The beauty of chocolate and peppermint, says Waterbar pastry chef Emily Luchetti, is that the combination elevates even the most basic dessert into holiday party fare. Among her ideas:
• Peppermint bark: Pour melted white chocolate into a parchment-lined pan. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes. Add a layer of melted dark chocolate, and sprinkle with more crushed candy canes. Let cool, then break into pieces.
• Candy cane brownies: Halfway through baking your favorite brownies, sprinkle crushed candy over the top, so the bits sink just slightly into the fudgy interior.
• Peppermint brownies: Press Ghirardelli chocolate-peppermint squares into brownies, as soon as they emerge from the oven, so the heat of the brownies melts the chocolate just slightly. Let cool. Then cut into brownie-mint squares.
Red-nosed reindeer may be immortalized in merry carols, but candy canes — those striped, peppermint delights of yore — hold a special place in every child’s heart. Yet for all their holiday charm, candy canes never quite live up to their nostalgic promise once you’re past the age of lollipops.
“I take one lick of a candy cane — and that’s enough,” says Emily Luchetti, the pastry chef at San Francisco’s Waterbar and Farallon restaurants. “It’s a sticky mess, and you have the whole thing in your hand.”
Christina Tosi, the baking genius behind New York’s Momofuku Milk Bar, calls them “the last candy standing.” No one, she says, actually wants to eat them — and yet, we love them so.
So with the assistance of Luchetti, Tosi and their colleagues, we set out to recapture our love for the signature sweet. The result? New wave desserts that capture those signature holiday flavors, including a chocolate-peppermint buche de noel, care package-perfect candy-laced cookies and a dazzling ice cream that’s only as pink as you want it to be.
Chocolate and peppermint are one of Luchetti’s favorite holiday flavor pairings. She’s also done chocolate-peppermint ice cream bombes, crepes with peppermint ice cream, and minty brownies, cookies and confections.
Tosi puts crushed candy canes in her decadent cookies, and Santa Rosa pastry chef Shelly Kaldunksi, a former Martha Stewart Living food editor, uses peppermint extract and some artful pastry bag skills to turn mint-tinged cookies into red-and-white striped look-alikes.
But there are a few caveats to working with that iconic flavor, and they have to do with sugar balance, flavor intensity and color. Strew those candy shards with too much abandon, for example, and you’ll have a dessert that’s too sweet to bear.
Peppermint extract adds flavor — and holiday flair — without any sugar, which makes it a terrific addition to chocolate mousse, buttercream or even a whipped cream frosting. But there’s a fine line here between delicious and overkill. If you’re improvising with your favorite mousse recipe, add the peppermint by the drop, not the teaspoon.
And never add it to melted chocolate directly. The addition of any small amount of liquid makes melted chocolate seize up into a grainy, unusable mass.
When Luchetti makes peppermint-chocolate bark, for example, she uses crushed peppermint to add flavor, color and sparkle. The only problem is, the little round candies are white inside.
“You don’t get the red color, which is a drag,” Luchetti says. “If you’re going to do the whole peppermint thing, you want that red. It’s so much a visual thing.”
But using the smallest, thinnest candy canes you can find will maximize the ratio of red stripe to white.
That’s what inspired Tosi’s favorite winter holiday cookie.
“We like our cookies to celebrate the holidays, too,” she says, her laughter wafting across the phone lines as she describes the immense box of candy canes that arrived at the Milk Bar one day. “And my mom loves to send stuff to help celebrate.”
The result was a crushed peppermint extravaganza, with sparkling, striped candy shards emerging from treats laden with cornflake crunch, mini-chocolate chips and mini-marshmallows. Just one of the huge, sugary cookies could keep Santa — and all his reindeer — fueled for hours. And the cookies’ ability to stay fresh for nearly a week at room temperature makes them a natural for college care packages, too.
“It’s an easy thing to execute,” Tosi says. “And everyone has candy canes.”
