Our Advent calendar activity for today is baking a recipe from my childhood. I’ve seen variations of this recipe many times over the years, but mine is the best. I might be biased.
We always called it “bark” because it resembles the bark of a tree. It wasn’t Christmas in our house if there was no bark!
You will need:
- Baking tray
- Aluminum foil (I like to use the heavy-duty kind for this. It is easier to peel off at the end.)
- Nonstick spray (optional)
- Saltine crackers
- Medium sauce-pan
- Mixing spoon (Not a plastic one! I don’t care if it is one made for cooking. Use wood or metal.)
- 16 tbsp of butter (It doesn’t matter if it is salted or not. This recipe is very forgiving.)
- 2 Cups of Light brown sugar
- 1 Tsp. Salt (This is optional. I like my caramel salty though.)
- Two 12-oz bags of your favorite kind of chocolate (Dark chocolate for me, thanks!)
Here are the steps:
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Line a baking tray with aluminum foil. My tray is 15.25 inches x 10.25 inches. Sometimes I use a larger tray (17 x 12 inches) but keep the rest of the recipe the same. That makes the layers of caramel and chocolate thinner, which I like. A kid can do this step!
- I guess you should spray the aluminum foil with nonstick spray. I never do it and I’ve never had a problem getting the foil off. It can’t hurt though and it is something the kids can do!
- Lay a single layer of saltines on the tray so that the whole tray is covered. For my tray this takes one sleeve of saltine crackers. That is, if we don’t lose some along the way to my cracker-loving children. Like I said before, sometimes I use a larger tray, and then I need more crackers. If there’s a gap on on side of the tray where a whole cracker won’t fit, it’s okay to break them or even overlap them slightly. This is not a dessert that needs to be pretty. We always put them salt-side up, but Trisha Yearwood says to put them salt-side down in her version, and that is sound advice. (Shout out to a fellow Georgia girl! I wonder if our bark recipes share a common ancestor?) It means the salt side will hit your tongue when you take a bite! My kids love lining the tray with crackers. They say it’s like doing a puzzle.
- Melt the butter in a sauce-pan. Kids can do this.
- Add the light brown sugar to the melted butter. (I’ve never used dark brown in this recipe, but I’m not sure that you couldn’t do it if you like the molasses flavor) Kids can do this.
- Heat the mixture to a boil, slowly mixing it with a spoon. The butter and sugar should combine into a caramel-like substance. Older kids can probably handle this, depending on how much you trust them with molten sugar-butter. I know I already said this, but seriously don’t use a plastic spoon, not even one made for cooking. I like to use a wooden spoon. I had a bad experience once with a plastic cooking-spoon and the molten sugar-butter. I don’t even want to talk about it.
- I like to stir a teaspoon of salt into the mix at this point because I like my sweets to be salty.
- Carefully take the saucepan off the stove and pour the caramel evenly over the crackers. If it needs a little help to coat all of the crackers, you can spread it with a knife. This is a job for an adult or a child who can be trusted with hot things.
- Carefully transfer the tray into the oven. The tray will be hot because of the caramel, so you may need to use an oven mitt. Bake until nice and bubbly, about 5 minutes. This is another adult or older child job.
- Take the tray out of the oven and pour the chocolate chips over the crackers. When they are nice and melty, spread the chocolate around with a knife or a silicone spatula until all the crackers are covered. This is another job for an adult or older child.
- Here is my children’s favorite part! Put sprinkles all over the chocolate while it is still melted. We’ve always used rainbow nonpareils, but you can use whatever you want! There are endless festive options.
- Wait until the tray isn’t too hot and then move it into the freezer. You don’t have to wait until it is room temperature or anything, you just don’t want to put something in your freezer that is going to be so hot that it warms up your frozen foods.
- When the bark is frozen through (it only takes about half an hour) take it out of the freezer. Break it up into pieces as big or as small as you like. Make sure you’ve peeled off all of the aluminum foil and enjoy! Store in an airtight container.
Insider tip #1: Be very careful if you have young children who like to lick spoons and bowls! The sauce-pan and spreading utensils used in this recipe will be HOT.
Insider tip #2: It’s easy to remember the amounts of the three main ingredients if you ever find yourself unable to find the recipe. Just think “2-2-2.” Two sticks of butter, two cups of brown sugar and two standard sized bags of chocolate chips!
Insider tip #3: This recipe is closer to candy-making than it is to traditional baking. This means that it comes out the best when you make it on a dry, cold day. If you make it when the humidity is high, the caramel sauce tends to stay gooey and make the bark tough instead of brittle. So if you follow the directions to a “T” and it still doesn’t come out right, this could be why.
If you liked this, then consider sharing it with your friends!