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Q: Last year a friend gave me a tin of peppermint bark for Christmas and it was really delicious. I have seen a similar item in a kitchen-store catalog for $24, but I know she made this herself. Do you have a recipe?

-- Catherine B., Miami Lakes, Fla.

A: This is one of those recipes that's so easy yet rewarding that I'm glad you asked! I know lots of other readers will deem it one to clip and save. You can make enough for four generous gifts in less than half an hour and the price -- even if you use premium chocolate -- will be a fraction of the one you saw in that catalog.

I prefer using a bar chocolate in this recipe, but it is foolproof to use chocolate chips. In fact, the easiest candy recipe ever, new from Nestle, doesn't even call for premelting the chips, so I've included it, too.

To crush the candy canes, break them into two or three pieces, place in a self-sealing plastic bag, and smash into small bits with a mallet. You can do this in a food processor, but it isn't nearly as much fun.

> TRADITIONAL PEPPERMINT BARK

12 full-sized candy canes, crushed into 1/4 -inch pieces to yield about 1 cup

2 pounds white chocolate (or white chocolate chips)

1 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional)

Line an 11-by-17-inch jelly roll pan (or cookie sheet with sides) with wax paper, parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water or in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave (use medium-low power, checking and stirring every 30 seconds until completely melted).

Stir in about two-thirds of the smashed candy and the peppermint flavoring. Pour and spread onto the prepared pan. Try to get an even 1/4 -inch thickness, using a spatula to swirl. Sprinkle the remaining candy cane bits on top while the chocolate is still wet. Refrigerate until firm (about 1 hour), and peel from paper. Break into small pieces by hand. Store in airtight containers. Makes 145 individual pieces.

Variations: You can make a dark and white chocolate layered bark by using 1 pound of dark chocolate in place of half the white chocolate. Melt the dark chocolate as above, spread into pan (it does not have to reach the edges) and refrigerate until firm. Continue as above with the white chocolate and candy cane pieces.

Per piece: 40 calories (46 percent from fat), 2g fat (1.1g saturated, no monounsaturated fat), no cholesterol, 0.6g protein, 4.7g carbohydrates, 0.4g fiber, 112mg sodium.

> MAGIC CHOCOLATE MINT BARK

1 (10-ounce) package Dark Chocolate and Mint Morsels

1/3 cup toasted almonds or broken pretzel pieces (optional)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle chips onto a baking sheet lined with foil, arranging so they are touching each other in a single layer. Bake for 1 to 3 minutes, until the chips are softened and shiny. Remove from oven and place on wire rack. Immediately swirl with the tip of a knife to create a marbled look. Sprinkle with almonds. Hold baking sheet 3 inches above counter and drop to settle nuts into melted chocolate. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Break into pieces. Store in airtight container in refrigerator. Makes 18 small pieces.

Variation: Substitute peanut butter and dark chocolate morsels for the mint.

Per piece: 92 calories (53 percent from fat), 5.7g fat (2.9g saturated, 0.7g monounsaturated), no cholesterol, 0.5g protein, 10.6g carbohydrates, no fiber, no sodium.