This week's adventure: This Saturday is my family reunion, so I'm heading up north to the family homestead. Officially, according to the post office, it's a town called Liberty. Unofficially, my mom always called it Hartsfield. When she was growing up, they had a post office right there across the street. It's been long closed, but she always referred to home by the name she grew up with. If you Google Hartsfield, PA, you can find it listed still, which makes me smile. It's called a "hamlet"...which makes me smile even bigger, cause how many people live in a hamlet anymore.
One thing about Hartsfield that's not on Google, it's 4-H country. Around here in Western PA, it's the Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts, up there, it's all about 4-H. And just like we have Girl Scout cookies, there are 4-H cookies. But the best 4-H cookie of all time was discontinued years ago...the mint patty. I've never been able to stomach the Girl Scout version of the chocolate mint cookie, cause the 4-H version hit...it...out...of...the...park. A cookie base, creamy mint patty on top, entire thing completely enveloped in chocolate. It wasn't a question of whether I wanted a box, it was how many boxes would fit in my freezer. They were one of the best cookies I've ever eaten. My cousin and I keep talking about trying to figure it out so we can have them again. In light of this being a massive family holiday, and I'll be able to get some feedback from my cousin this weekend, I'm going to give this a go.
I know, I know, this is supposed to be international cooking adventures, but going up "home" is like visiting a land of its own. My family is like a little tribe. My mom was one of 9 children. I'm one of 25 cousins. Our basic family gatherings growing up were 40 to 50 people. Now that the cousins are grown with significant others and kids, our potluck lunch on Saturday will be over 100 people. We're a tight knit clan bonded by years of crazy Christmas gatherings, deaths, health scares, births, tons of gossip, and decades of laughter. If you haven't grown up in it, it would most definitely be overwhelming. But for me, the 6 conversations happening around me at any given moment feels like a comforting hum of background music. So I'm going off grid with this adventure...giving a nod to my amazing family...and attempting the cookie that legends are made from.
Pre-adventure jitters: There's a reason it's taken me so long to try this cookie. THERE IS NO RECIPE. Nothing. All I have is a vague recollection of pounding handfuls of this bit of deliciousness and a brief description that I found online...shortbread cookie with mint creme covered in chocolate. Faaabbulous. Clear as mud. Armed with a shit pot of recipes that aren't what I want and a desperate need to figure out this unicorn of a cookie, the adventure begins.
The Adventure: I pulled together a handful of recipes for shortbread cookies and mint creme, poked through my pantry and the only thing I'm missing is the peppermint extract! SuhWEET! This is going to be the easiest shopping trip ever!! I head out confident that I'll be back in a matter of minutes. I start at store #1. They don't carry extracts. Store #2...also no extract. Store #3...a hole where the peppermint extract used to be. Oh for the love of Mike. Are you kidding me? I can understand the struggle with yak meat or timut pepper, but IT'S FRIGGIN PEPPERMINT EXTRACT! This is like the toilet paper shortage of 2020 all over again.
I have one more possibility left before I need to go online to buy my peppermint...a local shop...Shearer's Cake and Candy Supply. They tend to be more molds, pans, and melting chocolate, so I'm not hopeful. I walk in...already wallowing in defeat...walk down the row that might have extracts annnddd no peppermint. (sigh). I ask at the counter and all they have is peppermint oil. You know what I did? Yup...I bought the damn oil. She said to use only 3 drops to sub for the teaspoon of extract, and I'm not great at getting drops out of these bottles, so it's gonna be tricky. BUT I'm now set to begin my adventure!
I start with my shortbread dough, roll it out, annnddd find myself in a quandary over what to cut them with. So the original cookie was about the size of a Ritz cracker...I think...maybe...not completely sure. I don't have a cutter the size of a Ritz. Actually, if we're going to be precise, I don't have any circle cutters at all. My mom always used drinking glasses to cut her cookies, so that's what I've always done. (Sugar cookies were cut with the open end, and the sugar pressed on using the bottom.) I have to say, it's pretty slick. Probably one of the best kitchen hacks she ever taught me. Buuuttt I digress.
What makes this even trickier, is that after I make the shortbreads, I need to make the mint patties. Annnddd the mint patties need to be a little smaller than the cookies.I survey my various glassware and decide to cut the cookies with a highball (slightly bigger than a Ritz) and cut the mint cremes with a shot glass (slightly smaller than a Ritz). The ration looks about right...again, based on my sugar coma memory. I cut the cookie dough and slide them in the fridge.
It's time to figure out a mint creme. I can't bake the shortbreads yet, because the mints need to be ready to go first. Follow my logic. The entire cookie gets submerged in chocolate, so the mint creme needs to be stuck to the cookie for this to work. If the mint isn't stuck on, it'll float right off into the chocolate, or chocolate will ooze in between the layers...which would be bad. The best way I figure to stick the mint to the cookie is while the cookie is hot. Right? Am I missing anything in my logic?
It says to mix the creme with your hands like bread dough. Ummmm...I don't mix bread dough by hand. That's why the good Lord gave us bread machines. It mixes it, kneads it, heats it through the first raise. WHY would I mix it by hand???
