Ingredient SpotLight

Despite taking center stage in the form of a candy cane, peppermint is a great seasoning year round. However, there is something truly special about the holiday season and how peppermint comes into its own. Therefore, we are giving it a spotlight this month.

There are about 30 species of mint and some say almost 500 varieties, including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, orange mint, Spanish mint, pineapple mint, ginger mint, mackerel mint, lamb mint, horsemint, lemon mint, pennyroyal, water mint, chocolate mint, etc. It's one of the most popular seasonings the world over.

In ancient times, the Romans and Greeks appreciated mint’s refreshing scent and used it to flavor cordials, condiments and fruit compotes. They also used it in baths and bedchambers for its clean, invigorating perfume.

However, the common garden mint is spearmint, not peppermint as most people assume. Peppermint is harder to come by and does lend itself to sweet dishes. In that spirit, here are three of my favorites:

Peppermint Meringues

  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 peppermint candies, crushed

Arrange oven racks to divide oven into thirds. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with foil or silicone mats.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar until peaks appear. Gradually add sugar and beat at medium speed for 5 to 6 minutes. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Sprinkle with crushed candy.

Bake 1 1/2 hours. Meringues should look dry and white. Turn off oven. Keep door ajar and let meringues cool. Loosen from foil with metal spatula. Store loosely covered in a dry place.

  • Yields: 48 meringues
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours

Easy Butter Mints

  • 1/2 c. butter or margarine
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. sweetened condensed milk
  • 7 c. confectioners' sugar; sifted
  • Desired colors
  • Oil of peppermint
  • Mint mold
  • Granulated sugar for dipping candies

Cream butter and salt together until well blended. Add milk. Add confectioners' sugar. Remove from bowl and knead until mixture is well blended. Add flavor and color.

TO MOLD: Shape a marble-sized piece into a ball, press into granulated sugar, taking care NOT to coat back. Press firmly into a flexible mint mold. Immediately unmold. You can unmold these directly onto a pretty serving dish or tray and, not being coated on the bottom, they will remain in place. If mixture sticks to the mold, add slightly more confectioners' sugar. Let set uncovered, for a few hours, for desired firmness. Wrap tray in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

  • Yields: About 200 mints
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Peppermint Bark

  • 1 pkg. white chocolate -- any brand of instant chocolate candy will work
  • 10 med. or 20 sm. candy canes or peppermint sticks
  • Green or red food coloring -- optional
  • Wax paper

In a sauce pan, melt the white chocolate over LOW heat. You may also follow the microwave instructions on the package for melting the chocolate. While melting, crush the candy canes. I leave them in their plastic wraps and crush with a hammer. Empty crushed candy in a small bowl. After the chocolate melts, add red or green food coloring (a few drops will do). The food coloring is optional. Add crushed candy canes and stir will. Empty the contents of the saucepan onto wax paper which has been set on the counter top. With a large spoon, spread the mixture so that is very thin. Leave to cool at room temperature (less than 1 hour). When cool, break into pieces. The candy is now ready to serve. Everybody loves this candy!

  • Yields: 1 lb. candy
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes