To get the most deeply flavored bars, you do need to use excellent extra-bittersweet chocolate that’s at least 60 percent cocoa solids (and preferably closer to 70 percent). The extra cocoa solids mitigate the chocolate’s sweetness, which offsets the sugar overload from the peppermint cream. Each mouthful is delightfully balanced. And because these bars are less cloying than commercial peppermint patties, I can eat more of them before my teeth start to ache — an added bonus.
Another ingredient tip: Take care to use a natural peppermint extract here. Anything artificial tastes vaguely of chemicals. And although purists may be tempted to experiment with infusing fresh mint leaves into the cream, I’ve found the flavor to be herbal rather than cooling, without that familiar, icy sharpness of high-quality peppermint extract.
Like regular peppermint patties, these bars keep well, so you can bake them up to a week ahead. They also freeze perfectly, and are in fact just as good eaten while still frozen. It is a nice change of pace should you be the kind of person who keeps a stash of mini peppermint patties in the freezer, say, hidden behind the suet.
Not that I can relate to that kind of behavior one bit.
Chocolate Peppermint Bars
Yield: 36 squares
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus chilling
1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
1/2 cup/100g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons/15g unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons/113g unsalted butter (1 stick)
3 1/4 cups/405g confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons/43g unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup/60 milliliters heavy cream
2 1/4 teaspoons/10 milliliters peppermint extract, or to taste
9 ounces/255g bittersweet chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa solids), chopped
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil (optional)
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of paper to hang over the sides.
2. Make the shortbread: In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add butter and process until a smooth dough forms. Press dough evenly into the bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake until firm to the touch, and sides of the crust are beginning to pull away from the pan, about 25 minutes. Cool completely.
3. Make the filling: In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine confectioners’ sugar, butter, cream and peppermint extract. Beat until mixture forms a thick, smooth paste. Press filling evenly over shortbread. Chill to set the filling for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
4. Use parchment paper overhang to lift the shortbread and peppermint out of the baking pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares (there should be 36 squares). Place squares on a rack placed over a parchment-lined sheet tray, and let them come to room temperature for about 15 minutes.
5. In the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt 7 ounces chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat, add remaining 2 ounces chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes.
6. Add coconut oil, if using, and stir the chocolate until smooth. Spoon 1 teaspoon chocolate on top of a cut peppermint square, using the back of the spoon to spread chocolate to the edges. Be sure to fully cover the top of the square with chocolate. (Leave the sides exposed, though it’s OK if some of the chocolate drips down.) Repeat with remaining squares.
7. Let squares sit at room temperature until chocolate is set, at least 1 hour.