there are certain flavors that just scream Christmas. Eggnog topped with nutmeg. Cinnamon-laced cookies and coffee cakes. Gingerbread men, women or children. • And, of course, peppermint. • The refreshing and cool taste finds its way into a multitude of foods and beverages this time of year, from smashed candy canes sprinkled over cookies to hot — or cold — coffee drinks to chocolate confections. Peppermint schnapps gives drinks a spirited boost, and I can't think of anything more festive than sitting by the twinkling tree with a Peppermint Stick Cocktail in hand. That's where you'll find me on Christmas Eve. • The ubiquitous candy cane is the flavor's enduring symbol at this time of year. Though candy canes are favorites among children, I prefer hanging them on the tree than eating them. In my college days, when money was tight, those pink-and-white shepherd's crooks were the only ornaments on the Charlie Brown tree. Today, I smash them with a rolling pin to sprinkle on my Peppermint Wands.
The peppermint plant comes from ancient Egypt, and ingesting its leaves in various forms was thought to ease anxiety and nervousness, both in abundance in modern-day December. Ah, think of peppermint as a remedy for mall-itosis. Peppermint tea is often sipped to entice sleep. Maybe a few slurps for the kids to get them to slumberville on the eve of Santa's arrival?
From Egypt, peppermint eventually landed in Germany, where the white candy stick was bent into a cane by a Cologne choirmaster about 1670. (I'm not sure, but the addition of sugar to peppermint might just have negated its calming properties.) The music man thought the whimsical shape would occupy the kids in the choir and keep them quiet when they weren't singing. The pink-and-white stripes were added about 100 years ago.
Peppermint and chocolate are fine companions. I like them quite well in Peppermint Bonbon Brownies and here I provide a recipe that's good enough to take to an office potluck or serve as a sweet end to Christmas dinner. Though the brownie layer, cream cheese filling and frosting are made from scratch, you could easily substitute a brownie mix and store-bought chocolate frosting. That way, you'll only have to make the filling.
This sweet treat is so wonderful that it just might become your signature holiday dish. Prepare for requests to make it again.
For a simpler chocolate-peppermint pairing, make chocolate-coated candy canes by melting 1 cup white chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon shortening. Mix well and dip candy canes into mixture, then sprinkle with crushed candy or colored sugar. Place noncoated side in a clean cup and refrigerate until chocolate firms.
Peppermint Wands are among my favorite Christmas cookies. They beat the twisted candy cane cookies in both flavor and ease of preparation. The tender cookie — sweetened by confectioners' sugar, which makes it quite delicate — is dipped in melted German chocolate after baking. While the chocolate is still wet, give each wand a generous sprinkle of smashed peppermint candy.
I make two batches, sometimes more, each Christmas and freeze them. I hope that will slow the midnight noshers in my house. It doesn't, because they've found that the wands taste pretty good frozen, too.
When Christmas is over, the decorations packed away, I say goodbye to peppermint, too. It just doesn't seem right sipping a peppermint mocha coffee on Presidents Day or the Fourth of July.
Peppermint is a Christmas flavor. Its time is now.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.
Candy cane couture
The candy cane, like many Christmas symbols, is a German immigrant. Put it on that list with decorated trees, Advent calendars and gingerbread. They are everywhere this time of year.
Here are some suggestions for using up that box of candy canes:
• Use them as swizzle sticks for hot chocolate or flavored coffees.
• Crush and mix into vanilla ice cream.
• Hang them on your tree (higher than little hands and doggie mouths).
• Gnaw on one to help you quit smoking.
• Swirl into Rice Krispies treats.
• Stir crushed bits into hot apple cider.
Janet K. Keeler
Peppermint Bonbon Brownies
4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Peppermint cream cheese filling:
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
8 drops green or red food coloring
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, grated (and see the direction added for it below)
3/4 to 1 cup confectioners' sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom only of 9- by 13-inch baking pan with shortening, butter or cooking spray. In a 1-quart saucepan, melt 4 ounces chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth; remove from heat. Cool 5 minutes.
For peppermint cream cheese filling: Meanwhile, with electric mixer, beat all peppermint cream cheese filling ingredients except chocolate chips until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips; set aside. Clean beaters.
In a large bowl, beat cooled chocolate mixture, sugar, vanilla and eggs with mixer on medium speed for 1 minute, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in flour and salt on low speed 30 seconds, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat on medium speed 1 minute.
Spread half of batter (about 2 1/2 cups) in pan. Spread filling over batter. Carefully spread remaining batter over filling. Gently swirl through batter with knife for marbled design.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Cool completely, about 2 hours.
For chocolate frosting: In a 1-quart saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons butter, the corn syrup and water to boiling, remove from heat. Add grated chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Add 2 ounces confectioners' sugar until spreadable. Spread over brownies. For brownies, cut into 48 squares. Store covered in refrigerator.
Nutritional information per brownie: 180 calories, 11 gm fat, 90 mg sodium, 18 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm protein.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 ounces German sweet chocolate, melted
6 candy canes, smashed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil. (We used parchment paper.)
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in bowl; set aside. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. On low speed, beat in flour mixture until combined. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
Roll 1 teaspoon of dough into a log, about 2 1/2 inches long. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, placing cookies 1 1/2 inches apart.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until pale golden at edges. Remove cookies to wire racks to cool.
For coating: When cookies are cool, dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate. Return to wire rack. Sprinkle each dipped end with 1/4 teaspoon crushed peppermints or finely chopped nuts. Cool on racks in refrigerator for 20 minutes to set. Store in airtight containers at room temperature.
Makes about 7 dozen cookies.
Source: St. Petersburg Times
Low-Fat Peppermint-Marshmallow Ice Cream Pie
Brushing melted ice cream into the pie plate "glues" the crust into place. Crushed chocolate wafers create the crust, while whole cookies define the edges of the pie.
4 cups low-fat vanilla ice cream, softened, divided use
20 chocolate wafer cookies (such as Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers), coarsely crushed, divided use
1 1/4 cups miniature marshmallows, divided use
15 hard peppermint candies, crushed
8 chocolate wafer cookies
5 hard peppermint candies, crushed
Place 2 tablespoons low-fat vanilla ice cream in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high 20 seconds or until ice cream melts. Spread melted ice cream in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Arrange half of crushed chocolate wafer cookies in bottom of pie plate.
Place remaining softened ice cream, 1 cup marshmallows, and 15 crushed candies in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Spoon half of mixture evenly into crust, and sprinkle evenly with remaining crushed cookies. Spread remaining ice cream mixture over crushed cookies. Arrange whole cookies around outside edge of pie; sprinkle top of pie with remaining 1/4 cup marshmallows and 5 crushed candies. Cover and freeze 4 hours or until firm.
Nutritional informational per serving: 281 calories, 6 gm fat, 53 gm carbohydrates, 221 mg sodium, 5 gm protein, 1 gm fiber.
Source: Cooking Light
Peppermint Stick Cocktail
1 ounce peppermint schnapps
1 1/2 ounces white Creme de Cacao
1 ounce light cream
Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a champagne flute and serve.
Chocolate Mint Coffee
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce good-quality sweet chocolate, grated
2 cups strong hot coffee
8 tablespoons peppermint schnapps
Beat cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold in grated chocolate. Pour hot coffee evenly into four mugs and add 2 tablespoons schnapps to each. Spoon on whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate curls and serve immediately.
Source: Christmas From the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch