Nearly everyone loves chocolate, either straight up or with any one of chocolate’s go-together flavorings, including nuts, caramel, coffee, sweet fruits and spices.
When the winter holidays roll around, there’s one additional chocolate “partner” that makes its debut. This one is an herb, and that would be mint.
Ironically, in the season of family get-togethers and gift giving, mint has long been the symbol of hospitality. Greeks used to rub mint on dinner tables before guests arrived, and mint tea is still offered to guests as they are welcomed into homes in the Middle East. In America, you’ll often find complimentary mints offered in restaurants and in homes.
There are over 30 varieties of mint, but the 2 most common used in the culinary world are peppermint and spearmint.
Now, while mint can be enjoyed strictly on its own, the refreshingly cool, mentholated nature of both peppermint and spearmint is a particularly wonderful counterpoint for chocolate, whether white, milk or semi-sweet.
For many, the first experience of chocolate and mint together may have been at the movie theater eating Junior Mints. Another pairing of chocolate and mint is the ever-popular Grasshopper drink and/or pie, both using Crème de Menthe and Crème de Cacao liquors.
If you’ve never made or tasted a slice of Grasshopper Pie, it’s a good place to begin to explore the magic these two ingredients make when paired together. In this case, the chocolate part of the recipe is in two forms, the crust and the Crème de Cacao. The mint flavor comes solely from the Crème de Menthe.
Traditional Grasshopper Pie: Makes 1 – 9” Pie:
1 ½ Cups Chocolate Cookie Crumbs (I prefer “Famous” brand.)
6 TBSP Butter, Melted
3 Cups Miniature Marshmallows
½ Cup Milk
¼ Cup Creme de Menthe Liqueur
1 ½ Cups Heavy Whipping Cream, Whipped
¼ Cup Creme de Cacao
3 Drops Green Food Coloring
As Desired Semi-Sweet Morsels or Shavings for Decoration
1. Mix together the chocolate wafer crumbs and 6 tablespoons melted butter, and then press the resulting “wet sand-like mixture” into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate.
2. Bake this chocolate pie shell at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes to set, and then remove it from the oven and let it cool completely.
3. In a medium-size mixing bowl, melt the marshmallows with the milk over low heat.
4. Remove the melted mixture, and allow it to chill at room temperature while stirring occasionally until mixture begins to set.
5. Stir the Crème de Cacao and Crème de Menthe into the marshmallow mixture.
6. Fold in whipped cream, and tint with green food coloring. Pour into pie crust, and sprinkle with semi-sweet chocolate morsels (chips) or shaved chocolate from a chocolate bar.
7. Chill approximately 4 hours before serving.
On the more “chocolate side,” another holiday-oriented chocolate dessert is my Chocolate Pots de Crème, which is a chocolate custard accented with crushed peppermint candy cane.
Chocolate Candy Cane (Pots du Creme): Serves 8:
Pots du Creme translates from French to “Pot of Cream,” which is a baked custard, of any flavor, usually baked in a small earthenware crock or ramekin. My holiday Pots du Creme is chocolate with the mint from peppermint candy cane. It’s easy and delicious, and it makes approximately 8 half-cup pots.
1 Quart Heavy Cream
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
8 Egg Yolks
½ Cup Granulated Sugar
¼ Cup Crushed Candy Cane (mint flavored)
¾ Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 Cup Sweetened Whipped Cream
½ Cup Crushed Candy Cane
Pre-heat oven to 300 F.
1. Set all of your small pots (ramekins) on a sheet pan with a lid or in a shallow casserole dish.
2. Heat the cream with the crushed candy canes until scalded (stop before it simmers).
3. Add chopped chocolate to hot cream mixture and stir until melted.
4. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick.
5. Ladle cream mixture into egg mixture gradually, whisking constantly to prevent eggs from cooking.
6. Pour chocolate mixture through a fine strainer into a bowl to ensure it is smooth.
7. Carefully ladle or pour chocolate cream mixture into each ramekin, leaving about ½-inch space.
8. Fill the casserole dish with enough water to cover the bottom half of the ramekins. This will allow the Pots du Creme to cook slowly and evenly.
9. Cover the entire pan with foil, and carefully place in oven.
10. Bake for approximately 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
11. To check for doneness, open a corner of the foil and gently shake the pan. If the custard ripples when shaken, it is not ready. The custard should be done when the top surface moves like Jell-O that has set.
12. Once fully cooked, remove the Pots from the oven and from the casserole dish. Place them on a separate tray and cover the surface with plastic film.
13. Once the Pots are fully chilled, top each portion with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a decorative sprinkling of crushed candy cane. You may instead use a tiny candy cane if you find a size suitable for individual portions.
And last, what winter holiday is complete without a cup of steaming hot cocoa?
I like my hot cocoa (hot chocolate) on the thick and creamy side. It almost sticks to your lips! And in keeping with my mint parings theme, all you have to do is add Crème de Menthe and a dollop of whipped cream to each mug, and top with crushed candy cane.
Pete’s Rich & Creamy Hot Chocolate
Recipe Base with Variations
2 Cups Milk (or half & half)
6 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate (morsels or grated)
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
2 tsp Cornstarch
1/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
1. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the milk (or half & half) and the cornstarch. Stir to dissolve and set aside.
2. In a sauce pan, over medium heat, combine remaining milk (or half & half) and chocolate, sugar and vanilla. Stir until mixture comes to a simmer.
3. Re-stir milk and cornstarch mixture together, and add to simmering hot chocolate while whisking. Return to a simmer.
4. Add any flavorings desired (see below).
• Liquors (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup per recipe): Bailey’s Irish Crème, Crème de Menthe, Crème de Cocoa, Grand Marnier, Kirsh, Framboise, Frangelico, Kahlua or Amaretto.
• Espresso (about one shot or 2 ounces per recipe)