Momofuku Holiday Cookies
16 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups cornflake crunch (see recipe below)
2/3 cup mini-chocolate chips
40 peppermints or 18 candy canes
1 1/4 cups mini-marshmallows
Combine butter and sugars in an electric mixer. Cream together on medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down sides, add egg and vanilla and beat for 7-8 minutes more.
Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together. Scrape down sides.
Still on low, mix in the cornflake crunch and mini-chips, just until incorporated, no more than 30-45 seconds.
Unwrap the peppermints and transfer them to a zip-top plastic bag. With the end of a rolling pin, break the candy up into medium to small pieces — but no smaller than a Nerd. (Do not make candy powder.) Mix the candy and marshmallows into the dough, just until incorporated.
Using an ice cream scoop or a 1/3 cup measure, portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie domes flat. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour to 1 week. (Do not bake your cookies at room temperature — they will not hold their shape.)
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange dough at least 4 inches apart on parchment-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle and spread. They should be browned on the edges and just beginning to brown toward the center.
Cool completely on pans before transferring to an airtight container for storage. Cookies will keep fresh for 5 days at room temperature, or frozen for 1 month.
Yield: 15-20 cookies
5 cups cornflakes
1/2 cup instant milk powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
9 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Pour the cornflakes into a large bowl and crush them with your hands to a quarter of their original size. Add the milk powder, sugar and salt and toss to mix. Add butter and toss to coat. The butter will act as glue, binding dry ingredients to cereal and creating clusters.
Spread the clusters on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until they look toasted, smell buttery and crunch gently when cooled slightly. Cool the cornflake crunch completely before using. The crunch will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature, or a month in the fridge or freezer.
Yield: About 4 cups
Christina Tosi, “Momofuku Milk Bar” (Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $35)
Chocolate-Peppermint Buche De Noel
Chocolate sponge cake:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons warm water
Butter, flour for the pan
9 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
6 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted, plus more for dusting
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-2 drops red food coloring, optional
Crushed candy canes, optional
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
Candy canes, to garnish
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the warm water. Let cool to room temperature.
Grease the bottom of an 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet. Line pan with parchment; butter and then flour the parchment.
With an electric mixer, whip the egg yolks on medium-high speed until light in color and beginning to thicken, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar and whip until very thick and pale yellow, 2 minutes. Reduce speed and mix in chocolate. Fold in the cocoa and salt.
In a clean mixer bowl with clean, dry beaters, whip egg whites until frothy and beginning to increase in volume, 30 seconds. In a steady stream, add remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Increase speed and whip until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir half the whites into the chocolate. Gently fold in the rest. Scrape batter into pan, smoothing it level.
Bake 22-25 minutes, until the top springs back lightly when touched.
Meanwhile, spread a large clean dish towel on the counter. Using a sieve, thoroughly dust the towel with cocoa powder. Run a knife around the inside edge of the hot cake pan, and invert it onto the towel in one quick motion. (It’s a messy process. Be prepared for clouds of cocoa.) Remove the pan and parchment. Starting from a short end, roll up the cake and towel together. Let cool.
For the filling. Fill a wide pot with 2 inches of very hot water. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the 2 egg whites, 1/2 cup sugar and a pinch salt. Set the bowl in the hot water; so the water comes up to the level of the mixture in the bowl. Whisk until almost hot (about 120 degrees), about 90 seconds. Then, using the mixer on medium-high, whip the whites until cool and thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce to medium speed, add butter a tablespoon at a time, mixing until completely incorporated. Mix in the peppermint extract and red food coloring. The filling should be soft and loose. (Chill it for 20 minutes if it’s too runny.)
Unroll the cooled cake. Spread the filling to within 2 inches of the edges. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes, if you wish. Then reroll the cake — without the towel. (The cake can be stored, well-wrapped in plastic wrap, overnight in the refrigerator at this point.)
Set a wire rack on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Set the roulade on the rack.
