Do The Peppermint Twist...

Persistence pays off. Three years ago, I was in my senior year of college, and I was invited to a holiday party, for which I was supposed to bring a dish. Naturally, my first thought was dessert, and I had recently spotted a festive recipe in an email from Martha Stewart for Chocolate Peppermint Cookies. The picture was tempting indeed -- puffy, deep, dark chocolate mounds studded with striped bits of broken peppermint candies. I was sold on the picture alone.

When I finished my attempt at the same recipe, it was clear that my cookies didn't even belong in the same universe as Martha's. I don't know what kind of food styling tricks her staff had employed when preparing the version for publication, but my cookies were wafer thin, mostly baked into a single blob from spreading far more than the recipe indicated, and the broken bits of candy had melted off the edges of the cookies and puddled around their edges. They were a hot mess. A tasty hot mess.

Tasty enough that I kept at the recipe, despite their homeliness. I made small modifications to my technique every time, and eventually I got them to a reasonably attractive state. The cookies eventually became a favorite of my best friend Katherine, and they have become somewhat of a tradition between us. I've baked them for her for her birthday, I brought them with me when I visited her in Atlanta, and I even paid $80 to overnight a batch to her in Japan as a Christmas gift when she was living there. This year, they are going into my annual Cookie Bonanza giveaway, so I fixed up a batch of the dough to freeze and have at the ready when the time comes, so I won't have to make all of the various cookie doughs all at the last minute.

Freezing cookie dough is one of my favorite baking tricks. I roll the dough into individually-sized balls as if I were going to bake them, place them on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, and freeze them until they are hard. Then, I transfer them to a plastic Ziploc bag and squeeze out as much air as possible, and return them to the freezer. I like to write the baking instructions on the bag, so I don't have to hunt down the recipe again when it's time to bake them. Although I'm going to bake off all of these at once, this technique is particularly useful for when a cookie craving strikes when you don't have the time or energy to make a whole batch. With dough in the freezer, you can just bake as many cookies as you are in the mood to eat, whenever you want some. In fact, it's a little dangerous sometimes...

I baked a few for quality control purposes (wink, wink). They're still not as pretty as the ones from Martha's kitchen, but they're much closer to looking good enough to eat than they once were.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder*
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 oz. milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
3 large eggs
45 Starlight mints, coarsely crushed**

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Melt chocolate and butter in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until smooth. Transfer butter and chocolate to bowl to mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add sugar, extracts, and eggs; mix on medium-low speed until combined. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture. Stir in reserved third of the candies. Refrigerate dough until firm, about 30 minutes (or wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight).
2. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, form mounds of dough; dip tops into remaining candies to coat. Place cookies, candy sides up, on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies until just set, about 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

* It's important to seek out and use the Dutch-process cocoa powder. I tried a multitude of substitutions when I first started making these cookies, but the Dutch-process cocoa powder is critical to producing even a moderately attractive product.
** I like to put the candies in a plastic bag and hit them with a hammer. It's a good stress reliever. I then separate out the larger pieces for dipping the cookies before baking, as these look more attractive. This usually amounts to about two-thirds of the crushed candy. The powdered candy and tiny fragments (about one-third) will go into the dough.

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