Peppermint Bark: An Easy, Last-Minute Holiday Treat

This week on North Dakota Today, Tony and our nine-year-old son Giovanni demonstrate how to make one of our favorite holiday treats, Peppermint Bark.

Peppermint Bark is the very first treat we make to kick off the holiday baking season, and Gio and I have been making it together since he was two years old, just like my mom did when I was growing up. This is a great recipe to try with kids as it’s easy, affordable, and basically foolproof.

There are only three ingredients: a dozen candy canes, vanilla almond bark, and peppermint extract. There have been many occasions where Gio and I have forgotten to add the peppermint extract, but the result is still minty and delicious. See? You really can’t mess this one up.

We make several batches of Peppermint Bark to give away as gifts to friends, family, teachers, and others who touch our lives throughout the holiday season. We love that this recipe can be made well in advance of serving (up to at least a month), and we use cookie tins lined with wax paper to keep it fresh.

Small tins or cellophane gift bags work well for Peppermint Bark gifts, and we like to attach a customized label to make the gift extra special. I am always surprised by how much good will this simple treat creates – people are so pleased to receive this gift. If you’re still looking for a Christmas gift idea, why not make a batch or two yourself f before the holiday?

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Peppermint Bark

Serves:  Many

Ingredients:
1 pkg vanilla almond bark
12 candy canes, regular size (not the small canes)
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract

Instructions:
Blend the candy canes in a food processor until desired texture is achieved. We prefer to blend them until all large pieces are crushed, and the mixture is just a little grainier than sugar. ***This step is the “special something” that makes this peppermint bark soooo delicious.

Melt the almond bark in the microwave according to the instructions on the package, or in a sauce pan over medium-low heat, until all lumps are gone. Remove from heat and stir in the peppermint extract first, then the crushed candy canes until thoroughly mixed.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and pour the bark mixture onto the sheet, smoothing out to reach all edges. Once all the bark has been transferred, lift the sheet up with both hands and gently bang it down on the counter a few times to smooth out the mixture. Place in a refrigerator or cold place and allow to set until completely hard, at least one hour.

When bark is hardened, peel from waxed paper and break into pieces (like toffee or peanut brittle). Store in an airtight container until gone.

Peppermint Bark & Panettone Bread Pudding

Welcome to “Home with The Lost Italian” on AreaVoices! We are so happy that you have found us here. Tony and I are enjoying our new roles as food columnists for The Forum, and love having this opportunity to share our passion for food, wine and life with you.

Our column appears in the SheSays section of The Forum every Wednesday, and we’ll also feature it here on the blog every Thursday. On some occasions, due to space limitations, our weekly column gets edited in order to accommodate the accompanying photos and recipes. So, every Thursday, you can find the full, unedited version right here on AreaVoices. Throughout the week, we’ll also post about what we’re cooking at home, at Sarello’s, and hopefully even about what some of you are cooking at home, too!

This week’s column is all about holiday baking, and what makes this time of year special for us. We hope you enjoy the recipes and would love to hear from you. Please send us any questions or suggestions you may have about food, wine, Italy, or whatever else is on your mind. You can post right here on the blog in the comments section, or send us an email to: dine@sarellos.com. We’ll answer your questions every Monday right here on the blog.

PEPPERMINT BARK & PANETTONE BREAD PUDDING
(excerpts of this post appeared in the Nov. 28 edition of The Forum) 

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the holiday season is now fully upon us. We love this time of year, and everything that comes with the holidays: the music, parties, decorations, bell ringers, and just the general good cheer in the air. But, what we look forward to the most is baking holiday goodies with our eight-year-old son, Giovanni.

In our home we begin our baking tradition on the day after Thanksgiving, and each year we always start with the same special treat, Peppermint Bark. My mother made Peppermint Bark for us every year when I was growing up, and it has now become Giovanni’s favorite. The peppermint flavor shines in this mixture of creamy and crunchy textures, and it’s always good to have on hand near the mistletoe. All year long we look forward to the Friday after Thanksgiving, and hail the return of Peppermint Bark to our home.

This pretty holiday candy is delicious to eat and easy to make. All you need is one pack of white almond bark, twelve large candy canes, peppermint extract and wax paper. When I started making Peppermint Bark with Giovanni six years ago, I used a food processor to chop the candy canes instead of smashing them to bits in a plastic bag. I did this mostly for convenience, but this technique ended up creating a more refined texture to the candy, which turned out to be a hit among our family and friends.

Peppermint Bark’s soft pink color provides a nice contrast when placed on a holiday cookie platter, adding a lovely burst of color among a sea of brown-toned goodies. It also makes a great hostess or teacher gift when packaged in holiday trimmings.

Tony’s recipe this week features a traditional Italian fruitcake called Panettone, which originated in the city of Milan. Not to be confused with our American version of fruitcake, Panettone is a light, moist, flavorful cake more like a bread, with candied orange peel, lemon zest and raisins. It is wonderful served in slices after a meal, or even for breakfast. On this occasion, however, Tony uses it to spice up a traditional comfort dessert, with his recipe for Panettone Bread Pudding.

“Panettone is the King of Christmas Cakes in Italian culture,” Tony says. “In Etobicoke, the Toronto neighborhood where I grew up, the grocery stores and bakeries would be stacked with huge displays of Panettone. Big, bright boxes in every color, tied with fancy ribbons, all ready to give to your friends and loved ones. To me, Panettone signifies, hey, Christmas is here now.”

“Bread pudding is a popular dessert found in many countries, and originated as a way to use leftover bread.” Tony says. “I like using the Panettone for this recipe, because the bread is already filled with the flavors of the holiday season.”

“We use bread pudding in both savory and sweet dishes at Sarello’s,” Tony says. “But what I like about bread pudding even more than its versatility, is how easy it is to make .”

Soaking the Panettone in the wet ingredients before baking ensures that every piece of bread is moist. To further ensure the outcome, place your baking dish in a water bath to prevent the bread pudding from burning, curdling or drying out during baking.

For this occasion, we served the bread pudding with fresh berries and a dollop of vanilla gelato. Tony took it one step further and drizzled a bit of Sarello’s Chocolate Zabaglione over the top – a touch that was a big hit with our food photographer, Dave. But you can also enjoy it with our homemade Caramel Sauce, a recipe we featured over the Thanksgiving holiday.

With only twenty-six shopping days left before Christmas, keep your baking schedule easy and fun with these simple, yet crowd-pleasing, recipes. To get the recipes, just click on the links provided below.

Panettone Bread Pudding
Peppermint Bark
Caramel Sauce