For the glaze, bring the cream, sugar, 1/2 cup water and cocoa to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer 8-10 minutes, whisking often, until very thick, like hot fudge. Don’t let it boil over. Let cool.
While the glaze is cooling, soften the gelatin in 1 1/2 tablespoons water. Melt it in a double boiler, then whisk it into the glaze, and strain the mixture into a metal bowl. Let cool until thick but still pourable, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Pour the glaze over the roulade, covering the top and sides evenly. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. Garnish with crushed candy canes.
Adapted from a recipe by Emily Luchetti, pastry chef, Waterbar
Chocolate Crepes With Peppermint Ice Cream
Peppermint Ice Cream:
3/4 cup milk
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
36 peppermint candies, half finely and half coarsely crushed
Large pinch salt
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Chocolate sauce, for serving (below)
For the ice cream, bring the milk, cream, sugar, finely crushed peppermint and salt to a near-simmer in a heavy saucepan. Pour into a bowl and cool in an ice bath until room temperature. Chill this custard base for 4 hours or overnight.
Place the coarsely crushed peppermint candies into a bowl and freeze.
Strain the custard, discarding its peppermint debris. Churn in an ice cream maker, according to manufacturer’s instructions. Fold the coarsely crushed peppermint into the ice cream; freeze.
For the crepes, place the milk and cocoa power in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add eggs and sugar, and process until smooth. Add flour and salt and process until smooth. Mix in butter and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat a 6-inch crepe or nonstick pan over medium heat. Lightly grease with 1/4 teaspoon butter. Pour in about 2 tablespoons crepe batter, rotating the pan so the batter covers the bottom. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Then, using the tip of a knife to loosen an edge, flip the crepe and cook 15 seconds more. Repeat to make 18 crepes. It is not necessary to grease the pan each time. Wrap in plastic wrap until ready to use. (The crepes can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, or frozen up to 1 week.)
To serve, fold the crepes into quarters and place 3 on each dessert plate. Place a scoop of peppermint ice cream in the center. Drizzle with chocolate sauce and serve.
Emily Luchetti, “A Passion for Ice Cream” (Chronicle Books, 2006)
3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate (58-62 percent cacao), finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
Put the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Warm the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it starts to bubble around the edges, then pour the warm cream over the chocolate. Shake the bowl a little to submerge all the chocolate pieces, then cover the bowl for several minutes.
Whisk until smooth. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
Yield: 6 servings
Emily Luchetti, “The Fearless Baker” (Little, Brown and Company, 288 pages, $29.99)
These delicate, rolled cookies can be filled with vanilla buttercream, too.
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 large egg whites
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Gel-paste food coloring in red and brown
Whisk together the flour and salt.
Using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add egg whites and peppermint; beat on low speed until completely incorporated. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture, beating until just incorporated.
Place 2 tablespoons of the dough into each of 4 small bowls. Color each a different shade of red, starting with pale pink and ending with dark burgundy. To make burgundy, use the tip of a toothpick to add a tiny bit of brown to deep red. Spoon the dough into 4 pastry bags, fitted with 1/8-inch round tips. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. To form each cookie, use a small offset spatula to spread 2 teaspoons of the uncolored dough on the prepared sheets into a 3 1/2 by 4 1/2 -inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick. Pipe a diagonal line of red dough over each rectangle from one corner to its opposite. Continue to pipe lines, spacing them 3/4-inch apart, using different reds and varying the width of the lines.
Bake until the edges are firm to the touch, but have not turned golden, 15-17 minutes. Immediately use a metal spatula to remove each cookie and invert it onto a work surface. Roll the hot cookie around a chopstick, then remove the chopstick. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely, about 15 minutes. If the cookies become too cool and fragile to roll, return them to the oven for 1 minute. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Yield: About 24 cookies
Shelly Kaldunski, “The Art of the Cookie” (Weldon Owen, $19.95, 128 pages)