I know, I know, it’s January — enough with the Christmas desserts already. I realize that most of us are focused on resolutions, healthy eating, and actually making it to the gym now and then. But this peppermint cake was tooooo delicious to not be featured, regardless of the current month.
At family gatherings I am typically assigned dessert duty. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. While I did spend most of the holiday break up to my elbows in sugar cookies, I managed to find some time to whip out this gorgeous specimen of chocolate-peppermint decadence. I’d had my heart set on that flavor combination for quite some time, but it took a while for the idea to actually take shape. Initially I’d concocted a crazy plan to bake a Peppermint Patty into a brownie a la Bake it in a Cake. But then I felt like that was something a stoned college student might make in a toaster oven at 2am. Not exactly what I planned to serve on my Mom’s elegant Christmas table. So after much brainstorming, cookbook perusing, and web surfing, I settled on a simple, dense chocolate cake with a rich peppermint-infused chocolate glaze, topped with fresh whipped cream and a fancy candy garnish. It was kind of a Franken-recipe because I pieced together several different elements from various sources. It’s actually a great dessert to serve at a dinner party because much of it can be made in advance. However, that tip is only helpful if you actually do any of the work ahead of time…which I didn’t. So a great deal of my Christmas day was spent baking, glazing, and melting peppermints. Merry Christmas to me, although honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The peppermint candy garnish was, dare I say it? — ingenious. Alas, it was not my genius, it was Martha’s. I jacked the idea from her recipe for some fancy chocolate pudding cake that I contemplated making but lacked the appropriately sized spring form pan to fully execute. But I couldn’t get the melted candy disc concept out of my head as surely as if Leonardo DiCaprio had planted it there himself, Inception-style. How fitting that I took this photo in front of what I have always referred to as the ‘candy cane couch’ because of the material’s strong resemblance to the minty seasonal treat?
So, it turns out that if you heat basic, plain old peppermint candies in the oven at 250 degrees for about 5 minutes (I believe I got it down to an exact science which was 3 minutes, rotate, then another 1 and a half minutes) they melt into perfectly flat discs. Once cooled, they resemble smooth delicate porcelain…that you can eat. I probably made about 50 of them to get 10 perfect wafers, but it was worth it because they’re uniquely beautiful and surprisingly easy to make. I love simple things that look a lot more intricate than they actually are. It’s the equivalent to dusting your face with flour so you appear to have raged a battle with your oven.
Glazes are the best because they require absolutely no skill. If you can pour something out of a bowl, you can glaze a cake. The glaze was actually the only element of the cake that had any mintyness to it thanks to the addition of peppermint extract. As with most extracts, a little goes a long way. A heavenly peppermint aroma wafted from the warm chocolate the instant I added just a teaspoon of extract.
The glaze cascades out of the bowl in thick ribbons until an intoxicating pool of chocolate forms on top. Then gravity takes over and does all of the work for you. With a little help from a trusty off-set spatula, I had a smoothly glazed cake in no time at all. Dessert is pretty much ready to hit the plate at this point — ideally you should let the glaze set so that it’s easier to slice the cake. But I have trouble waiting to eat chocolate, so as soon as the chilled heavy cream whipped itself into fluffy mounds, I served a slice of cake to each of my family members. After their initial shock and awe over the deceptively simple, yet magnificently elegant peppermint candy garnish, a hush descended upon us as the first bites of cake were taken. Judging by the length of this chocolate-induced silence and the innumerable ‘mmms’ I heard circulating the table, I’d say it was a success. And what’s a girl to do with three dozen leftover peppermint wafers? Why use them the next morning to top steaming mugs of homemade hot chocolate of course!