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These Christmas cookies really are a delight for chocolate lovers

The main ingredient in chocolate peppermint cookies is 1 1/2 pounds of chocolate, which means it is going to have a chocolate-y flavour. The cookie’s base is made of a combination of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate. AP PHOTO
The main ingredient in chocolate peppermint cookies is 1 1/2 pounds of chocolate, which means it is going to have a chocolate-y flavour. The cookie’s base is made of a combination of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate. AP PHOTO

If, like me, you're a fan of dark chocolate peppermint bark at Christmastime, you're going to love these cookies. Your friends and family will, too. But you'll have to plan ahead because the batter is so soft it needs to chill overnight before scooping.

The main ingredient here is 1 1/2 pounds of chocolate, which guarantees an intensely chocolate-y flavour. The cookie's base is made of a combination of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate. Afterward, additional chunks of the bittersweet chocolate - along with the crushed mint candy - are folded in.

The key to this recipe's success is good quality bittersweet chocolate - that is, a brand that contains at least 60 per cent cacao. The higher the percentage of cacao in a chocolate bar, the darker and more intense the flavour. That's why we're adding chunks of chocolate instead of chocolate chips - bittersweet bar chocolate contains much more cacao than most chips.

Chopping the chocolate will take a little time. I recommend using a serrated knife for the job. As for crushing the peppermint candies, the best way is to put them in a re-sealable plastic bag and then gently whack away at the bag with a rolling pin. The easiest way to portion out the batter is with a 1-ounce ice-cream scoop rather than a spoon - and it'll make the size of the cookies more consistent, too; just dip it in hot water between each scoop.

I suggest baking a single tray of cookies at a time because the cookies don't cook evenly when there's more than one tray. Finally, be careful not to overcook them. The cookies should be soft to the touch when you pull them out of the oven. That way they'll remain nice and gooey.

As you might imagine, these cookies are delicious year-round. If you decide to make them during a season when peppermint candies are scarce, just leave them out and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of powdered espresso. You will end up with outstanding mocha cookies.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Start to finish: 1 hour and 45 minutes, plus 8 hours chilling time

Servings: Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 pound bittersweet chocolate

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

60 grams (about 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 cup (about 5 ounces) hard red-and-white peppermint candies

Coarsely chop one-half of the bittersweet chocolate and all of the unsweetened chocolate. In a medium metal bowl combine the coarsely chopped chocolates and the butter; set the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water, and melt the mixture, stirring often. Remove from the heat as soon as all of the chocolate is just melted.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl with electric beaters (or in a stand mixer), beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is very thick and pale, about 10 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. In a small bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Chop the remaining bittersweet chocolate into chocolate-chip size pieces. Chop or crush the peppermint candies into 1/4- to 1/3-inch pieces.

Fold the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture using a large rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture and fold it in until it is just incorporated. Add the chip-size bittersweet chocolate and the peppermint pieces and stir gently, just until incorporated. Cover and chill the mixture overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper, scoop out the batter into balls about 1 1/2-inches wide (the size of a walnut shell) and arrange them on the baking sheets, leaving an inch of space between them. Working with one sheet pan at a time, bake the cookies on the middle shelf of the oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until they are shiny on top and set around the edges but still soft to the touch on top. Let them sit on the sheet pans for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Nutrition information per serving: 164 calories; 90 calories from fat; 10 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 31 mg cholesterol; 32 mg sodium; 20 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 14 g sugar; 3 g protein.

SOME FUN FACTS:

Christmas cookies go great with a cold glass of milk (or beer). Here are a few fun facts to read while chowing down.

1 - Queen Elizabeth I invented gingerbread men. While she didn’t actually bake the cookies herself (she was a queen, after all), she did request that her royal bakers create gingerbread cookies shaped like visiting dignitaries in order to honour them.

2 - We leave cookies for Santa because of the Great Depression. It wasn’t standard practice to leave cookies and milk out for Santa Claus until the 1930s. Historians think it was something parents encouraged children to do in order to teach them how to share and be charitable during a time of economic depression. The tradition stuck and Santa’s pants have never fit the same.

3 - Cookies were originally made to test oven temperature. According to culinary historians, cookies as we know them today were first made not to eat but to test the temperature of an oven. Cooks would take a small dollop of cake batter and bake it as a means of gauging whether the oven was ready or not.

4 - Gingerbread men were illegal in some places during the Reformation. Martin Luther was not a fan of Christmas. In response to his anti-saint stance (Luther condemned the practice of praying to saints and instead taught his followers to pray directly to God), the city of Delft in the Netherlands forbade the sale of gingerbread men. Meanwhile, the magistrates of Amsterdam banned all molded cookies, as did the city of Arnhem.

5 - Santa Claus eats over 300 million cookies on Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve, Santa visits over 500 million homes where he encounters about one billion cookies. If you hypothesize that he takes about two bites of each cookie he is given, it means he eats a total of 336,150,386 cookies.

Source: http://www.foodandwine.com

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