We all need a quick, easy, and yet impressive handmade gifts now and then. Homemade candy, especially homemade barks can be just the thing and can be done simply with no special equipment or molds required. Bark provides tasty treats with endless customization possibilities and makes a great activity for kids to participate in.
Bark can easily be made to avoid food sensitivities and allergies as well by simply paying attention to the chocolate purchased. Many brands offer gluten-free, dairy-free, and even soy-free versions to allow bark giving and enjoyment for all.
In its simplest form, bark is nothing more than melted chocolate spread into a thin layer, allowed to harden and then broken into pieces. Easy and of course tasty, but not exactly impressive. Adding nuts, dried fruits, spices, even coffee beans allows for flavor and presentation customization to suit any palate on the gift list.
The process of melting chocolate is a simple one and can either be done in the microwave or in the top of a double boiler. Do not melt chocolate in a saucepan over direct heat; it scorches too easily this way and quickly ruins any bark-making plans. A special double boiler pan is not necessary. A bowl that fits securely over the top of a saucepan works perfectly as a double boiler. Always put one inch of water in the bottom of the double boiler before placing the top or bowl over the saucepan. Boil the water over medium heat and stir the chocolate in the top until it melts. To quicken the melting process simply chop larger pieces into smaller ones. When melting white chocolate always add vegetable shortening in a ratio of 1 Tablespoon shortening to every 8 ounces of white chocolate, to ensure smooth, even melting. Without the shortening, it doesn’t melt but simply crystallizes and/or scorches.
Permission to be creative is inherent in bark making. Get children involved by asking for their suggestions for bark additions and then allowing them to sprinkle the bark as they desire. Some basic ideas include:
Crushed peppermint candies
Chopped candied ginger
Broken pretzel pieces
Dried fruits, home-dried/dehydrated even better
Chopped store-bought candy
Candied citrus peel
Let the imagination and taste buds run wild!
Once the bark is made and broken, it’s time for packaging. Bark should be kept in airtight containers so as not to absorb other flavors. Plastic bags, glass jars, cellophane bags, and metal tins all make excellent containers. Label the containers with pretty stickers or tags so that folks can choose which piece of bark they deem worth biting first. While most bark will keep well at room temperature, hot kitchens during holiday baking sessions are likely to melt the bark, so keep them in a cool room or in the refrigerator until it’s time to give away.
Here are a few recipes to get the creative bark juices flowing. These recipes are perfect to get small hands involved. Melted chocolate once poured onto baking sheets isn’t likely to cause a burn, so let the kids sprinkle the melted chocolate with their choice of additions. (Please do keep an eye on small hands so that no one gets injured. Chocolate melts at about body temperature so it should be safe but better to be safe than sorry.)
8 Ounces White Chocolate, chopped or chips
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Shortening or Lard
8 Ounces Semi-Sweet or Milk Chocolate, chopped or chips
In a double boiler melt together the white chocolate and vegetable shortening. When completely melted, spread onto waxed paper, parchment paper, or a silicone baking sheet.
Melt the semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler and pour on top of white chocolate when completely melted.
Using the tip of a butter knife, swirl the two chocolates together to a desired pattern. Harden in refrigerator before breaking or cutting into pieces. Store in airtight containers.
Chocolate Covered Cherry Bark
8 Ounces Chocolate, chopped (Candy-maker’s choice: white, dark, or milk)
2/3 Cup Dried, Sweet Cherries (or dried fruit)
Melt the chocolate in top of double boiler (if using white chocolate be sure to add 1 Tablespoon vegetable shortening for smooth melting). Remove melted chocolate from heat and stir in the dried cherries until well combined.
Spread the mixture evenly out onto a rimmed cookie sheet. Harden in the refrigerator before breaking or cutting into pieces. Store in airtight containers.
Tropical Jungle Bark
4 Ounces Shredded, Unsweetened Coconut
4 Ounces Dried Banana Chips, broken into small pieces (a mortar & pestle makes this quick work)
8 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate, chopped
4 Ounces Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
Combine the chocolates in the top of a double boiler and heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in about 3/4ths of the coconut and banana chips. Stir until everything is coated.
Spread the mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet into an even layer. Top the still melted chocolate with the remaining coconut and banana chips. Harden in the refrigerator before breaking or cutting into pieces. Store in an airtight container.
The following recipes are a bit more advanced and include the melting of sugar which is just slightly cooler than molten lava. These should not be attempted by small children and adults need to pay attention so as not to burn themselves as well.
Maple Walnut Praline
1 1/2 Cups Walnut Pieces
1/2 Cup Maple Syrup (the real stuff only)
2 Cups Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Juice
2 Ounces Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
In a saucepan, heat the maple syrup over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil and thicken for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and immediately add walnuts, stirring to combine. Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet into an even layer. Set aside.
Place the sugar and lemon juice into a saucepan and whisk to combine; the sugar should look like moistened sand. Caramelize the sugar, by heating and constantly stirring for about 10 minutes. The sugar will melt clear and then turn light brown as it caramelizes. Remove from heat and stir in the unsweetened chocolate. Working quickly but carefully, pour the chocolate mixture over the walnuts, covering the nuts completely. Harden at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Invert the pan onto a cutting board and the mixture should pop right out. Use a serrated knife in a sawing motion to cut the praline into desired size pieces. Store in an airtight container.
Hazelnut Rum Crunch
12 ounces Raw Hazelnuts (About 2 1/2 cups)
10 Tablespoons Butter
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Rum
1/4 Cup Honey
8 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate, finely chopped
4 Ounces Unsweetened Chocolate, finely chopped
Toasting & Peeling Hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread hazelnuts into an even layer on a rimmed cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, shaking pan every once in a while to prevent scorching. Remove nuts from the pan and cover the pan with damp tea towel, invert another cookie sheet over the damp towel and allow the nuts to steam for 5 minutes.
Using a dry towel rub the nuts between the towel and your palms to remove the skins. Most of the skins will come off, though not all. The older the nuts the harder the peel is to remove.
Making the Crunch
Roughly chop the peeled and toasted hazelnuts, set aside.
Turn the oven heat down to 325 degrees.
In a medium saucepan on low heat, melt the butter. Stir constantly to prevent boiling of the butter. When the butter is completely melted add the sugar, water, rum, and honey mixing well. Turn the heat up to medium-high, stirring constantly heat the mixture to 220 degrees. Stir in the nuts, coating well and continue cooking until the mixture reaches 225 degrees.
Remove from heat and spread the mixture out evenly onto a large rimmed cookie sheet. Bake in the 325 degree oven until evenly caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes.
While the mixture bakes, chop the chocolate into small pieces and mix both the unsweetened and semi-sweet together in a bowl. Set aside.
Remove the nut mixture from the oven and moving quickly push any of the edges of the caramelized sugar into the nuts so that the pan is an even mixture of sugar and nuts. Sprinkle the mixed chocolate over the top of the nuts and allow to sit for a few minutes. Once the chocolate melts, spread it evenly over the nut mixture.
Place the sheet into the freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from the freezer and break apart into uneven pieces before storing in an airtight container.
Kathie N. Lapcevic is a writer, teacher, and homebody living in northwest Montana with her soul-mate, Jeff. She enjoys a creative and simple life in which she seemingly hoards glass jars and seeds while sometimes herding cats, chasing honey bees with her camera, and letting composting worms slip through her fingers. A life-long note-taker and journal filler Kathie continues that tradition in electronic format with her blog, Two Frog Home.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.