Thursday, December 24, 2009

Peppermint, Chocolate and the emotional beatdown

Regan, no sweet things?  Oh, that is just so sad!  Well, hold onto your hat, because this post is all about Christmas cookies.  Actually, it is about one type in particular that turned into an adventure and the discovery that the Dutch don't know chocolate.

If you weren't aware before, the Dutch are not big bakers.  As far as I can tell, they aren't really much for the domestic arts: no Dutch Etsy; very few young people taking up knitting, crocheting, or sewing; and very little baking going on in the kitchens.  I scavenged two major cities last year in an effort to find cake flour before I finally just gave up and had friends bring some over in their suitcases.  When I asked about it in stores, I just got blank stares.  I've had the same reaction for other ingredients like baking soda, molasses, corn syrup (no surprise considering the main sweetening source in Europe is the sugar beet), condensed milk, vanilla extract...good God, this list could go on forever!  I will now add to that baker's chocolate.

Just straight up, plain old, nothing special baker's chocolate.  The kind I found in my mom's pantry when I was young, thought I had hit the chocolate jackpot, and after one bite and realized my sorry mistake.  Niek and I spent probably a good four hours hunting it down in Amsterdam and failed!  Because, you know, I just needed to have the 1.5 oz. of baker's chocolate for the chocolate and peppermint crackle cookies, otherwise the recipe would be a disaster!  After whining and crying a little bit I eventually did just give up and buy the chocolate with the highest cocoa content and the lowest amount of sugar.  Incidentally, I found baker's chocolate the next day at the American & British store for about $9, but seeing as I had already dropped a small fortune on the fair trade, organic, grown in small batches by self-sustaining family farmers in South America, bitter, dark chocolate, I was no longer in the mood to pay for the privilege of buying what seemed to be a novelty food item.

The day I searched for ingredients wasn't all that bad.  Here is my look of triumph from the spice store that actually had peppermint extract:

And here are the candy canes I found the next day after I realized the candy canes I bought last week were some sort of cherry flavor instead of the expected peppermint:

Now, Americans, would you or would you not assume these candy canes would be peppermint?  They were also the strange, sweet flavor of the ones I had already purchased.  This would be what I am now going to call a failure of visual culture cues.  It's the false cognate of Christmas candy.  Man, did I make an incorrect assumption about what stripes of red and white will tell you about sweets, or what?  You'd think a country that truly seemed to love peppermint would have hopped on the candy cane band wagon, but nope, you'd be wrong! I used the candy canes anyway, just for the "crackle" effect, but then cut down on the sugar in the recipe.

All this searching high and low was for my favorite cookie, and do you know what?  After all that ground work, all the effort, this is where they ended up:

They were probably the worst cookies I've ever made.  It wasn't because of the candy canes or the lack of unsweetened chocolate.  In the end, it was the peppermint extract.  Taking a bite of one of these was like eating a tube of toothpaste.  I'm not even sure the pepermunt aroma the woman sold to me was actually meant for consumption, even though she assured me it was.  Blech!  Oh, Nederland, why do you make it so hard sometimes?  I think I may have contemplated flying back to America at this point just for the extract.  Locating and also not being able to locate key ingredients took a bit of an emotional toll on me this week.  And yes, I am aware of how overly dramatic that sounds, but it is Christmas, and I do like to bake, so I'm going to allow myself a moment of pity.

Despite my major failure with the crackle cookies, I did manage to back a few winners.  Niek has made me promise to talk about those, too.  So, I will leave you with some images that don't make me want to cry.  In fact, they make me want to eat and then eat some more, and then eat a little more.  Thank you, delicious cookies!  Merry Christmas!

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