Thursday, December 23, 2010


It's late December, so the time has come to get making Peppermint bark, and this year, Truffles and Peanut Buttercups as well. I generally don't eat a lot of sweets, but during the winter holidays I like to make healthier versions of treats to share with friends and family. I'm including my winging-it recipes that are constantly evolving to document general proportions and to give y'all a starting point, for those of you who've asked how I make these. There are a gazillion ways to make nearly anything, so I'm just recording how I made all this, today. Feel free to leave comments about how you make these! Disaster-prevention tips are always welcome! Here are the recipes. Hopefully y'all listen (better than I do) to recommendations from Home Ec or a grandparent or whoever might have shown you around a kitchen to read the whole recipe from start to finish before embarking.

Peppermint Bark

1. Melt chocolate chips or bulk dark chocolate in a double boiler, or a similar rig - a metal bowl resting into a pot of simmering water. Be sure not to let any water splatter into the chocolate or it may seize up. This means instead of a warm pool of pourable liquid chocolate, you'll get a clumpy mess. As the chocolate melts, stir with a metal spoon.

2. Line a glass or ceramic casserole pan with at least 1"/2cm sides with waxed paper. Once the chocolate is completely melted, pour half of it into the casserole pan. If you have loads of chocolate, use a big pan or many big pans, if you don't have much, use a wee pan.

3. Smooth out your chocolate into an even-ish layer, and then let cool.  You can place in the fridge to cool to speed up the process if you like.

4.  As the first layer of chocolate cools, in another metal bowl melt white chocolate. You only need half as much white chocolate (or less) as dark chocolate. Also while the first layer of chocolate is cooling you can place your corn-syrup-free organic candy canes (or whatever candy cane's you've got) into a cloth or plastic bag. Then proceed with hammering the candy canes into bits. Be careful about what surface you do your smashing on. If you have some rage to release, you may want to take this part of the process outside and use a really sturdy surface. 

5. Once the white chocolate is all melted, let it cool a bit.  Again, you can put it in the fridge to speed up the process.
6. Once your first chocolate layer is all cooled and solidified you can pour the next layer, the white chocolate. The heat of the white chocolate will melt the top part of the dark chocolate layer. If you'd like a fairly dramatic contrast between the white and dark chocolates, smooth the white chocolate just enough to spread out the layer, without mixing it too much with the dark chocolate underneath.

7. Let the white chocolate layer cool as you multi-task or breathe or whatever.

8. For your final layer: add the remainder of the dark chocolate that you melted at the beginning.  Re-warm it if necessary. While this third and final layer of chocolate is still soft and warm, sprinkle on the candy-cane bits/powder. A thin layer of the powder will adhere pretty easily. The larger bits may need to be gently pressed into the chocolate so that it dries into the top layer. Let everything harden. Shake off excess candy cane bits and save for later to incorporate into future chocolate adventures. Viola! Peppermint bark. Gently break into pieces and place in glass jars or reuse tins. 
You can also make all kinds of chocolate bark.  You can add raisins, dried cherries, nuts, seeds, cinnamon powder and other herbs and spices, and/or a pinch of sea salt to bring out the sweet.

Sprinkling and then patting the candy cane bits into the top layer of
dark chocolate, and the layers of the
finished Peppermint Bark.

Note: Please check out the ingredients of all your ingredients. A lot of chocolates contain hydrogenated palm oil and other such ingredients that can have negative impacts on our health, the people tending and harvesting them, and the earth. Not to mention the child slave labor that poisons the chocolate market - including huge multinationals like Hershey’s and Nestle. For more information, please see: "Chocolate’s Bittersweet Economy: Cocoa Industry Accused of Greed, Neglect for Labor Practices in Ivory Coast."
I've been trying to find a source of bulk fair-trade (certified or not) dark chocolate. The search continues, please let me know if you know of an ethical source for dark chocolate.

Peanut Buttercups

You can make your own Peanut Buttercups, replacing uber-sugared, salted, and hydrogenated-oiled peanut butter with natural peanut butter or sunflower or almond butter. I also added some local Honey and Cinnamon powder.

1. Melt dark chocolate/chocolate chips in a double boiler and stir. Once entirely melted, add the tiniest layer of chocolate to the molds you picked up from a kitchen shop/thrift store or that you saved from last year's Advent calendar or Ginger-bread-house-making-kits, etc.

2. As the chocolate is cooling a bit you can stir together a small amount of honey and cinnamon to sweeten and spice-n the nut butter to your liking. Add a lil dollop of the filling (straight nut butter or the nut butter-honey-cinnamon blend) into the molds, and press it down/ spread it around if you wish. Shallow molds harden pretty quickly, as long as you're not in a wicked hot kitchen. Larger molds take longer to cool (more surface area/thicker layer of chocolate= longer to cool), so I sometime place those in the fridge.

3. Once cooled, add more chocolate to cover the Peanut Butter-mound and complete the cup. Let it cool again until completely solidified and they come easily out of the molds.

