wishing everyone a sweet holiday season!
- 8 ounces (226 g) bittersweet chocolate (I like 70% cacao mass), roughly chopped or broken up
- 4 ounces (113 g) good-quality white chocolate, roughly chopped or broken up
- ¼ teaspoon oil-based peppermint flavor or extract, plus a few drops (I use Frontier), divided use
- 3 teaspoons (15 g) extra virgin coconut oil, divided use
- 3 all-natural candy canes (such as TruJoy Sweets Organic Candy Canes) chopped into roughly ¼-inch pieces to make ¼ cup (40 g)
- 2 tablespoons (10 g) cacao nibs
- ¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
- Before you start, make sure that anything that will touch your melting chocolate is bone-dry; a small drop of water can cause the whole thing to seize up. Also, take extra care when melting the white chocolate and follow the directions closely as it can burn easily; you want the water bath to be gently steaming, not simmering.
- Fill two smallish saucepans with 2 inches of water and bring both to a bare simmer. Turn off the heat. Place the dark chocolate in a medium-sized heatproof bowl and set over a steamy pot of water. Place the white chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl and set over the other pot. Stir the chocolates occasionally until smooth and melted, 3-5 minutes. Add a few drops of peppermint extract and 1 teaspoon of the coconut oil to the white chocolate and stir to combine and melt the coconut oil. Place the ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract and remaining 2 teaspoons coconut oil in the dark chocolate and stir to combine and melt the coconut oil.
- Line a small (9x12") baking sheet with parchment paper. Carefully remove the bowl of dark chocolate (pull it toward you quickly to avoid a steam burn from the hot water beneath) and dry the bottom of the bowl on a kitchen towel; this will prevent steamy water drops from marring your bark as you pour the chocolate. Scrape the dark chocolate mixture onto the parchment and spread it to ¼" thickness. Remove the bowl of white chocolate in the same manner, and use a teaspoon to dollop the white chocolate mixture evenly over the dark chocolate in round pools. Use the tip of a chopstick or wooden skewer to swirl the chocolates together. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle evenly with the candy cane pieces, cacao nibs and flaky salt.
- Place the bark in the refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and use the tip of a butter knife to break up the bark into rough 2-inch pieces. Store refrigerated airtight or at cool room temperature for up to 1-2 weeks