Store-bought junior mints are a key ingredient in Chocolate-Mint Bark.

Store-bought junior mints are a key ingredient in Chocolate-Mint Bark. Credit: Doug Young

If you are looking for a no-bake solution to holiday gifting this year, you might consider chocolate bark. As easy as melting some chocolate, sprinkling on some toppings, letting your candy harden, and then breaking it into pieces, it’s a quick alternative to hours spent making cookies.

Use items that will enhance the bark’s flavor as well as decorate it. Swedish Fish, Red Hots, or Skittles might look cute, but are they really going to pair well with chocolate? Wholesome ingredients such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit and dried coconut are natural choices. So are salty snacks like pretzels, potato chips, and peanuts, which balance the sweetness of the chocolate. Toffee bits or caramel candies work well. And there’s nothing wrong with piling on more chocolate, in the form of M&Ms, Reeses’ Pieces, or Junior Mints.

HOW TO MELT CHOCOLATE

The trickiest thing about this recipe is melting it so that it will reharden quickly and with a glossy shine. If overheated, the cocoa butter in chocolate will separate from the cocoa solids. It’s difficult for these two to recombine as they cool, so when separated chocolate sets up it will look cloudy and dull. To avoid "chocolate bloom" (that’s confectionary-speak), don’t melt chocolate in a pot over direct heat, which practically guarantees separation. You can use a double boiler, but since chocolate seizes up when it comes in contact with even a single drop of water, this is risky, too.

The microwave, set on low, not high, is your best bet. Chop the chocolate coarsely. Having some bigger pieces will give you control over how quickly it melts. Place the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on low, removing every 30 seconds and stirring with a rubber spatula, until about 2/3 of the chocolate is melted, 2 to 3 minutes depending on the power of your microwave. Remove from microwave and continue to stir until remaining pieces are fully melted.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

Follow the recipes below, or let your tastes and imagination dictate your color scheme and choice of toppings, mixing and matching as you like.

Chocolate: Candy melts in different colors (for drizzling or swirling)

Fruit: Dried or dehydrated, chopped if necessary; citrus zest

Nuts: Toasted and chopped nuts; sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, toasted coconut

Candy: Chopped Junior Mints, York Peppermint Patties, crushed candy canes, mini peanut butter cups, chopped M&Ms

Other toppings: Crushed pretzels, potato chips, graham crackers; crumbled cookies such as gingersnaps; mini-marshamallows. Breakfast cereals including Rice Krispies, Cocoa Puffs and Fruit Loops, chopped crystallized ginger, flaky sea salt

Heat: Toasted and crushed ancho chilies, Aleppo pepper flakes

Maple Bacon Bark with Mini Marshmallows

Makes 1 pound candy

1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 teaspoons packed brown sugar

2 slices thick-cut bacon

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

4 ounces peanut butter candy melts (optional)

¼ cup mini marshmallows

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place a rack on top of the paper. In a small bowl, combine the maple syrup and brown sugar. Stir until smooth. Brush the bacon with the maple mixture and bake until crisp and caramelized, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool and then cut into ½-inch pieces.

2. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil.

3. Melt chocolate following instructions above. Repeat with the peanut butter candy melts if desired.

4. Use a small metal spatula to spread the chocolate in an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the peanut butter candy melts over the top if using. Drag a toothpick or skewer through the chocolates to swirl it together in a decorative pattern.

5. Sprinkle with the bacon bits and marshmallows. Let stand until solid, 1 to 2 hours. Break into pieces before packing in an airtight container.

Maple Bacon Bark with Mini Marshmallows

Maple Bacon Bark with Mini Marshmallows Credit: Doug Young

Florentine Bark Pops

Makes 8 pops

12 ounces milk, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

¼ cup candied orange peel, chopped

¼ cup toffee bits

2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds

Gold sanding sugar

1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 10 lollipop sticks or popsicle sticks on the baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart from each other.

2. Melt chocolate.

3. Drop 2 tablespoons of melted chocolate onto one end of each stick, spreading to a 3-inch circle with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with the orange peel, toffee bits and almonds. Sprinkle lightly with sanding sugar. Let stand until solid, about 30 minutes. Pack in an airtight container, separating layers of pops with sheets of parchment, and store at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Florentine Bark Pops.

Florentine Bark Pops. Credit: Doug Young

White Chocolate Hanukkah Bark

Makes about 3/4 pound candy

10 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 ounces royal blue candy melts

1/4 cup blue chocolate-covered blueberries

2 tablespoons golden chocolate-covered sunflower seeds or gold M&Ms

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil.

2. Melt chocolate. Repeat with the blue candy melts.

3. Use a small metal spatula to spread the chocolate in an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the blue candy melts over the top. Drag a toothpick or skewer through the chocolates to swirl it together in a decorative pattern.

4. Sprinkle with the blueberries and sunflower seeds or M&Ms. Let stand until solid, 1 to 2 hours. Break into pieces before packing in an airtight container and storing at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

White Chocolate Hanukkah bark.

White Chocolate Hanukkah bark. Credit: Doug Young

Chocolate-Mint Bark

Makes about 3/4 pound candy

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

4 ounces green candy melts

One 3.5 oz. box (35 pieces) Junior Mints

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil.

2. Melt chocolate. Repeat with the green candy melts.

3. Use a small metal spatula to spread the chocolate in an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the green candy melts over the top. Drag a toothpick or skewer through the chocolates to swirl them together in a decorative pattern.

4. Sprinkle with the Junior Mints. Let stand until solid, 1 to 2 hours. Break into pieces before packing in an airtight container and storing at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Chocolate-Mint Bark.

Chocolate-Mint Bark. Credit: Doug Young

Peppermint Oreo Bark

Makes about 1 1/2 pounds candy

24 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped

10 Oreo cookies, broken into pieces

12 miniature candy canes, broken into pieces

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil.

2. Melt white chocolate. Repeat with the blue candy melts.

3. Use a small metal spatula to spread half of the chocolate in an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the cookie pieces over the chocolate in an even layer and press lightly with the back of a spatula to submerge them halfway in the chocolate. Spread the remaining chocolate over the cookies, spreading it to the edges of the pan.

4. Sprinkle with candy cane bits. Let stand until solid, 1 to 2 hours. Break into pieces before packing in an airtight container and storing at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Peppermint Oreo Bark.

Peppermint Oreo Bark. Credit: Doug Young

Black and White Sesame Seed Bark

Makes ¾ pound candy

12 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon white unsalted sesame seeds

1 tablespoons unsalted black sesame seeds

½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or to taste (optional)

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil.

2. Melt chocolate.

3. Use a small metal spatula to spread the chocolate in an even layer across the bottom of the pan.

4. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Sprinkle with Aleppo pepper if desired. Let stand until solid, 1 to 2 hours. Break into pieces before packing in an airtight container and storing at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Black and White Sesame Seed Bark.

Black and White Sesame Seed Bark. Credit: Doug Young

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