|thanks to my friend Hana for taking this awesome picture at my holiday party :D|
I have suffered a lot in my trials making peppermint bark. However, I think I've finally come to the conclusion that a lot of this suffering was unnecessary, so hopefully my experience can spare you the pain of making the same errors and skip right to the delicious rewards.
As I briefly ranted about in my last post, there are two ways to make peppermint bark. The easy-peasy, keep it in the fridge way, and the real-deal candy-making tempered chocolate way. If you're going to be giving the bark as a gift, or setting it out on the table at a party, or generally not eating it straight from your fridge or freezer, you will want it to be tempered, because this makes the chocolate have that nice snap when you bite into it, instead of being melty and soft, which is very unpleasant in this candy.
Tempering chocolate is all very chemistry-ish. Too much so for me! The basic principle of tempering is melting chocolate, then bringing the temperature down again either by stirring in already-tempered chocolate to "seed" it and aid in the forming of the right type of crystals, or by spreading it repeatedly across a heat-absorbing surface, like a marble or granite slab, to cool it. Then you heat it AGAIN but just the tiniest little bit! otherwise you have to start all over. Boo.
Here's something you should definitely read before you begin.
Read that? Now let's talk ingredients. You need to use real-deal chocolate, not baking chips with all kinds of oil and weird stuff in them, because they won't temper. No Nestle's, no Tollhouse. Ghirardelli chocolate chips work, and that's what I use.
When it comes to white chocolate, I think my struggles with tempering all along have come from using the wrong kind. Ghirardelli white chocolate chips are not like the 60% cacao chips, or the bittersweet chips, or even the milk chocolate chips. The consistency when melted is MUCH thicker. This makes it pretty much impossible to work with it at the indicated temperatures because it just doesn't spread, and hardens almost immediately. What you probably want to do is order something like this and you will have smooth sailing. But if, like me, you need to use something you can actually buy in a grocery store and you don't want to spend a fortune, you can work with the Ghirardelli white chocolate.
Dark chocolate (I used a mixture of Ghirardelli 60% dark and semisweet chips) - about 12 oz total
White chocolate (also used Ghirardelli, about 16oz)
Peppermint extract (1/2 tsp to 1 tsp depending on your preference)
One of those giant candy cane sticks, smashed with a mallet (or a whole bunch of little candy canes or peppermints)
chocolate thermometer (I use a regular candy thermometer, instant read is best)
a bain-marie or double boiler setup (I just use a metal bowl that fits over a small pot without touching the water)
A dough-scraper or similar tool for spreading chocolate on countertop, if you're going to use that method
The amounts of chocolate I list will make a pretty thick bark, which I find is easier to work with, but you can always use less chocolate and spread it thinner. And you can always double up and make two trays at once, which is what I usually do, cause why go through the tempering process more times than you need to?
First, prepare a baking sheet (or two if you're making a double batch) by covering it with aluminum foil.
If you're going to use the seed method, set aside 1/3 of the dark chocolate chips. If you're spreading it out to temper (which, messy though it is, I highly recommend if you have the counter for it,) put it all in the bowl. Melt your dark chocolate in the bain-marie over low heat, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula. Hook the thermometer over the side of the bowl to keep track of the temperature. Don't get impatient and turn the heat up, or you could overshoot your temperature and burn the chocolate (this has never actually happened to me with dark chocolate but the internet assures me it is possible at over 120 degrees F, so better safe than sorry.) Oh, and don't let even a DROP of water touch your chocolate, or it will seize and game over. Seriously! Once your chocolate reaches 115 degrees F, immediately remove it from the heat.
If you're using the seed method, add the seed chocolate to the bowl, stir vigorously until it has melted, and keep on stirring as constantly as you can until the temperature reduces to about 82 degrees F. It will take a long time. That's why I've found that, despite the unavoidable waste that comes from traces of chocolate that your scraper leaves behind at the edges hardening too quickly, the old-fashioned method is easier - it's much quicker and more manageable.
If you are using that method, pour your chocolate onto a (freshly cleaned) stone counter, grab your scraper, and begin spreading the chocolate out into a thin layer, back and forth. This is pretty fun, and after a few minutes you will feel the chocolate start to thicken as the stone absorbs the heat. Scoop it into a pile and check the temperature - by the time it reaches an even 82 degrees, it will be gloopy enough to pretty easily scoop off the counter between your scraper and a wide spatula and back into the bowl. Over the lowest possible heat, and stirring constantly to keep the temperature even, bring your chocolate back up to between 88 and 91 degrees. Basically, as soon as you see it approaching 88, snatch it off the boiler, stir thoroughly and check the temp again, because any higher than 91 and it will untemper and you have to start over. It will not take long at all to get there.
Now your first layer is ready to spread over the foil. I like to cool mine at room temperature to make sure it's really tempered - you can pop it in the fridge, but then you have to take it out and wait for it to reach room temp again to do the snap test. My kitchen likes to get extremely hot if I've so much as turned on a burner that day, though, so put it in a relatively cool place or it could take all night to harden. When you break a piece off the edge and it goes "snap," you're golden.
If you've got some nice white chocolate couverture that's pure enough to really be tempered, you'll follow all the same steps as you did with your dark chocolate, except while you're melting it, you'll add the peppermint extract, and you'll bring it to a lower temperature - 110 F for the initial melting, and about 87 degrees for the final tempering. I know I said don't get any water in the chocolate or it will be seizure city, but for some reason peppermint extract doesn't make the white chocolate seize. At least, it never has for me.
If you're working with the Ghirardelli white chocolate chips, we're not even going to bother tempering it, cause it's not going to happen. At 87 it will be so thick you'll barely be able to stir it. So just pour all your white chocolate into the bowl, stir in the peppermint extract, and over the lowest possible heat, stirring constantly, melt it until it's as workable as you can get it. It will take a while, but eventually it'll look like the picture. If your heat is too high, it will burn and turn chunky and there's no going back from that.
Then let it sit for a few minutes, stirring frequently, to cool a bit - but you don't want it to get too thick, just to take the edge of heat off so it doesn't totally melt the dark chocolate.
Now spread the white chocolate, as fast as you can!, over the dark chocolate, and immediately sprinkle the smashed up candy canes over top. I press them in a bit with my fingertips, being careful not to touch the chocolate and make it messy. Then I quickly pop the tray in the fridge to harden (and to stop the tempered bottom layer from getting too hot!), just for a few minutes and it will be ready to break into pieces. Sometimes I find it easier to snap it completely by hand, and sometimes I use a knife, depending on the thickness of the bark.
If you used the Ghirardelli white chocolate, it will not be as snappy as the first layer was right after tempering, but as long as you spread the white chocolate quickly and got it in the fridge quickly, it won't be too soft.
Oh, and if you are going to keep this in the fridge and do it the easy way? Just melt your chocolate, making sure you don't get it over the max temp, spread it, pop in the fridge, repeat with white chocolate, and cover to store. If you keep it uncovered in the fridge or freezer long-term, your candy cane pieces can turn sticky.
And I promise, that was a lot more explanation than it is work, if you're careful! And it will be so worth it when you present it to your friends and family.