Christmas Eve in Princeton NJ, just before community carol singing.
What a good time! I once again spent a dreamy Xmas Eve with the BFF Fam in NJ and then hightailed it back to NYC for Maybe one of the Best Xmas Day Feasts Yet. This one deserves special mention because it was the first Mouse House-Hosted one and went swimmingly. I was very happy to be one of three Supporting Player Apartment Kitchens contributing to the We-All-Live-In-The-Same-Building Yellow-Submarine-Style Holiday meal. I would say Honorable Mentions go to Your Husband's intoxicating and fragrant three-days-in-the-making Pernil and to the Mother's wonderfully juicy despite-broken-oven-and-emergency-relocation-while-cooking Turkey.
But since we both agree that maybe we're kind of maxed out on the Full-Meal-Photo-Recap of Big Holiday Meals, I'll stop there and focus in, as you requested, on one particular treat.
No, not that.
(My Xmas Present from the BFF's 3-year old, approved by Mama and requested from shopkeeper as "for my fairy godmother (!!) who is very sparkly". (OMG))
No, not that either.
( But isn't that cool? This was in my tip jar at the "Christmas Eve Eve" gig. A good omen!)
(BFF child in question. Now, imagine a dessert version of this image...)
... you got it!
("Peppermint Cream Squares", courtesy of thekitchn.com, a first-time recipe Chez Boo.)
Yes, Mouse, if I learned anything in 2012 it's that I know an exciting dessert when I read one. If a recipe leaps off the page at me, inspiring curiosity and wonder and demanding special mail-order ingredients, well then Amazon here I come and I probably won't regret it.
Everyone liked these, skeptics and sweet tooths alike. They are a perfect xmas confection: cool with peppermint, festively colored pink and white, rich with shortbread crust and a salty-creamy-sweet cream cheese-powdered sugar-crushed mint filling. It's basically 'The Nutcracker' in a baking pan.
The recipe says that for those who like "a strong mint flavor", peppermint extract may be added to taste, 1/4 tsp at a time. I am happy to say that I resisted this temptation (I'm often a "strong flavor" girl), and followed Ina Garten's advice to always make a recipe strictly to the letter the very first time. Having tasted these I now think that to add more mint would take it from delicious white-christmas treat to something more along the lines of Crest White Strips. Not as tasty.
I used Bob's Sweet Stripes Soft Mint Candies, as the recipe suggests. One bag made two batches of cookies with some mints left over. I did run them through the cuisinart, though I also tested out the hammer method and that's pretty fun. I recommend doing this the day before, or maybe just first to get it out of the way.
I also do have parchment paper on hand for these occasions and this recipe needs it.
You make a shortbread crust which is super easy as it involves no kneading or rolling out, just mushing it into a pan with your hands. I didn't have an 8X8 pan so I just used my 9x13 pyrex and pressed the dough into a square leaving some empty pan space. It worked - the dough held its shape and the filling didn't run over much. You chill 1/2 C of the dough while the rest goes in the oven.
While it's baking, you whisk the filling:
The shortbread comes out when it's half done and cools for 10 min. Then you pour the filling on and spread it around. Some reserved, chilled dough is grated over the top with a cheese grater (or just crumble it, but it looks nice this way.)
Perhaps a new holiday staple, and I thought we had those down. Just goes to show, plus ca change, plus cookie recipes to be discovered. I'm pasting the recipe below and will bring some by later. God Bless Us, Every One!
The Kitchn's "Peppermint Cream Squares"
For the shortbread:
1 C butter, softened (I used kerrygold unsalted and cut it into pieces for faster softening)
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 C all-purpose flour
For the filling:
30 soft mint * candies
1 C powdered sugar, divided
1/4 C cream cheese (i'd let this soften a bit too)
2 tbsp whole milk
Peppermint extract (optional) (but try without)
* must be SOFT not the hard peppermints you're thinking of, or they will wreck your food processor. Think the mints from old-fashioned restaurants that kind of dissolve in your mouth. Or just order Bob's.
Heat oven to 350.
Line 8x8 baking dish w parchment paper so that ends hang over sides (see link above for picture). Coat parchment and exposed parts of pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Make shortbread: beat butter until creamy. Scrape down sides of bowl and add sugar. Beat again til light and fluffy like frosting. On low speed beat in flour and salt until dough comes together/no more flour visible.
Scoop out 1/2 C of the dough and refrigerate in covered container.
Scrape remaining dough into baking dish. Press the dough flat with buttered hands, pushing into corners and smoothing the top. Bake 20-25 min until dough is turning golden at edges. Remove from oven and cool for 10 min.
While dough bakes,make the filling. Put soft mint candies in the food processor and pulse until they have broken down into powder with pieces no larger than rock salt. (again, I recommend doing this ahead). This "will make an enormous racket". (Alternatively, you can put them in a sealed bag and smash with a hammer, which is fun.)
Mix powdered candies with 1/2C of powdered sugar and set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and milk. Add the remaining 1/2 C powdered sugar and 3/4C of powdered candy mixture to the cream cheese. Whisk to form a thick paste. Taste and add extract in increments if you'd like a stronger flavor. (Like I said, don't do this.)
When shortbread is cooled but still warm, pour peppermint cream mixture over it and smooth into corners. Remove reserved shortbread dough from fridge and grate or crumble it over the peppermint cream layer.
Bake for another 10-13 minutes until edges are just starting to bubble. The crumbled dough on top will remain pretty light-colored.
Remove from oven and let bars cool in pan 15 minutes. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of peppermint powder/sugar over the top while bars are still warm.
Let bars cool completely, then lift from the pan (by edges of parchment) and cut into squares.