One of my favorite things about the holidays is baking up a storm and treating my friends to the recipes that only get made once a year.
Cookies are wonderful, bars are always appreciated, and spiced nuts never fail to please — but the one food gift that seems to elicit the greatest squeals is chocolate bark.
And here’s what people may not realize — if you’re not a stickler for tempering your chocolate, a giant batch takes only minutes to make (plus a few hours of chilling time afterwards) and will keep for weeks in the fridge (and even longer in the freezer and can be brought out anytime the need for sweets hits).
I grew up in a household in which my Mom made Dark Chocolate Peppermint Bark all throughout the holidays; I remember well the crushing of peppermints or candy canes and the large slabs of bark we’d break up, place carefully in bags and then distribute through our Connecticut neighborhood.
These days, I still love the combination of chocolate and mint but every year I get various versions of sweets with these combined flavors so I get my fix that way.
Every year, this is one of my favorites — Mairi’s white chocolate peppermint bark.
It’s so so good — and having that in the fridge allows me to delve into another classic bark pairing: the combination of buttery and salty roasted nuts and chocolate.
Here’s the beginning of one batch I made last week; pecans, Freddy’s hazelnuts, cashews and some peanuts were the star here.
I also found some smoked almonds in my fridge and thought that they’d make a nice addition, too.
I roasted these nuts in a 350 oven with pats of butter scattered through and toasted until the mixture was fragrant and the nuts very crisp.
While they were cooking, I chopped up some of the darkest bittersweet chocolate I could find.
This was from a 70% dark chocolate pound plus bar from Trader Joe’s –– and I knew it’d be terrific paired with the nuts.
As soon as the nuts were warmed through, I stirred the nuts with the chopped chocolate directly on the still warm Silpat of roasted nuts.
The heat from the nuts and the bottom of the cookie sheet helped melt the chocolate and all it needed was a generous sprinkling of salt to finish it up.
If you wanted to, a drizzle of hazelnut or pistachio oil would be an interesting twist when stirring the nuts and chocolate together and up the nutty factor, but I like my chocolate at its simplest.
Just a couple hours in the fridge and it was ready to break into shards; the dark color of the chocolate was restored in the chilling process and I love the look of the jutting nuts.
For heaven’s sake make your bark on a Silpat silicone baking sheet— absolutely nothing will stick and it makes the job of breaking up the bark so much fun.
Now it was all ready to distribute.
Turns out, the first batch went so quickly that just yesterday I made another batch of chocolate bark.
This time I thought I’d go for a different flavor profile; I love Cadbury Fruit and Nut Bars so I decided to go for a riff on that — and with the best quality ingredients I could find.
My version paired semi-sweet chocolate with Marcona almonds, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds and peanuts with dried tart cherries and dried strawberries.
Seeing that it’s the holidays, I thought I’d step it up from the traditional raisins and offer more unusual dried fruit (although dried orange peel or apricot would’ve been fantastic here, too).
Same deal here– heat the nuts and fruit with a bit of butter in a preheated oven until it’s fragrant and the nuts are crisp.
Because the semi-sweet chips are already so small, they melt in no time on the warm cookie sheet.
Some people salt the mixture when stirring the warmed nuts and chocolate together, but I find that it works better to salt the entire sheet pan right after it’s spread out but before it cools.
This ensures an even salting — and I really believe a generous amount of salt is what makes the whole thing pop in your mouth.
If you have really great quality salt in your kitchen, this is the time to use it.
In the above photo, you can see the Maldon flake salt I’m so fond of, but a Fleur de sel or comparable salt would work well, too.
Off into the fridge you go, little one.
And then two hours later, time to pack it up.
I had lots of places I intended my bark to end up, so I gathered up all my supplies and my tangle of yarn.
I love these new, vintage-inspired stickers I found — I’ve been using them with wild abandon.
And now with this bark all wrapped up and cold in the fridge, it’s ready to hand out anytime someone just stops by with a treat on their own.
I also find that they’re the ideal grab-and-go when you’re off to meet someone for a festive lunch.
This long cork-topped glass jar (I found it at Goodwill) is the perfect vessel; you can break off the bark into eight-inch long shards that spotlight beautifully the mixture of ingredients nestled into that chocolate. I love how elegant it looks in this pretty glass.
Later, when the bark is long gone, the recipient can then reuse this jar for pretty much anything — beans, nuts, crackers, you name it.
Perhaps my favorite part of bark-making is when you remember to hold back the last couple pieces for yourself and find it later on in the holiday (say just after a long party or in the midst of a whirlwind day of shopping and schlepping).
And then it’s just the two of you, alone at last.