how to: make your own white chocolate bark

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Ah, December. I had such plans for you. Gift guides galore with practical, desirable gifts you can actually afford (I'm looking at you, Tasting Table, and your $250 leather and copper basket). A list of NYC winter essentials (read: really good hand cream). At least one outfit post. Party snack ideas. DIY edible gifts, plural.

No one told me that December would start so soon after Thanksgiving (totally uncalled for), or that my apartment's holiday party for 80 would take a week of planning or that the first half of the month would be spent humming and hawing and crying about what I would do for a living after December 31st.

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And so, here we are, a mere 9 days away from Christmas, with only this chocolate bark to show for it. Luckily, that's more than enough time to make these babies. Last-minute gift givers, rejoice!

it's good with dark chocolate, too!
The tempering's a little trickier, but dark chocolate is so good.

Chocolate bark is just one of those things that elicits gasps of surprise with minimal effort. You don't need an oven or any fancy baking equipment. It's infinitely customizable from the chocolate to the toppings to the packaging* (my favorite part). It's easy to make gluten-free (for your informed and misinformed friends) and it's pretty hard to resist. Really, there's no reason not to make chocolate bark for your friends and coworkers**. So let's get going, shall we? But first, a few quick tips:

Temperamental matters
Tempering chocolate (the precise process of raising and lowering the temperature of chocolate so that it sets up all shiny and snappy) can get complicated, and merits a lengthy post of its own (as evidenced here--highly recommend this read if you're into chemistry and/or chocolate). White chocolate is a little more forgiving, so while the method in this recipe is a bit of a shortcut, it still produces a chocolate bark with a satisfying bite.

Make it nice
Customizations are welcome; just take the extra second to make sure your toppings are all around the same size for a pretty result.

Be prepared
The Boy Scout mantra goes for pretty much anything in the kitchen, but especially when working with melted chocolate. Get everything--the parchment-lined sheet pan, toppings and rubber spatula--ready and waiting before melting your chocolate, and making this bark will be a breeze.

*The cute little bags were found in the gift-wrap section of Target for only 40 cents each.

**These were gifted to my wonderful co-workers, as tomorrow will be my last day at Food Network. After a much-needed trip to good old California for the holidays, I'll be working in the test kitchen at Saveur Magazine in January. Actually, you may have seen it here before.

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White Chocolate Bark
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten
Yield: 16 pieces | Prep Time: 10 minutes | Total Time: 45 minutes

1/4 cup pepitas
16 ounces white chocolate chips, divided
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped roughly to the size of the cranberries
1/4 cup broken pretzel pieces
Coarse sea salt, like Maldon

Place the pepitas in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Toast, stirring or flipping occasionally, until warm and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Place 12 ounces of the white chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl and line a 12-by-18-inch sheet pan with parchment paper.

Fill a small saucepan with 1 inch of water, bring to a simmer and set the bowl of white chocolate over the saucepan. Turn off the heat and let the chocolate sit without stirring for about 30 seconds. Stir the chocolate occasionally with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is just melted, but not too hot. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and stir in the remaining 4 ounces of chocolate. Let it sit for another 30 seconds, then gently stir until all the chocolate is melted and the chocolate flows down like a ribbon when you lift the spatula.

Pour the chocolate on the middle of the prepared sheet pan, then use your spatula to carefully spread the chocolate out into an even layer. Sprinkle with the toasted pepitas, cranberries, apricots, pretzels and a generous pinch of coarse sea salt.

Let the chocolate bark set completely, about 1 hour at room temperature or 20 minutes in the refrigerator. Break into pieces and package for lucky friends (or eat it when everyone's sleeping).