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Posted December 17, 2008 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Peppermint bark a popular chocolate candy

Peppermint 1
Brown samples some of the peppermint chocolate that she sells. Rich Cooley/Daily

Peppermint 3
Tempered chocolate that is heated at 92 degrees is mixed in with peppermint pieces to make the candy. Rich Cooley/Daily


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By Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer

Visiting various stores around the area, shoppers are sure to notice the practice of making peppermint bark at the holidays has become very popular. They can find the chocolaty candy in almost any direction they turn.

Anne Brown, owner of Shenandoah Fine Chocolates in Winchester, makes four kinds of peppermint bark at the candy store: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and two-tone, which uses white and dark chocolate.

"Two tone is very popular, it's lovely, it gives you the sweetness of the white," she says.

Brown uses pure peppermint oil in her candy making. Peppermint extract, which many people consider to be the real thing, is what candy makers consider the artificial version, she says. Nothing matches peppermint oil, she explains.

"That makes a huge difference in flavoring [candy]," she says. Unfortunately peppermint oil is very expensive, costing Brown about $60 a bottle.

Peppermint extract is adequate for the use in home baking, though, as long as you don't use too much.

"A little bit of that goes a long way," Brown says.

In making peppermint bark, peppermint extract is optional, she says, especially if you mix crushed candy canes into melted chocolate to make the bark. It all depends on how much of a peppermint taste you want.

Brown offers this simple recipe for peppermint lovers to use at home:

Peppermint Bark

Crushed candy canes, to yield 1 cup

2 pounds white, milk or dark chocolate

2 teaspoons peppermint extract, or to taste (optional)

Place the candy canes into a double plastic bag and hammer them into 1/4-inch chunks or smaller.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.

Combine the candy cane chunks with chocolate, reserving some of the peppermint to sprinkle on top of the bark later, as it cools. If desired, add peppermint flavoring at this point. Pour the mixture onto a cookie sheet layered with parchment or waxed paper and spread it out across the paper, making sure it forms an even amount all around.

"Go thin, not thick," she says of the layer of chocolate on the tray. Next place the tray in the refrigerator for about 5-7 minutes or until it is partially firm. For uniformity, cut the bark into squares, scoring the chocolate.

"When scoring, [the chocolate] should be firm ... firm but not solid," she says. This will make the candy easier to slice once it has completely solidified later.

Return the bark to the refrigerator for another 30 minutes, when it should be ready to share with family and friends.

* Contact Josette Keelor at keelor@nvdaily.com

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