Sooo I stick my right hand in, try to block out the slime factor, and start kneading / mixing / squishing between my fingers. I discover I need to add a smidge more milk...annnddd that I probably should have taken off my ring. My right hand is completely covered in mint sludge. I can't wash it, cause I'll lose the precious mint creme sooo I grab the milk with my left hand and attempt to pour a teaspoon in. Yeaahhhhh...that didn't work. I'm a righty. My left hand goes completely rogue on me. My creme goes from dry and crumbly, to gelatinous ooze in 30 seconds. (sigh)
I pick a piece of the sludge off my ring and pop it in my mouth. It's minty but not quite minty enough. I decide to add one more drop of oil to kick it up just a bit. Pick up the little vial with my left hand, and tip it gently...too gently as the drop runs down the outside of the bottle and all over my fingers. None of it goes into the bowl. (sigh) Try it a second time annnddd it does it again. Dammit. I hate these little bottles. Give it a third try and 184.108.40.206.5.6 drops go in without so much as a hesitation. Shhhhit. Well, I guess I don't need to worry about it being minty enough. I have an itch on my lower lip, scratch it before I think, and all the oil that ran down the bottle and over my fingers is now on my lips. It takes approximately 10 seconds for the burn to start. (sigh) I will say this once. Peppermint oil is the work of the devil.
Finally get the cream rolled out, cut out my little circles, and I put it into the fridge. It's time for the bake. Shortbreads bake up beautifully in 18 minutes. I pull it out of the oven, press on my mint cremes annndd the cookies crack underneath. Dammit. Second tray I pull out at 17 minutes, press on the mint creme and throw it back in the oven for the last minute and IT WORKS!!! The creme pattie is formed to the cookie! Three trays paired, three trays in the freezer...waiting for the final step...the chocolate coating.
I feel like I'm gonna vomit. So much work has gone into this so far. I can ruin it all with a bad chocolate dip, but here we go. I only have milk chocolate melting chocolate and I distinctly remember it being dark. So I grab 5 plain dark Haiitan chocolate bars from the shop, break them up, and start my water boiling. I don't have a double boiler, but I have a ceramic bowl that nestles perfectly in one of my sauce pans, so that's my standard go to for any melting of anything. I toss in the bars and the coconut oil, taste a chocolate square and realize it's WAAAYYYY too dark. I wanted a semi-sweet and this is more of a pure cocoa holy crap flavor. I decide to throw in some sugar to sweeten it up.
The chocolate gets all melty, combines well with the coconut oil, but the sugar is still in crystals. Dammit. I realize I needed to melt the sugar before adding the chocolate. I try cooking it a bit longer...like 20 minutes longer...still crystals. Crap. Ok...let's apply our problem solving skills. I grab the milk chocolate melting chocolate, dump it all in, and hope that the combination is enough that the crystals aren't noticeable. It works!!
My chocolate is ready to dip, cookies cold, it's time for the moment of truth. I decide a meat fork is the best tool for the job. The tines on a dinner fork are too close and it's way too hot for my fingers to touch. I balance the first cookie, use a spoonula to give the top a chocolate bath, dip the bottom to get it all covered, scoop the fork back underneath and pick it up out of the chocolate. Tap the bottom on the bowl, gently use the spoonula to take off the globs hanging from the fork, and set them on the wax paper. They look off...way off...more like a round lego than the cookie I remember. I needed to smash the mint cremes around the edges before putting them on the cookie, but it's too late for a fix. We're just moving forward at this point.
The last cookie gets dipped and they all hit the freezer for 20 minutes of setting time. It feels like an eternity. I've been waiting YEARS to eat this cookie again. To be within 20 minutes of deliciousness or failure is almost torture. I just can't wait the full 20. Seriously. I can't. I grab one out of the freezer, take a bite....IT WORKED!!!!!! It's so dang close, I feel like a rockstar. Next go round, I need to smash the mint creme, but aside from that...this is THE cookie. And it's on to the next adventure!
The Recipe - Mint Creme Cookies
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3-3/4 cups powdered sugar (plus a little extra just in case).
- 1 tablespoon milk (plus any extra you might need)
- 4 drops peppermint oil
- 1 egg white
- 12 ounces dark chocolate
- 1 TBSP sugar
- 1 TBSP coconut oil
- 12 ounces milk chocolate
- Begin with preparing the shortbread cookies. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and flour and mix until well-combined.
- Roll the dough to 1/4 inch thick and use a cookie cutter to make the desired shape. (I use the top of a drinking glass)
- Place the cookies on parchment paper-lined baking sheets and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. (It's much easier to chill them after you've cut them, vs. rolling out chilled dough.)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- While the cookies chill (overnight if you need more time), make the mint cremes.
- Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl.
- Add in the egg white, peppermint essence and (1tbsp) milk. Mix with your hands as you would for dough. Add some milk if it has too much powdered sugar. If it is too runny, add powdered sugar.
- Take it out of the bowl when it reaches thick enough texture, and knead it on the on top of a table sprinkled in powdered sugar.
- Dust the surface with powdered sugar. Roll out the mixture till it is about 1/4" thick. Cut out circles slightly smaller than the cookie size.
- Bake the shortbread cookies for 12-17 minutes. (set the timer for 10 minutes and check them every 2 minutes after that)- they're done when they just begin to get golden brown on the side.
- At the moment that they just barely brown, pull the cookies out of the oven.
- Place one mint creme on top of each cookie and gently press. Return cookies to the oven for 1 minute.
- Place cookies in freezer to set.
- Place a piece of wax paper on top of two jelly roll pans (or baking sheets).
- In a double boiler (or a bowl on top of a sauce pan with enough water to boil for a bit, but not so much as to touch the base of the bowl), heat the coconut oil and sugar until the sugar is melted.
- Add 2/3 of your chocolate and slowly melt, stirring frequently.
- Once the first 2/3 of the chocolate is melted, add the last 1/3 and melt / stir until smooth. This is an important step, the process of melting and then adding the last bit of unmelted will temper your chocolate.
- Set a cookie on top of a meat fork and cover with chocolate. Tap the fork gently on the edge of your bowl to drain the excess chocolate off.
- Place on the wax paper. Freeze 20 minutes to set.