For many people, holiday bark is synonymous with Christmastime. This delectable treat is a form of sheet chocolate that is made with tempered chocolate, which means it's been heated and cooled in order to stabilize it for making confections.
Bark may have gotten its name from the fact that it looks like the rough surface of a tree. Some have even said that it has its roots in the French dessert, mendiants, which are also served around Christmastime in France.
While peppermint bark is certainly the most popular type of bark to eat during the holidays, that may be harder to find this year due to a reported candy cane shortage. But the sky's the limit as to what types of add-ins you can put in your bark. And though it looks like a complicated confection best left to the professionals, bark is actually pretty easy to make.
"Holiday bark is a fun, textured, chocolate-based treat that allows each person to be able to break off the size of the piece they want to eat," Kathryn Gordon, chef-instructor of Pastry & Baking Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education told TODAY Food in an email. "It can be made easily with whatever type of chocolate you prefer, bittersweet, semisweet, milk chocolate or white chocolate, and then you can sprinkle the chocolate with a rough topping to make it into 'bark.' If the topping on the chocolate bark is something you particularly enjoy, of course you just want to eat more!"
Gordon said that once you set up your equipment to melt the chocolate and get started, you can easily make a variety of flavors with different chocolates and toppings, depending on what you and your friends and family members prefer. Add a drizzle on top to make a fancy, holiday finish. "The chocolate treat sets quickly, and you can then break it into pieces to create an assortment for everyone to try and enjoy," she said.
To make Christmas bark, you'll need:
- A medium sized sauce pan (filled half-way with water, and brought to a boil).
- A dry, stainless steel bowl to melt the chocolate in over the simmering water.
- A parchment (or waxed paper, or aluminum foil) lined sheet pan or cookie baking tray.
- A heat resistant, silicon spatula to help stir oil into the chocolate (once it has started to melt).
- A bowl (or large pot) of ice water that will fit the size of the stainless steel bowl.
- A metal offset spatula to help you spread the melted chocolate over the lined sheet pan.
- Your preferred toppings of choice.
- Storage containers for the bark (or for gifting).
"A lot of people use a thermometer to help ensure they will not burn the chocolate, which is important because 'real' chocolate is expensive," said Gordon. However, if you follow the steps below you can correctly melt and prepare the holiday bark without burning the chocolate or requiring a thermometer.
How to make Christmas bark:
- Bring pot of water to a boil then turn the heat down so the water just simmers.
- Place one pound of whatever type of chocolate couverture (high-quality chocolate) you want in a dry, stainless steel bowl and fit it over the simmering water.
- Couverture has a percentage on it and can be bought from many chocolate companies, including Valrhona, Guittard and Scharffen Berger, at many grocery stores, or ordered from many more companies online. A number around 70% is typically bittersweet and around 60% is generally considered semisweet. If it is already in small pieces when you buy it (like chips), just place it in the bowl to melt. If you need to, chop it up with a chef knife on a cutting board into ½ pieces.
- Let the chocolate melt without stirring until it appears about half-way melted. If any steam builds up around the bowl, use pot holders to lift up the bowl, turn down the heat, and then replace the bowl over the water.
- When the chocolate around the edge of the bowl appears to be melting, stir gently with a heat resistant silicon spatula until the chocolate is fully melted. Use the pot holders to remove the bowl from the heat.
- Using the silicon spatula, stir in 3 tablespoons of a neutral oil such as canola, sunflower, safflower, corn or coconut oil until fully combined. Let some of the mixture drip off the spatula and note that when the chocolate and oil are hot, the chocolate just drips back in and does not form any sort of three-dimensional pattern. This indicates you are ready to start cooling the chocolate and oil slightly.
- Gently stir the chocolate and oil in the bowl over the ice water taking care not to get the water into the chocolate and oil mixture. Use the silicon spatula to help you cool the mixture evenly. Stir the bowl of chocolate and oil, on and off the ice water, until the chocolate begins to form a pattern when you lift up the spatula. This is called making a “ribbon.” If the chocolate and oil still just drips back into the rest without leaving a pattern, cool it a slight bit more until it just begins to make a ribbon or three-dimensional drip off the spatula.
- Dry off the bottom of the bowl with a towel so it will not drip condensed steam into the bark.
- Scrape out the chocolate and oil mixture over the parchment paper. Tap the pan gently to help distribute the chocolate; use the metal offset spatula to help spread if necessary
- Sprinkle the top of the bark evenly as desired with your toppings.
- Place in refrigerator until the surface of the chocolate is not shiny.
- Break into pieces of approximately 4” long and place in an airtight container in a cool place away from light or heat to store.
Make it your own
"The combinations to personalize bark are limitless," said Gordon. "Some are classics, like red and green chopped peppermint candy canes or pistachios and cranberries, red or green nonpareils or sprinkles, or even green and red M&M’s. Others start to be more expressive: mini marshmallows and chopped pieces of brownie for a s’mores variation, or maybe a Christmas pudding with assorted dried fruits and crystallized ginger." Gordon said that if you like jellybeans, or gummy bears, or more savory snacks like pretzels, nuts or pignoli, to go for it!
More ways to add flavor
It is possible to stir in an inclusion, a dry additive that works with your topping, such as ground cinnamon and ginger with dried fruits for a full Christmas-pudding effect, into the chocolate when the oil is being incorporated, said Gordon. "It won’t make it as shiny, but that’s usually OK because you’ll be decorating the top of the bark."
"You can add in matcha powder pretty effectively to white chocolate, curry to milk chocolate and a dry spice such as cardamom to bittersweet or semisweet chocolate," she said. "The correct amount to add varies on the flavor. For a very strong flavor, such as chipotle chili, I recommend ¼ teaspoon per pound of chocolate, but you could go up to as much as 1 teaspoon per pound of chocolate for something like espresso powder. And if you want to get super-fancy, you can drizzle leftover chocolate from making a white or milk chocolate bark on a bark made from bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, and vice versa!"
Ready to be the hit of the party with your own bark? Here are some more recipes to try:
Salted pretzels and toasted hazelnuts are stirred into melted chocolate, then decorated with crushed freeze-dried red strawberries and green pistachios in this awesome recipe.
Bursting with chocolate and mint, this bark makes a great holiday gift.
You can use a microwave instead of a double-boiler with this easy recipe.
Toasted almonds, tart cherries, and a zippy touch of ginger give this simple bark a complex flavor.
Antioxidant-rich pomegranate arils and fragrant ginger make this bark very special.