Really delicious bark depends on good chocolate, so spring for the best you can afford. Use about a pound of dark, milk or white chocolate; avoid chips, which have additives.
Finely chop the chocolate and melt it in a micowave or double-boiler. For best results, consider tempering, a controlled melting method that yields "snappier" bark and helps ward off bloom (a beige residue that often appears on chocolate). Spread chocolate on parchment paper or waxed paper and top as desired. Let bark set up in a cool room (or, in a pinch, in the fridge). Break or chop into bite-size pieces, stealing a few morsels for sampling, of course.
Toppings Click "Enlarge" on the photo to get a better view of our toppings. The combos we tried included: The Campfire (smoked almonds + crushed dried ancho pepper), The Fruitcake (walnuts + mixed dried fruit—apricots, cherries, raisins, etc.); The Turtle (caramel nibs—found in the baking aisle— + toasted pecans); The Macaroon (toasted shredded coconut + toasted slivered almonds + sea salt); The Christmas Tree (dried orange-flavor cranberries + pistachios); The Gingerbread House (gingerbread cookies + crystallized ginger); The Berry Patch (freeze-dried raspberries + toasted sliced almonds); and The Snack Aisle (pretzel twists + ridged potato chips + peanuts).
Wrap it up For a twist on the usual bite-size pieces, cut the bark into big rectangles with a large knife and package as a homemade candy bar. (If the bark set up in the fridge, let it sit 10 minutes at room temp before cutting.)
Tempering chocolate (The cheaters' way) Most chocolate comes tempered, which means it’s stable. If you don’t re-temper the chocolate when you melt it for candy, it will set up softer, have a matte appearance and might get pale blotches (bloom) on the surface after a couple days. (Bloom is edible, just not pretty.) True tempering requires precision. Our solution: Melt the chocolate very slowly, so that it has less chance of falling out of temper. It’s a little tedious but worth the effort for special projects. Place 1 pound of finely chopped chocolate in a 4-cup glass measuring cup or 1 1⁄2-quart glass mixing bowl. Pour very warm tap water (100° to 110°) into a large glass casserole or bowl to a depth of 1 inch. Set the cup or bowl of chocolate into the water, being careful not to splash any water inside. Water should reach halfway up the cup. Every few minutes, gently stir chocolate with a rubber spatula. Change the water as necessary to keep it between 100° to 110°. The chocolate will melt very slowly (especially if it was only coarsely chopped), but after 15 or 20 minutes, it will be melted and ready for making bark or dipping fruit or candy.