Peppermint bark is a type of chocolate bark where layers of white, dark and/or milk chocolate are topped off with a generous sprinkle of crushed peppermint candies. Many big chocolate brands, including Dove and Ghirardelli, release their own take on peppermint bark during the holidays, and even Haagen-Dazs has a limited edition peppermint bark ice cream flavor. But peppermint bark is easy to make at home if you have some chocolate and peppermint candies – or even candy canes – on hand and I always prefer it to store-bought.
My Peppermint and Cacao Nib Bark is topped with lots of crushed peppermint – like a traditional peppermint bark – and also with cacao nibs. Cacao nibs are small pieces of roasted, chopped cocoa beans and they add a nice additional chocolate flavor and quite a bit of crunch to the bark. The base of the bark is made with a layer of dark chocolate and a layer of white chocolate, as white chocolate always sets off peppermint well. Use a good quality chocolate that you like the flavor of (I used Callebaut) for the best results.
You can buy peppermint bits that are already crushed at many cake decorating stores, and those are a good and easy option for a recipe like this one. You can also make them, by crushing peppermints or candy canes yourself. If you do crush them yourself, sift them through a strainer to remove any of the peppermint dust and just keep the nice pieces.
I tempered the chocolate for my peppermint bark, which gives it a nice sheen and allows the chocolate to set up very quickly with no refrigeration required. Read my guide on How To Temper Chocolate at Home for tips and instructions. If you don’t want to temper your chocolate, you can still make the bark, but you may want to pop it in the refrigerator after you make it to help it set up. This bark is a great holiday treat and also makes a wonderful gift for friends and family. Feel free to double the recipe if you need a big batch, though it may be easier to simply make multiple batches if you really need a lot.
Someone recently asked me what my favorite thing to bake was and I was stumped because it is difficult to narrow it down when I like so many things! The truth is that I like to bake just about anything, but if I have to pick, I would say that brownies are one of my favorite things to bake. They’re easy to bake, huge crowd pleasers and you can put many different spins on them to change their flavor completely. These Banana Brownies with Cacao Nibs, for instance, definitely stand out from your average brownie.
The basic brownie batter here is one that I use often, made with melted dark chocolate and cocoa powder for a strong chocolate flavor. I added mashed banana to the brownie base, along with chocolate chips and cacao nibs. Cacao nibs are chopped up pieces of roasted cocoa beans. The nibs usually go on to become chocolate, but they can also be added to chocolate bars and baked goods for a little crunch and a slightly toasty, nutty, chocolate element.
These brownies are pretty amazing and a fantastic change of pace from your standard brownie recipe. They are super moist and fudgy, yet still tender, and they have a great balance of chocolate and banana flavor. I used dark chocolate chips, but semisweet are a good choice here, as well. The cacao nibs add a crunch, but are more subtle than a big pecan or walnut is going to be, and they enhance the overall chocolatiness of the brownies. You might have to look to a specialty baking store to find the nibs, but if you want to skip them you’ll get good results by using walnuts or pecans in this recipe, too.
Dark chocolate bar with cacao nibs. Milk chocolate bar with cacao nibs. Chocolate covered cacao nibs. Cacao nibs are turning up in more and more places, but with little explanation as to what they are because they are almost always an add-in to some other product. Cacao nibs are basically raw chocolate, pieces of cacao beans that have been roasted, hulled and prepped to the point where all that there is left to do is process them into bars. The chocolate-making process involves grinding up the cacao into a thick paste to which extra cacao butter, sugar, milk and other flavorings are added.
Nibs, on their own, taste vaguely similar to roasted coffee beans. Nibs are a bit crunchier than coffee beans, since some coffee beans can become quite delicate after roasting, but give primarily the same textural effect when covered in chocolate. Cacao nibs are always found in small pieces, rather than coffee bean-sized pieces. The flavor is slightly nutty and, while there are definitely some chocolate notes in there, they are primarily going to contribute texture and a hint of bitterness (the same as raw cocoa powder). Some beans will have a more complex flavor, but generally coffee beans will have a more interesting taste on their own. Cacao nibs do serve to draw out darker notes in chocolate, which is why they are such a popular addition.
You’ll generally see cacao nibs incorporated into other chocolate products, or simply covered in chocolate and sold as a snack. They are also sold apart, intended to be used as a mix-in for baked goods or sweets. You can use them in addition to, or in place of, chocolate chips or nuts in a cookie, for instance. They can be eaten on their own, too, but as is the case with coffee beans, they’re almost always better with something else.