Sunday, April 3, 2011

Girl Scout Thin Mints, Take 1

There is one dessert flavor combination that ranks above all else: chocolate and mint. There's something about sharp mint flavor cutting through rich chocolate that hits just the right spot.

Chocolate minty goodness has held a special place in my heart for a long time. My favorite candy for a long time was York peppermint patties. When I went to the UK for a trip in '09, I brought back a ton of after-dinner mints because I thought they were the coolest thing ever. In college, I became renowned for my chocolate peppermint cake (a recipe I am sure will turn up on this blog in the future).

Of course, there is one product out there that strikes the perfect balance of flavor and texture. I am talking, of course, of the Girl Scout Thin Mints. They are the quintessential cookie for diehard chocolate-mint aficionados. Whenever the Scouts have their annual sale of cookies, boxes of thin mints are quickly seized by crazed fans of the delights, hoarding as many as they can until the next sale begins.

Seeking to avoid such…well, insanity, I decided to try my hand at making my own Girl Scout Thin Mints. It's a recipe that sat in my list of links for a long time, but it took a while to get my act together to actually make them. What finally did it?

Frankly, the opportunity to mock a friend of mine. One of my friends and followers on Twitter, @KatieHall, loves to talk about how many boxes of Girl Scout cookies she has in her house. Not one to let an chance to tease a friend slide, I told her that I would be making thin mints of my own to have any time I wanted. I vaguely recall describing how I'd be laughing at her as I devoured my own creations. Her response was…unimpressed to say the least. Undeterred, I started on my thin mints. Unfortunately, I made a number of mistakes in the process.

Mistakes number one and two involved creaming the butter and sugar. If you recall from my previous post, I try to avoid recipes that call for creaming because I lack a mixer I can use for dairy ingredients. But a thought occurred to me: Why not use the 2-cup capacity food processor I own? Since my recipe calls for 1/2 cup of butter and 1 cup of sugar, it should totally work, right?

No. It did not. A small food processor really doesn't want to throw sugar into butter at a high speed. What it does want to do is smoosh (yes, that is a technical term) the butter into a clump that may has a dusting of sugar on it, but leave the rest of the sugar lying on the bottom of the bowl. Not helping matters was the other mistake: the butter was way too soft. I had pulled it out of the fridge a good four hours before starting to process it. This meant that instead of a slightly softened stick, I had nearly melted mush. In an attempt to "save" the butter/sugar mix, I dumped it into a bowl and stirred it up with a whisk for a bit in an attempt to incorporate the sugar. I then mixed in the milk, vanilla extract, and (most importantly) the peppermint extract.

A word here about milk in general. I am not a big milk drinker. Some of it is because I'm lactose intolerant, so drinking milk is a bit of pain since I have to take a Lactaid caplet with it. The other part, and probably the more important one, is that I just don't like plain milk. The texture and taste are just not that appealing to me. So when I have recipes that call for milk, I try to use soy milk when possible. This helps me avoid buying large quantities of milk that eventually get thrown out when they're not used beyond the immediate recipe.

But this week, I discovered my local Trader Joe's carries shelf-stable milk (like Parmalat) in individual 8 ounce boxes. This was great because I could have some milk on hand and I wouldn't waste milk when cooking, So it was one of these cartons of milk that I ended up using for the recipe. OK, side note over.

Butter, sugar, milk, and extracts combined, I started to stir in the combined dry ingredients. Here's mistake number three: Not learning from the last cookie adventure, I continued to try using a whisk to incorporate the dry and wet ingredients. Predictably, this didn't work so well. I did eventually abandon the whisk in favor of a plastic spoon I found in the kitchen. This helped, but not before I had put a fair amount of strain on my wrist.

After some time, the dough looked really dry and crumbly. I wasn't sure if I should add more liquid, so I tried to test out the dough by attempting to pack the dough into a cohesive mass and see if it would stick. It did, so I chose to press forward anyway. This may be another mistake, but I don't know for sure, so I'm leaving it out of the count. I portioned out the dough, put half onto some plastic wrap, and tried to shape it into a log. This led to mistake number four: trying to roll it into log within the not-well-sealed plastic wrap. In my attempts to roll the dough into the appropriate shape, I managed to push the dough off the counter and onto the floor.

Sighing, I threw it into the garbage and focused on the remainder of the dough. I managed to work it into a rough approximation of a log and tossed into the freezer as directed. A few hours later, I pulled out the dough and began cut the dough into disks to be baked. Mistake number five: I used a serrated knife to do the cutting, and that dough was hard as a rock. I tried sawing at it for a while, but that didn't produce the disks I wanted. My knife kept slipping and small shavings of dough would come off. Eventually, I just pressed down on the top of the knife blade to push it through the dough. DO NOT DO THIS EVER. It is incredibly unsafe, and even if you avoid cutting your hands, it still really hurts.

The end result of all this hacking and slashing were a series of disks that ranged in thickness from 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch. In other words, I was no longer making thin mints. I was making "thin" mints.

Still, it was too late to turn back now. I tossed the disks into the oven on my brand-new baking sheet and anxiously waited to see what would happen. The recipe noted that the cookies would not spread that much, and I'm grateful that note was included. These cookies didn't spread at all, and without that note, it's quite likely I would have started to quietly freak out that I had done something wrong.

Once the cookies were done, I pulled them from the oven and let them cool on my brand-new cooling rack. Yes, I just got a new cooling rack. Yes, it's the first cooling rack I've ever owned. Yes, I should have gotten one a long time ago. Can we move on now?

As the cookies cooled, I tried one. It was a crispy wafer, and I was relieved to note that the texture was right. The chocolate and peppermint were certainly there, but they weren't very strong. I held out hope that maybe the muted flavor was because the cookie was still warm and overpowered the ability to pick up on the flavor. I really, really hoped that's what it was.

An hour later, I began the coating process by melting down some butter and Trader Joe's chocolate chips in a saucepan. Using two forks, I placed each cookie into the saucepan and coated it with chocolate. Then, I lifted the cookie out of the pan and onto a piece of parchment paper to cool. I haven't done chocolate coating often, and when I have, I tend to overcoat. This was no exception. But I like a lot of chocolate, so that wasn't so much a mistake as an….overindulgence.

Once the cookies were all coated, I put a piece of wax paper on top of them and put them in the fridge to hasten the hardening process. 30 minutes later, I was crunching into a homemade "thin" mint cookie.

The end product was certainly tasty. The mint and chocolate were both there and much more in the forefront. I was nervous that the shelf-stable milk would leave a chalky taste in the cookie, but it turned out to be a false concern. I gave some to friends of mine and they all considered it a rousing success with little to no complaints. The most common was the thickness of the cookie, which I readily copped to.

So do I consider the recipe a success? Sort of. It produced a cookie that I and many others enjoyed, so on a basic level: Yes, I was successful. But there's so much more I could do to improve the recipe. I need to find a better way to cut the cookie, for one. I want to increase the peppermint flavor, too. I debated adding some peppermint extract to the chocolate coating, but decided not to in the end. I wanted to try and make the "baseline" cookie before messing around too much with it. Now that I have the baseline, I have ideas about what to do.

Until I improve this recipe, I'm not going to post the recipe in full below. If you want to read the recipe that I used, here's a link to it: Homemade Thin Mints. And if you've got suggestions on how to overcome some of the mistakes I made, leave a comment below. I'm happy to try out new things to improve my process.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is time to get a mixer!