Bar Bark. This is what I was imagining when I was hungrily lying in bed last night: a candy bark that would be the usual layer of chocolate, but then covered with every conceivable kind of salty bar snack--peanuts and corn nuts, wasabi peas, pretzels and goldfish crackers and Chex mix, even Fritos and barbeque potato chips. How fantastic would that be? I actually think I'm going to try making some with just barbeque potato chips. And maybe also corn nuts. And Fritos.
But, somehow, that just doesn't seem like the right thing to give the teachers at the kids' school: here's this superfreaky chocolate weirdness that goes really well with a nice big pint of beer!
Anyways: peppermint patties, which have been our go-to holiday treat on and off for years. I love making them because they have that nearly magical "we made these?" quality of being the most excellent version of a thing that is already so beloved even in its store-bought state. Plus, if I can speak plainly, they're really inexpensive to make--especially if you already have the peppermint extract. If you don't already have the extract, it's worth buying because sometimes you might want to put a few drops in your hot chocolate or your hot fudge. Or maybe you want to make candy canes! Not that I've ever made candy canes, given that it looks like it takes forever and results in a not-as-good-as-storebought version of something I don't like to begin with. (But feel free to prove me wrong! Send me your homemade candy canes in the mail, and I will post here about the debunking of my foolish beliefs.)
Once you've made your peppermint patties, there's the issue of presentation. A lot of the dramatic oomph of homemade treats comes, and I'm sorry to sound so shallow, in the way they're packaged. In an old shoebox with wads of used tissue paper, they're just not going to delight the same way they will if you splurge on the take-out containers from Michael's (or, if you're smart and plan ahead, from the take-out supply company, where it's $5 for fifty of them) and decorate them with nice labels or stickers and string or ribbons. I've also had good luck packaging them in clear candy bags with decorated cardstock tags stapled across the top. I bet you could even stack up a row of them and wrap them in colorful tissue paper to look like a Christmas cracker--the kind that pops open to reveal a toy, not, like, a red and green Saltine--and that would be festive and inexpensive. Silver-paper wrappers would be nice too, of course, and could evoke that whole York "get the sensation" sensation you had when the commercials game on in the middle of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special you were watching.
Let me know if you have other thoughts on these. When I was working on this recipe for FamilyFun (it's in the November issue, along with a bunch of other awesome gifts you can make), it was July, and honestly--the thought of Christmas was almost nauseating. I had to have a fan blowing in the kitchen so they wouldn't melt while I was making them, and then I had to go to the Christmas Tree Shop to brainstorm various holiday wrapping ideas. Who goes to the Christmas Tree Shop in July? Well, lots of people, it turns out, not just people on funky off-season magazine deadlines. Who knew?
Makes about 3 dozen
Active time: 45 minutes; total time: 1 1/2 hours
These are the addictive classics with a snappy, minted middle dunked in deep chocolate. Packaged by the dozen in Chinese take-out boxes, they make perfect no-cook gifts--but first you should whip up a test batch for yourself just to make sure they're really, really good.
1 1-pound box confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon shortening
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
10 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
6 Starlight mints, unwrapped and crushed in a Ziploc with a rolling pin (optional)
Sift the confectioners' sugar into the bowl of a standing electric mixer and beat in the shortening on medium speed. In a small bowl stir together the water, corn syrup, lemon juice, and extract, then beat it into the sugar mixture until combined.
Knead the mixture into a ball (it will be very stiff), then use the bottom of a glass pie plate and firm, even pressure to flatten the ball between sheets of wax paper into a 9-inch disk that's about 1/4 inch thick (if you try doing this with a rolling pin, you will be much more frustrated, I assure you). Place the disk (with the wax paper) on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm, around 15 minutes.
Place the frozen disk on a cutting surface, remove and reserve the wax paper, and cover the cookie sheet with parchment. Use a 1-inch round cutter to cut out patties, moving them to the parchment as they're cut. Gather the scraps into a ball, use the pie plate and wax paper to flatten it again, and cut more rounds until all of the filling is used. Freeze the rounds for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Coat the patties one at a time, balancing each on a fork and dipping (use another fork as needed to flip the patty in the chocolate), then shaking excess chocolate and scraping the bottom of the fork against the edge of the bowl before returning the coated patty to the parchment. Make a ridged pattern one each patty by pressing a fork into the chocolate and lifting it straight up. Reheat the chocolate as necessary until all the patties are coated, then allow them to sit until set, about 1 hour. Optional: sprinkle patties, as they're coated, with the crushed mints.