Friday, December 21, 2012

Peppermint Frosted Brownies

Closeup of Peppermint Frosted Brownies
These Might Help

Recipe by Robin

The joy of the holiday season and the pain of loss are not comfortable companions. And yet, we as individuals have little control over the timing of events. Sometimes loved ones pass away during the holiday season, and sometimes larger groups are decimated by war or other tragedies. Such losses during this time can cause extreme pain in survivors and trigger a host of mixed emotions, almost none of which feel good. And yet, although we have no control over others’ lives, we do have control of our own actions and emotions, no matter how difficult it can seem to start to heal. It helps to remain open to all types of nurturing. Walking in nature, talking with friends, playing music, or performing routine tasks that we enjoy can help. And there’s also chocolate.

Greg Sulger on Mt. Hsmilton with Half Dome
Greg on Mt. Hamilton with Sierras in Background
We lost my friend Greg in an accident last week. In choosing what to bring to his “Celebration of Life,” I wanted something simple, uplifting, and fun, like Greg. Following my own advice on self-nurturing, I engaged in my enjoyable routine of making brownies. I also considered that brownie ingredients would uplift participants. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine and other mood-lifting chemicals. Peppermint oil has many therapeutic uses, including clearing the mind and settling the stomach. It’s also a Christmas season icon, and candy canes add a cheery-looking element to the topping.

Brownies are also very forgiving. They’re almost impossible to ruin, even if we’re stressed or hurried and cut some steps short. Burnt edges can be cut off. Like life, brownies can be messy and imperfect, and still be gratifying in the end. Adding the frosting and crushed candy canes will literally cover up any imperfections. I actually made several mistakes in trying to follow my own recipe.  No matter. The chocolate frosting adds moisture, and the peppermint oil and candies give those who nosh a brighter focus. Note that peppermint oil is also called peppermint extract (as long as the label says alcohol-free). Be sure to use a culinary grade oil, not an oil designed for fragrance diffusing.

Rubber Mallet Smashing Candy Canes
Don't Smash Too Much
Peppermint frosted brownies work well for regular holiday events, and I made this recipe for our monthly game night last weekend as well. They’re cheery and seasonal for the solstice or Christmas Eve, and are a zingy treat for January and February holidays. They’re a fun and easy recipe to make with kids.

If you’re making them for a memorial, though, take a tip from “Like Water for Chocolate.” You’ll recall that in the book a single tear that fell into the cake batter brought great sadness to all who ate it. Although this is just a fable, I believe that making the brownies with love and appreciation rather than with sad resignation will bring the most joy to brownie consumers. And joy is helpful at an occasion that is intended to heal and complete a cycle.

I know I’m out on a limb of personal beliefs here and on thin ice in terms of being able to back myself up scientifically. We all heal in our own ways, and writing is a part of my process. Thank you for sharing it. Do try these brownies out for any occasion where a peppermint lift seems in order, especially during winter months.

Closeup of Brownies on plate
Festively Seasonal
Peppermint Frosted Brownies
makes 20 – 40, depending upon size

½ cup butter
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup flour
Frosting and Topping:
6 peppermint candy canes
½  cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup dark chocolate chips
1 tbsp. (salted) butter
¼ tsp. peppermint oil (extract)

Make brownies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 9” x 13” baking pan. If using stoneware pan, spray with cooking spray rather than buttering.

Put chocolate in microwavable bowl and heat for three 30-second intervals, stirring a bit in between. Add butter and microwave at 10-second intervals, stirring in between. When butter melts, keep stirring till chocolate melts. Cool mixture to room temperature (don’t rush this step).

Beat eggs until light and foamy with wire whisk or fork. Beat in salt and vanilla.

When chocolate mixture is cool, beat in eggs with wire whisk or electric mixer until well mixed and light. Beat in sugar about ½ cup or less at a time.

Sift in flour. With wooden spoon or spoonula, mix only until flour is just incorporated.

Pour batter into buttered or sprayed pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 – 35 minutes. When done, toothpick inserted will be clean or have a few fudgy crumbs clinging to it.

Cool bars completely before frosting. (Don’t rush this step.)

Frosting in the Works
It's (Almost) All About the Chocolate
Make Frosting and Topping:

Put candy canes in heavy ziplock bag and crush lightly with rubber mallet. The idea is to keep some of the pieces large enough so red and white stripes can still be seen. Set aside.

Combine semisweet and dark chocolate chips (or use all of one kind) in small microwavable bowl. Microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until chocolate is half-melted (this will be about 3 times, but exact amount depends on your microwave). Meanwhile, cut butter into small pieces.

Add butter to chocolate and stir until as melted as possible. Continue microwaving chocolate and butter at 10 second intervals, stirring for about 1 minute in between. At first, chocolate will seem thick when butter is added. Continue microwaving and stirring until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and warm. Don’t overheat, as this will cause chocolate to “seize,” or become hard, grainy, and unusable for frosting.

When chocolate is smooth and warm, stir in peppermint oil thoroughly. Frost brownies immediately with warm chocolate, using a rubber spatula.

Top immediately with crushed candy canes, distributing both large chunks and fine candy dust evenly over the top. Press down lightly into frosting with fingertips. Allow to cool and set up completely. A cool room will help with this.

Cut the brownies up and put them on serving platter. I make 3 lengthwise cuts and 4 crosswise cuts, which makes 20 large brownies. Use a large, sharp knife to make the initial cut; you’ll have to break/saw gently through the peppermint “crust” on the surface. Then use a metal spatula to separate the brownies and lift them out. Cut each brownie in half, if desired, or if you’re going to potluck or other group event.

Large Plate of Brownies
For All Winter Occasions


  1. Robin, I'm sorry to hear of your loss. May the brownies and the cheer of the season bring you peace.

  2. Thanks, Jodi. Happy holidays to you and yours.

  3. mmm, beautiful brownies! sorry to hear of your loss and great idea to bring a little cheer

  4. What a moving post. I love how you wove the two themes together, and I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. Peace to you!

  5. Moving post, indeed. I'm a Water for Chocolate fan and believer, too.

  6. Thanks, fellow SC bloggers. Much appreciated.

  7. Love you Robin! thank you so much for your beautiful offerings, food and otherwise, and for sharing the deeper parts of life with us. This is beautiful, I am sharing this post! helpful to all of us, brightest blessings, Love Lisa

  8. Hello dear Robin,
    I am going to make these today. I'm celebrating in a differway way this year, and I want to taste something that reminds me of family Christmas.
    I so enjoyed eating these at the Thomas's.
    Have a most Merry Christmas, my love to you all!
    see you next time!
    x0x0x0 love, Sis/ Lisa H.