High Country Baking: Chocolate-peppermint yule logs
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
I’m betting Santa gets way more cookies than he wants as he visits homes across America during the night of Christmas Eve. So, when he climbs down our chimney he’ll be welcomed with a shot of single malt scotch and I’ll save my baked goods for friends and family. They’ll receive these tender shortbreads, made luxurious by a glaze of chocolate and a sprinkle of crushed peppermint candies. They’re pretty, festive, and (my favorite part) incredibly easy to make.
High quality chocolate, the kind you’d eat out of hand, and peppermint candies that have passed your taste test (some are so bitter they’re almost medicinal) make these gems worthy of the holidays. So, seek them out before you start.
Chocolate-Peppermint Yule Logs
Makes about 20 two-inch cookies
Recipe can be doubled
1 cup of flour
1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup of butter, at room temperature if making by hand or mixer, cold if making in a food processor
3/4 teaspoon of vanilla
5 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
About 2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil (I use Canola)
1⁄3 cup of peppermint crunch or crushed peppermint candy canes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick aluminum foil. Do NOT grease the pan or the cookies may spread too much.
To make by hand or with a mixer: Using a wooden spoon or an electric mixer on low speed, mix the softened butter, vanilla, and confectioners’ sugar only until the butter is creamy and no sugar is visible. Don’t overbeat or the cookies may spread. Gently stir in the flour. Stop stirring as soon as the flour is almost all absorbed.
To make in a food processor: Put the flour and confectioner’s sugar in the processor bowl and pulse to combine. Cut the cold butter into 16 pieces and add them to the bowl with the vanilla. Pulse until a moist, shaggy dough is formed. Stop before the dough forms a ball on the top of the blade. Dump the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap and gently knead until smooth.
Pull off portions of the dough and roll them into balls about one inch in diameter. In your hands or on a countertop, roll the balls into cylinders that are about one and a half inches in length. Place each cylinder on the lined cookie sheet, spacing them about one inch apart. To assure even baking, make certain all of the cookies are the same width and length.
Place the cookies, on the cookie sheet, in the freezer and freeze them for about 10 minutes. This will help prevent spreading when they are baked. Bake until the cookies are set and the bottoms have colored to a light gold. This took about 15-20 minutes in my oven, but the time may vary depending upon the size of the cookies, the amount of time in the freezer and on your oven. As the cookies bake, they will flatten slightly and may develop little whiskers of dough on their sides.
Place the cookie sheet on a cooling rack. When the cookies have cooled about 5-7 minutes, use a small, sharp knife to gently shave off any whiskers from the sides of the cookies. Carefully remove them from the baking pan and place them directly on the rack to cool completely. Save the pan and the pan liner, you can use them again when you dip the cookies in their glaze.
When the cookies are entirely cool, make the glaze: Chop the chocolate and melt it with the oil on low heat or in a microwave, stirring until smooth. If the combination is too thick to allow easy dipping of the cookies, then stir in a tiny bit more oil. Place the crushed peppermint candy in a small dish.
Brush the crumbs off each cookie and dip the top into the chocolate, covering about half the cookie’s surface. Let any excess glaze drip back into the container; if there is any on the bottom of the cookie, then gently scrape it against the container’s side to remove it. Roll the warm chocolate in the crushed candies or sprinkle them over it and place the cookie on the parchment paper or aluminum foil. Let the chocolate set. To speed up this process, place the cookies, on the cookie sheet, in the refrigerator until the chocolate is firm. These can be stored in a cool place for 5 days or frozen for a month.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.