I feel like I should start this post off by saying, Merry Christmas! So, Merry Christmas, all of you—whether you’ve been reading since this site began or if you’ve swung by just now, on the hunt for a festive candy. It is Christmas Eve, after all. And I do have the day off—a Christmas gift from my nice bosses and one I will celebrate with a morning trip to Sam’s Club and an afternoon of errands. My plans for the holiday are thus: resting, eating, spending time at home, maybe watching my favorite Jimmy Stewart movie while sipping some hot chocolate. These are simple pleasures, and I intend to make the most of them.
One of the things I like best about Christmastime, on its most basic of levels, is that it brings the reminder of simple memories and traditions from years before: the glittery, pine-scented living rooms of my childhood, created by our yearly trek to the tree farm, where my cold and tired parents would have to chop down a blue spruce or evergreen and tie it to the roof; the years where I begged to open presents early, when we’d unwrap gifts on Christmas Eve mainly to satisfy my impatient pleading; the school programs; the church choirs; the attention given to a cold and dark manger scene, away from tinsel and sparkling lights.
To me, these reflections are a better holiday magic than the one I knew as a child, less glitz and glam, more depth and reality. I mean, in my earliest Christmas memory, I walked up to my bedroom, arms filled with presents, a pretty brunette doll with scratch-and-sniff chocolate cupcakes on top. I remember thinking, at the time, that life couldn’t get much better than this. And, as good as things seemed then, I was wrong: they have gotten better. In college, this season meant coming home, five fat weeks of relaxation and rest, where I could sleep in and go shopping and eat to my heart’s content. Since then, Christmas has meant a day off work. And yet it’s still more.
On our tree, for example, I find yearbooks of memories: a golden globe with my smiling four-month-old self and the words First Christmas. There’s a five-person ornament made of wood, labeled with our names, my grandma’s included, and strung from red yarn. Mixed with dozens of shimmering balls are a paper star with the words of Luke 2:11, a vintage Santa from the 1940s and a fair-haired angel with a silvery wand and a dress as dainty as spun silk.
Maybe you celebrate with your fist full of similar memories, be they prompted by tree ornaments, roaring parties or the annual family feast. And you know, the older I get, the more I want to carry on cookie baking, like Grandma did, but also the more I want to start new traditions, from only giving homemade gifts to planning months ahead of time or, here’s one to mark down, making peppermint bark.
One would be hard-pressed to find anything quite as festive, holiday-wise, flecked with crumbled red-and-white candies, set between and atop layers of white and bittersweet chocolate. It crunches when you bite in, rich and refreshing. And on top of that, peppermint bark looks complicated—it’s like biscotti in that way. It’s the kind of gourmet confection you can make with little trouble, that’s forgiving of any mistakes, that is so addictive, you won’t need much time at all to gobble up an entire sheet.
I had already decided to make peppermint bark for Christmas gifts, like I did last year, but I was looking for a recipe that would layer chocolates for a more impressive presentation. So when I saw Molly’s recipe last week, I bookmarked it immediately. This is some good peppermint bark, people. Did you know Williams Sonoma sells it for $20-something per pound? Make it, and you’ll know why.
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg at Orangette
You can use whatever you’d like to break up the peppermint candies (candy canes also work, by the way): I put them on a cutting board and banged with a hammer before loosening from their wrappers into a bowl.
17 ounces white chocolate: look for cocoa butter in ingredients
30 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies, coarsely crushed
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, such as Ghirardelli 60%, finely chopped
6 Tablespoons heavy cream
¾ teaspoon peppermint extract
Turn a large baking sheet upside down, and cover it securely with aluminum foil. Measure out and mark a 9- by 12-inch rectangle on the foil. (I used masking tape to distinguish the area.)
Put the white chocolate in a metal (or other heatproof) bowl, and set it over a saucepan of barely simmering water. (Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water.) Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth; if you take its temperature with a candy thermometer, it should register 110°F. Remove the chocolate from the heat. Pour 2/3 cup of it onto the rectangle on the foil. Using an icing spatula, spread the chocolate to fill the rectangle. Sprinkle with ¼ cup of the crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes (don’t rush this, like I did—you’ll regret it!).
Meanwhile, combine the bittersweet chocolate, cream, and peppermint extract in a heavy medium saucepan. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is just melted and smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Then remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator, and pour the bittersweet chocolate mixture over the white chocolate rectangle. Using a clean icing spatula, spread the bittersweet chocolate in an even layer. Chill until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.
Rewarm the remaining white chocolate over barely simmering water to 110°F. Working quickly, pour the white chocolate over the firm bittersweet layer, using your clean icing spatula to spread it to cover. Sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.
Carefully lift the foil from the baking sheet onto a large cutting board. Trim away any ragged edges of the rectangle. (Don’t worry if there’s a lot of excess: more to snack on!) You can cut the bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips, cut each strip into 3 sections and slice them into two triangles or, what I prefer, just break away at it into small pieces.
Pack into an airtight container, with sheets of wax paper between layers of bark to prevent them from sticking to one another. Store in the refrigerator. Serve cold or, to emphasize the slight softness of the bittersweet layer, let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.
Note: This bark will keep for up to 2 weeks, if not more. If you plan to pack it in a tin or baggie with other holiday sweets, be sure to wrap it separately in plastic wrap. Or maybe wax paper and then plastic wrap, so that it doesn’t sweat. If you left it naked, so to speak, to mix and mingle with other cookies or candies, everything might wind up tasting and smelling like peppermint.
Yield: about 36 pieces, or more, if you cut them smaller