Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Even though my favorite way to celebrate Christmas is by making, giving, receiving, and eating homemade goodies, one of my most beloved holiday treats is a storebought product: Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s, the limited-edition version of Trader Joe’s take on Oreos. Ordinary Joe-Joe’s are plenty good too, by the way, made without preservatives and with a far superior texture than Oreos and actual vanilla-bean flecks in the filling, but I can still resist them most of the time in favor of my homemade fare. When Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s appear on the shelves, however, I must buy them and hoard them (I currently have one stashed in my freezer, awaiting the time when my post-holiday healthy eating kick wears away and I can fulfill my longtime plan of making Candy Cane Joe-Joe cookies-and-cream ice cream). They’re like Thin Mints on crack, or possibly made with crack, featuring a strong but not toothpastey peppermint flavor and a nice crunch from real bits of candy canes in the filling. They have become my gold standard for all things chocolate-peppermint, a combo I always crave when December rolls around.

I have longed to share the joy of Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s with my loved ones, but handing out $2.99 boxes of prepacked cookies at the holidays seems gauche. Yet I’d never considered trying to make my own chocolate-peppermint treats until I saw this recipe for peppermint bark chocolate cookies a couple of years ago. Perhaps it would capture the Candy Cane Joe-Joe's magic in a homemade form? I made them last Christmas, and they were…fine, but not what I was hoping for. The chocolate flavor wasn’t very intense, and the texture was uninspiring (I think I overbaked them a bit, which didn’t help). So this year I decided to try subbing peppermint bark into Carole Walter’s recipe for chocolate chocolate-chip cookies. I hadn’t tried this exact cookie before, but nearly everything in Great Cookies is, well, great, and having sampled some of her other chocolate-cookie recipes, I knew the chocolate flavor would be there.

The result? Much improved, definitely chocolatey, and complimented by many who tasted it, but still not the chocolate-peppermint cookie of my dreams. Maybe I should have put some peppermint extract in the cookie itself? Or maybe I should just make peppermint bark next year and skip the cookie entirely, which would be much less labor-intensive and equally enjoyable to eat? Besides, maybe there’s a classy way I can give away Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s, after all: This year I spotted a fancy new version of them for sale, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes. Purely for research purposes, I bought and sampled them, and they were indeed delicious, but it was verging on highway robbery—the package cost more than a box of the unadorned cookies and was half the size. It would be a simple and much more affordable matter to dip them in melted chocolate and decorate with candy cane pieces myself! Hmmm…

In the meantime, however, if you love chocolate and peppermint and don’t live near a Trader Joe’s, or have to wait 11 months before Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s season arrives again, these cookies are an excellent choice. And if for some reason you hate peppermint with chocolate, you can revert to the original recipe by substituting 12 ounces of good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips for the peppermint bark and have yourself some darn fine chocolate chocolate chip cookies.

8 ounces good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled
2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly firm
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons hot water
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces peppermint bark, cut into ¼- to ½-inch chunks

1. In a medium bowl over a pot of simmering water on low heat, slowly melt the 8 ounces of chocolate and keep warm.

2. Strain together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

3. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar, then the brown sugar, and mix until well blended and lightened in color 2 to three minutes. Add the eggs, mixing until well combined, scraping the bowl as needed. Blend in the warm melted chocolate, then the hot water and vanilla extract.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and blend in the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing until just combined. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the peppermint bark chunks.

5. Chill the dough for 1 hour.

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and moderately butter your baking sheets.

7. Drop 1½-inch mounds of dough from the tip of a tablespoon onto baking sheets, placing them about 3 inches apart. Scrape down the side of the bowl occasionally to endure even distribution of peppermint bark.

8. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back towards the end of the baking time. The cookies will look underdone, but they will firm up as they cool. Remove from oven and let stand for 1 or 2 minutes, then loosen with a thin metal spatula. When firm enough to handle, transfer to cooling racks.

Yield: About 4 dozen
Time: 1 hour, plus 1 hour of chilling
Leftover potential: High; can be frozen

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