Peanut Buttercups don't require much chocolate and pack a protein punch. I used silicon star-molds once and it the chocolate got all white and splotchy, so now I jut use my plastic molds. Today my mom showed me how using two spoons to scoop the chocolate out of the other makes the process much smoother! 

Molds, Making the Peanut Buttercups, and the Innards.

10 ounces Dark chocolate
1 1/4 cup Coconut milk
optional: Cocoa powder, more Dark chocolate, Coconut flakes

Pour the coconut milk into a double boiler and warm on low heat. Chop the chocolate into smaller pieces and add to the warm coconut milk. Stir the mixture constantly until the chocolate has melted and mixed completely with the liquid. This is your ganache
. Refrigerate until hard (approx. 3 hours, you can put in the freezer if you have less time).

Stirring the Ganache, fresh-pressed Ginger juice, and Dad
lends a hand with his Laser Thermometer (138
°F/58.88°C) -

checking the temperature is not at all necessary, it was just for fun

Separate containers holding the various flavors of ganache, Rolling the ganache into balls - the balls got stickier as my hands got stickier, the smoothest ones were created just after rinsing off my hands (but they all taste good!), Re-hardened ganache, & Finished truffles.

Remove ganache from refrigeration and scoop out by the spoonful, rolling into balls with your hands. Place balls on a wax paper-ed baking sheet and return to refrigeration to harden. Once hardened, remove balls from refrigeration and roll in a shallow bowl of cocoa powder, fair-trade if possible, and/or dried coconut flakes. Or you can melt more dark chocolate in a double boiler and gently roll the cooled balls in the warm chocolate, which when cooled will created a harder outer layer over the softer ganache. If storing for later, place balls in containers, and place waxed paper between layers. Store in the refrigerator and remove 30 minutes before feasting on them.

Flavors: For simple chocolate truffles, chocolate and coconut milk is all you need. However, you can add other simple ingredients to create chocolate flavor explosions! Today I made two batches and separated both in half. Four flavor possibilities! Last time I created Rose truffles using organic rose powder, as well as Vanilla, Coffee, and Ginger truffles.   As the truffles cooled I pressed a tiny bit of dried pink rose petal into the top of each Rose truffle. I pressed a tiny bit of chopped Ginger chew (you could use crystallized ginger with or without the sugar rinsed off) to identify the ginger ones. Atop the Orange I added a couple crushed Red pepper seeds.  And I left the Vanilla ones as they were.

I made Ginger truffles by grating enough fresh ginger root and pressing it through a fine metal strainer to get 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger juice. Potent!  I added 2 tablespoons of homemade Vanilla extract to the Vanilla truffles. I infused 2 tablespoons freshly-ground fair-trade Coffee beans into the coconut milk for a few minutes, and then strained out the bits before melting in the chocolate. With the exception of the ground Coffee beans, I added the flavor ingredients after I'd removed the ganache from heat and poured it into smaller containers, such as glass measuring cups. I stirred each thoroughly and then placed it in the fridge. I've also infused Coffee beans in brandy to use when I don't want to have to strain out the coffee bits from the coconut oil.

Chocolatey Notes: Playing with chocolate gets messy, so I like to get out all the supplies beforehand and have a spatula handy to scrape all the good chocolate from bowls and fingers! Bendy rubber spatulas are the best (but make do with what you've got)!  As you can see from the photos above, my chocolate explosion-creations let folks know they are homemade with love!  If you'd like smoother looking truffles, just keep a bowl of warm water nearby so that you can wash the chocolate off your hands as you're rolling them.  But some of the not-so-smooth ones look like cute little hedgehogs!  And you can always eat the "imperfect" ones :)

A note on flavorings: Something I love about cooking from scratch is that you can choose each and every ingredient you add to your creations.  Herbs and spices are plenty flavorful without involving chemical labs. "Flavorings," natural or otherwise, are born of the perfume industry and can contain really dodgy ingredients. See Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" for a fascination description of the "Flavoring Corridor".

Keep all the chocolatey bits for a finale mystery chocolate blend!! Melt all the dribbles and chunks into Peanut clusters (roast Spanish peanuts and stir them into the chocolate, place dollops of the concoction onto waxed sheets) or make more mystery Truffle ganache. 

To learn more about chocolate, see the article that my friend Sandra Lory of Mandala Botanicals wrote: "More than a Valentine’s Sweet: Theobroma cacao"

For more chocolate-y recipes, see the Valentine's Aphrodisiac Recipes post.

Chocolate Spice Elixir: a Warming Aphrodisiac with Damiana, fresh local Ginger, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Vanilla, local Honey, and Fair trade Cocoa is available on Dandelioness Herbals' online etsy shop 

Today's Sources of Culinary Inspiration: Grammy and Pop-pop's sweets, Julia Child, the films Como Agua Para Chocolate/Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, and Tortilla Soup, PBS's The Meaning of Food, and the books Botanica Erotica by Dina Falconi and Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses by Isabel Allende. And I just found out that Maya Angelou recently wrote a book entitled Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart.

updated 2/18

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