Last night I was thinking aloud about peppermint brownies. My son had a deep vested interest in the subject, since he knows that if I talk about something like that enough, I'll have to get up and start experimenting, and I do share the wealth in these situations. So if any of the ideas in this column strike you as good, remember to send half your mental thanks to him.
There are already so many wonderful brownie recipes available, from the very simple to the satisfyingly complex. My own three-chocolate concoction is in these very archives, as is a wonderful homemade "mix" that is, I have found, a very important substance to have available at short notice.
I'm already very happy with the brownies I make. I don't need a new recipe just now. What I like sometimes is some way to gussy up my old recipes, and that's what my son and I were bouncing back and forth between us. Specifically, we decided that peppermint brownies were deeply necessary in our lives.
There are, we learned, several ways of bringing these beauties into existence. The first is the most simple: just stir a little peppermint extract into any brownie batter last thing before you put it in to bake.
Much more fun, and just as easy, is to pour the contents of a box of Junior Mints candies into the batter. If your recipe calls for chocolate chips, let these stand in for them.
One thing I love to do, especially in the winter months, is buy a bag of chocolate-covered soft mint candies, such as York Peppermint Patties, and use them in brownies. If you want to try this, spread half your brownie batter into a prepared pan. Lay as many candies as you like on this surface -- I like to cover it pretty thickly -- and then, like a reverse archaeologist, spread the rest of the batter on top of the peppermint candies. Bake as usual. Try to have at least one of these brownies while the batch is still a little warm from the oven.
The most work-intensive way of adding peppermint to brownies is to crush candy canes or other hard peppermint candies. My son loves this job.
Unwrap all the peppermint candy you're going to use. Six standard-sized candy canes (about three ounces of candy, by weight) will give you roughly half a cup of peppermint powder. Put the canes (or candies) into a heavy plastic sealable freezer bag. Seal the bag, then put it into another freezer bag. Seal that as well.
On either a heavy cutting board or the floor, put the bag down and begin hammering. Literally. I haven't found anything other than a hammer that will do the job. This is deeply entertaining and satisfying work; you watch the pieces of candy get smaller and smaller, and hunt mercilessly for pieces big enough to offer a tempting target for your hammer.
When the peppermint candy is utterly defeated, stir it into your brownie batter. Make extra if you want to go all out and frost the rims of cocoa cups.