Bark season is in full swing. Here's how to do it right.
Dark Chocolate Peppermint Bark
Credit: Jeffery Cross; Styling: Kelly Allen

For chocolate lovers, the holiday season means only one thing: bark. Peppermint bark, fruit-studded bark, salty and sweet bark with roasted nuts mixed in. Chocolate bark is a popular holiday treat because it’s simple to make, easy to customize and a practical way to make gifts in bulk. As the year winds down, there’s nothing better for sparking gratitude than receiving a bag of delicious, homemade candy from a relative, coworker, or friend.

But for chocolate bark newcomers, the sheer number of available recipes can be slightly overwhelming. Alternatively, for seasoned bark makers, the idea of making the same old candy yet again can take the fun out of an otherwise delightful activity. To help you make your best bark this year, we’ll walk you through the basic components of putting a custom chocolate bark recipe together. Then, we’ll explore three basic bark variations: traditional peppermint bark, colorful chocolate bark, and chocolate bark shaped using a mold. With so many bark options to choose from, you’ll surely be tempted to experiment with a second (or third) batch this year.

Step One: Choose Your Chocolate

Before putting together your bark, you’ll need to think about what kind of chocolate you want as the foundation of your sweet treat: white, milk, or dark. The kind of chocolate you choose will help you decide what kind of toppings will best satisfy your sweet tooth.

Of course, there’s no reason you should have to pick just one. Home chefs could mix types of chocolate by pouring one variety for the initial bark layer, adding whichever toppings are most desired, and then pouring a second variety over the top. Feel free to mix it up and experiment.

Once you’ve chosen your chocolate, be sure to look for chocolate morsels or candy melts in that variety. When you’re ready to make your bark, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave in a glass or microwave safe bowl. Some candy melts will come with package directions detailing the best microwave settings for that chocolate, but most chocolate is best melted in 30-second-long increments at medium (50 or 60 percent) power. Be sure to stir the chocolate frequently as you’re melting it, so it will be smooth and tempered.

The chocolate melting stage of bark making is also the best time to mix in any flavorings or extracts. Peppermint extract is common for traditional holiday bark, but feel free to experiment with other extracts. Orange, for example, would be a great addition for a fruit-heavy bark, and almond could be used to enhance the flavor of bark containing nuts. This is also a great opportunity to add some food coloring in to your bark if you’re using white chocolate.WATCH: How to Make Christmas Lights Bark

Step Two: Choose Your Toppings

After you choose your chocolate(s), it’s time to mix in some of the delicious toppings that makes bark an interesting, flavorful treat. Candy, quinoa, fruit, nuts, seeds, cookies, pretzels, coconut shavings, caramel, cereal, marshmallow, sprinkles, candied bacon—there’s so many options to go with here. Feel free to experiment and play with different combinations.

Don’t forget to overlook spices when choosing your toppings. Sea salt, for example, can be a great addition to any chocolate, and spice lovers might like some chili mixed in with their bark. Edible glitter can also be great to mix in, either by sprinkling it over the chocolate, or mixing it in directly.

Once you’ve chosen your toppings, be sure to think about whether the topping is bite-sized friendly. Mini M&Ms, for example, are small enough to use without worry, but if your topping is bigger or has a hard texture, it might be worth breaking out a rolling pin or a hammer. Chopping or breaking up peppermints, nuts and other hard toppings will make your bark instantly more delicious and easy to enjoy.

Step Three: Assemble Your Bark

With your chocolate, mix-ins and toppings chosen, you’re finally ready to make your bark. Pull out some baking sheets and cover them with wax paper (or, if you’re making a huge batch, simply cover your counters directly). Melt your chocolate using the instructions above, and use a frosting spatula to spread your chocolate over the wax paper. Make sure the chocolate is only about ⅛ to ¼ of an inch thick. Then, sprinkle your toppings over the chocolate, and lightly press to make sure they fully incorporate. Stick your bark in the fridge or freezer until the chocolate has fully hardened, then take it out and break it up into however many pieces you would like. Eat immediately, or package up for an easy and delicious holiday gift.

How to Make Traditional Peppermint Bark

Milk Chocolate-Peppermint Bark
Credit: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Buffy Hargett

When making peppermint bark, the most crucial decisions are what kind of peppermint and chocolate to use. White chocolate will help the peppermint stand out more and provide a more neutral flavor base, while dark chocolate’s rich flavor will play nicely off of broken up peppermint bits. Bark makers should also feel free to choose either soft or hard peppermints, but hard peppermints should be broken up if possible, especially if you’re using larger peppermints, like candy canes or peppermint sticks.

To enhance the peppermint flavor in your classic bark, consider adding peppermint extract to your chocolate after melting. Adding in other mint flavored treats, like Andes mints or mint-flavored cookies, can add a delicious twist while keeping with the classic peppermint theme.

How to Make Colorful Chocolate Bark

Unicorn Bark
Credit: Ashley Kappel

Get the Recipes: Bunny Bark, Unicorn Bark

White chocolate is a great template for creativity, since it gives you the chance to further decorate your bark with all kinds of seasonal colors. However, adding color to your bark chocolate does require a bit of extra work. Once you decide how many colors you want to work with, you’ll need to separate out your chocolate into different bowls to keep the colors distinct.

White chocolate can easily be customized using food coloring, but if you don’t want to bother mixing your own custom shades, feel free to buy candy melts premade in the hue of your choice. Once ready to make your bark, dollop out your chocolate in whatever pattern most pleases you. Then, use your spatula or a toothpick to swirl the colors together.

While the above recipes demonstrate fantasy and spring-themed variations on colored bark, the technique can easily be applied to the holidays. Red and green can be swirled into white chocolate, and silver or gold edible glitter could add a pop of intrigue to your usual peppermint bark. By making your bark more colorful, you’ll make your candy that much more fun to look at and eat.

How to Shape Chocolate Bark Using a Mold

Peppermint Bark Trees

Get the Recipe: Peppermint Bark Trees

If you’re feeling really fancy, then you can shape your bark using silicone ice molds. When making shaped bark, be sure to sprinkle your toppings into the molds before pouring your chocolate. Tap the molds on the counter once you’ve them to smooth out the top. Refrigerate, then remove your bark from the mold and enjoy. Now, you’ll not only be able to delight your friends and family with a traditional holiday confection, but you’ll also be able to impress them with your ability to present a delightful treat in a fun, seasonal shape. Whether you’re a newcomer to bark making, or an old hand, playing around with different techniques can be a fun way to bond with your sweets-loving loved ones and hone your candy-making abilities at the same time.