By Chef Judi Gallagher –
Oh, peppermint. With the exception of pumpkin at Thanksgiving, there’s not really another flavor that heralds a holiday—in this case, Christmas—as well as this candy flavor does.
Peppermint’s got quite the history. The word “peppermint” comes from Greek mythology, the result of a love triangle between Hades, his wife Persephone and a nymph named Minthe. The herb, which is a naturally occurring hybrid of spearmint and water mint, was used by ancient Egyptians (dried peppermint leaves were discovered in pyramids carbon-dated to 1,000 B.C.) and Romans; it started being grown commercially in the U.S. in 1790 in Massachusetts.
While you may only think of the peppermint candies, this herb is an ingredient in facial scrubs and massage oils. It is said to invigorate. Though peppermint has always gotten a gold star as a medicinal herb — it’s particularly good at relieving digestive ailments like bad breath, indigestion and nausea, but also headaches and hiccups — it’s also equally well-known for its sweet flavor, which is used in everything from chewing gum to tea.
I love a good Starlight mint and peppermint candy canes make excellent stocking stuffers and Christmas tree decorations. And how many of you have ordered a peppermint latte, for example, the second it makes its seasonal appearance at your neighborhood coffee shop?
Peppermint bark is also a traditional holiday treat (peppermint candies are crushed and sandwiched between layers of white and dark chocolate), and I love popping a candy cane or knob of peppermint into my homemade hot chocolate. Yum. And if you appreciate the taste of peppermint and chocolate, you’ll want to make this peppermint fudge cake from chocolatier Marcel Desaulniers. With its peppermint mouse and bittersweet chocolate ganache, it’s the ultimate holiday crowd pleaser. Garnish with crushed peppermint candies for even more festivity.
Peppermint Fudge Cake
Adapted from Marcel Desaulniers, Bon Appetit, September 2000
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 2/3 cup boiling water
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 ¾ cups chilled whipping cream
¼ cup sour cream
24 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies, crushed, plus more for garnish
2 cups whipping cream
16 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
For the cake, preheat oven to 325°. Butter and flour three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl to blend. Place cocoa in medium bowl; whisk in 1 2/3 cups boiling water. Cool cocoa mixture to room temperature, whisking occasionally.
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar, then vanilla. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. At low speed, beat in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with cocoa mixture in 2 additions. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes.
For the mousse, combine white chocolate, 3/4 cup whipping cream and sour cream in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over low heat just until chocolate is melted and smooth. Transfer white chocolate mixture to large bowl; cool to barely lukewarm, whisking occasionally, about 20 minutes. Mix in candies. Beat remaining 1 cup cream in medium bowl to soft peaks. Fold cream into barely lukewarm white chocolate mixture in 4 additions. Chill mousse until beginning to set, about 2 hours.
Place 1 cake layer on 8-inch cardboard round. Spread half of mousse over top of cake. Top with second cake layer, remaining mousse and third cake layer. Chill assembled cake until mousse is cold and set, about 3 hours.
For the ganache, bring cream to simmer in heavy large saucepan. Remove from heat. Add bittersweet chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Cool ganache until thick but still pourable, about 45 minutes. Place cake on rack set over baking sheet. Pour ganache over cake, spreading with metal spatula to cover sides evenly. Chill cake until ganache sets, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day.