Timing is everything, right?
On the day when a colleague showered my cubicle with a few boxes of my personal dietary Kryptonite -- Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookies -- a cookbook landed in my mail box.
Wouldn't you know it? "The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook," by Savannah, Ga., bakers Cheryl Day and Griffith Day, contains a recipe for a soft, buttery and deeply chocolately homage to my beloved Thin Mints. "Just like the Girl Scouts bake," promised the recipe.
We'll see about that. The recipe was a little putzy (in the annals of cookie-baking jargon, that's one of my favorite words) but worth the effort. I enjoyed them; well, a version of them, anyway (see below). The critical reception among my cookie-loving co-workers fell almost uniformly along the lines of, "Better than Thin Mints." I don't know if I'd go that far -- sacrilege! -- but the recipe is definitely a keeper.
As is the book. It's beautifully photographed (the images of the retro-decorated bakery alone make me want to schedule a flight to the Georgia coast) and appropropriately conversational, and it's chock full of recipes I'm dying to try: Ham and cheese pastry puffs, buttermilk-cornmeal pancakes, plum tartlets, bacon-jam empanadas and rosemary-pecorino crackers.
But first, chocolate. The recipe calls for Dutch process cocoa, a darker, more fragrant product than its unsweetened counterpart. Dutch process cocoa has been altered with alkali, which assists in neutralizing cocoa's natural acidity. It's not widely available, but most major supermarkets stock at least one brand; I found the Van Cortlandt label at Lunds.
I tweaked the recipe in a few places. After tasting them with the chocolate coating and without (pictured, above), I preferred the latter; the former, while closer in spirit to the Thin Mint model, becomes the very definition of overkill. The chocolate coating was also taking forever to set, so I transferred the coated cookies to the refrigerator, where they set more evenly. That also reminded me: Aren't Thin Mints better when swiped from the freezer?
Also, when preparing the filling, the recipe called for four cups of powdered sugar. But when I was making it, the mixture became almost too thick to spread after adding just three cups, so the recipe below reflects that; even at three cups, I added a teaspoon of cream to get the filling to a more spreadable consistency. I skipped the green food coloring.
It's important to roll the dough as thin as possible. Once refrigerated, the dough holds its shape and cuts easily and cleanly.
The recipe calls for a 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter, but I went smaller, 1-1/2 inches; because this is an extremely rich cookie, less is definitely more. Even at that reduced size, I could barely finish one without hitting the butter-sugar wall.
Well, emphasis on the word barely.
CHOCOLATE MINT COOKIES
Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.
Note: "I was always the queen of sales during during Girl Scout cookie season," writes co-author Cheryl Day in “The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook" (Artisan, $24.95). "My dad would take me to the back lot of Desilu Studios, where he worked, and I would go to town writing up orders. As it is for so many other people, my favorite Girl Scout cookie is the Thin Mint. Here's a grown-up version."
2 3/4 c. flour
1 1/4 c. Dutch process cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 c. powdered sugar
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
For cream filling:
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. peppermint extract
3 c. powdered sugar
1 or 2 drops green food coloring, optional
For chocolate coating:
1 3/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
To prepare cookies: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt and reserve. In bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together butter, vanilla extract, powdered sugar and dark brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined. Add flour mixture in thirds, beating until just combined and scraping down sides and bottom of bowl as necessary. Divide dough in half and place one half on each prepared cookie sheet. Place a piece of plastic wrap or another sheet of parchment paper on top of each one. Use a rolling pin to roll out dough to ¼-inch thickness. Wrap baking sheets in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to bake, position a rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove one sheet of dough at a time from refrigerator and transfer cookie dough and parchment paper to kitchen counter. Cut out cookies with a 2- to 3-inch round cookie cutter. Line baking sheet with fresh parchment paper and place cutout cookies, about 1 inch apart, on prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate cutout cookies for at least 15 minutes, while you cut out second sheet of cookies. Re-roll scraps of dough, re-refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and cut dough.
Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until firm to the touch and the smell of chocolate has begun to fill the kitchen, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare cream filling: In bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together butter and peppermint extract until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, mixing until light and fluffy (if desired, add a drop or two of green food coloring, mixing until the mixture looks minty). Place a dollop of filling (about 1 tablespoon) on bottom of one cookie and place another cookie, right side up, on top. Repeat with remaining cookies.
To coat cookies: Using a double boiler over gently simmering water, combine chocolate chips and butter and stir frequently until they have completely melted. Remove bowl from heat. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Using two forks, quickly dip each cookie into warm chocolate-butter mixture, turning to coat, then gently place the cookie on the wire rack (if chocolate begins to harden, return it to double boiler over simmering water and stir until it melts again). Let cookies stand until set, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.