The holidays bring a lot with them. A Santa sackful of stress and fun by turns. They always seem to catch us off guard and we’re out of time before we even realize it’s December. Finding moments of calm and peace among all the merry mayhem is the biggest challenge of the season. For many years, my moments came with a Starbucks soy latte and one of the individual squares of peppermint bark they sold at the register. I’d sit in my car, preferably on a quiet side street, and silently enjoy my coffee and treat. It helped.
I no longer drink coffee but peppermint bark is still my number one favorite holiday treat. I used to buy it from Williams Sonoma, but a few years ago I tried making it. It’s so easy! Yet even knowing that, I continued to buy it. This year, though, when this charming video popped on my FB feed of Bouchon Bakery elves making their bark, it inspired me. I got out the hammer and the peppermint.
So this is my prescription for this hectic holiday weekend: Get your kids, your partner, or yourself into the kitchen and make Peaceful Peppermint Bark. It’s a treat that delivers on many levels:
- Stress-relieving benefits of the peppermint
- Endorphin-releasing pleasure from the chocolate
- Full-on “take that!” energy release from bashing the candies
Plus, it’s takes only about an hour start to finish so it really is perfect to make with kids. And it gets you back out into the merrymaking maelstrom in no time. Added bonus: You can give it as gifts!!
A word on the peppermint candy: Candy canes are fine. I’ve always used Starlight Mints which seem to be difficult to find these days. When I was a kid there were stands in every grocery store for Brach’s Pick-A-Mix. You filled a bag with an assortment of individually wrapped candies and paid by weight. (Each had a fairly stern “NO SAMPLING” sign, but we always did.) Apparently, such stands are no more. In the candy aisle I often find Brach’s butterscotch discs, but no mints. This year, I went to a few stores before finding Kroeger brand at Ralph’s. I’m sure there are differences in taste across brands, but really – just use what you can easily find.
The recipe is a common one – its also the easiest. As with all recipes, use the best chocolate you can find, especially the white chocolate. You want to read the label and make sure it includes cocoa butter. Don’t use white chocolate chips because they won’t melt or adhere well. Also avoid any white chocolate branded as “confectionary.” It’s sickly sweet, doesn’t melt well and is just a waste of your time. (Want to know more about white chocolate? Here’s a terrific post by Serious Eats.)
I use a combination of Valhrona 64% and Valhrona 72% (the bars you can get at Trader Joes) for the dark chocolate, and either Valhrona or Lindt white chocolate. (I get the white Valhrona in blocks at a specialty store, but Lindt bars are readily available in supermarkets.) You can use 6 oz of any dark or semisweet chocolate you like.
- You don’t need a hammer, you can use any 15 oz can of something, but the hammer is faster and more satisfying. Just make sure you put the bag of candies on a wooden cutting board – don’t smash on your tile, marble, granite, etc. counters.
- Melting dark chocolate: I don’t use a double boiler when melting chocolate. I have a low wattage mini microwave which works perfectly for dark chocolate.
- Melting white chocolate: White chocolate is delicate and burns easily! I use a small, nonstick saucepan and melt the white chocolate over low heat, watching and stirring until just melted. Beware any incidental moisture! Steam or water, even a droplet, will cause your white chocolate to seize into a pasty goo!
- Peppermint extract is optional. I like a little zing in my dark chocolate.
Peaceful Peppermint Bark
3 oz 64% cacao dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 oz 72% cacao dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp pure peppermint extract (optional)
2 tsps canola oil, divided
6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 c crushed peppermint candies
Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment, creating an overhang on two sides.
Put about 20 Starlight Mints (or other peppermint candies) into a Ziploc bag on a wood cutting board. Bash moderately with a hammer until you have a small crushed pieces. You don’t want a powder, nor do you want any big chunks. Think 1/8-inch dice. Bash until you have ½ cup.
Scatter about half the crushed candy across the bottom on the prepared pan. Set aside.
Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof measure in the microwave on low, stopping and stirring every 15 seconds until just melted. Stir in 1 tsp of canola oil and peppermint extract if using. Pour over the crushed candy in the prepared pan, smoothly gently with an offset spatula. Place in the refrigerator to set, about 20 minutes.
Put the white chocolate into a small saucepan (preferably nonstick) and, over low heat, stir gently until just melted. Stir in 1 tsp canola oil. Pour the melted white chocolate over the set dark chocolate, spreading gently with an offset spatula to cover.
Immediately scatter the remaining crushed candies (to taste) over the top of the white chocolate, pressing gently with spatula. Set in the fridge for another 20-30 minutes until set.
Heat the blade of a small, sharp knife over a gas burner ( or in a glass of boiling water, wiping it dry before using), and run the blade along the sides of the bark in the pan that aren’t covered by parchment. Use the parchment overhangs to gently lift the bark from the pan.
From here you can cut or break the bark into pieces. If cutting, heat the blade of a long knife before making each cut to ensure smooth sides. You’ll get 20-30 pieces depending on size.
Full disclosure: I wasn’t paying attention this go round and made two big mistakes…. My white chocolate seized and I didn’t have any more of it, so I spread the paste in the prepared pan set over low heat on the stove, and then put it in the fridge to set. Because of this, I forgot to add the canola oil to the white chocolate. Therefore, my layers separate, as is obvious in the pictures. I wanted to get this post up for the weekend, so didn’t run out for additional chocolate to make a picture perfect batch. I’m so ashamed.