Two great tastes that taste great together. They are a natural pair. The chocolate for the sweetness, the mint for that cool, refreshing sensation. I’m not sure who first paired the two together, but they deserve a reward. Chocolate was originally served as a drink which was often very bitter (this was before it was made with sugar), so it’s safe to assume that to spice up their hot chocolate, some folks added in peppermint leaves or oil to give it a little some-some. That’s probably where it all started. When chocolate evolved into candy form that we know today, the marriage of mint and chocolate evolved along with it. In the early 20th century, tea houses and dinner halls served mint sprigs and dark chocolates after desserts for patrons to ‘chew for good breath and aid digestion’. From there, thin mints started appearing at local chocolatiers (dark chocolate covered mint) and rose quickly in popularity. Those were always one of my grandmother’s favorites. Mine too.
Perhaps the most famous chocolate mint candy is the Andes Candies which first showed up in 1921. The little rectangles had (have) two layers of chocolate with a layer of green mint in the middle, all wrapped nicely in a shiny green wrapper. We used to give these out at the first restaurant I worked out when we presented the check. As you casually dropped the check on the table, you would hold out the tray to every guest which presented Andes candies, matches and cigars as a small gesture of thanks. Nice touch. It eventually changed to being just a tray of Andes candies because I’m sure the cigars and matches were not inline with current smoking trends (not to mention expensive). I ate a lot of Andes candies in those days. They were just there in a giant box at the waiter station and you could grab one for a quick burst of chocolate energy and some fresh breath. It was the perfect mid-shift snack. Andes candies were actually first made by a guy named Andy. They changed the spelling from Andy’s candies to Andes (like the mountain range) because men did not like giving their ladies chocolate with another man’s name on it. Men can be very insecure.
After Eight chocolate candies are another popular variety of mint chocolate. Those came to be in 1962 and are billed as a highfalutin relative of the thin mint. They are super thin which gives them a slightly different texture and taste as the mint part melds more congruently with the chocolate. They are named After Eight because they are sophisticated – not something you would partake in during the day. No, these mints are intended for nighttime when adults are out enjoying the spoils of life. Lola’s Mom was a fan of these and always bought a box of them for the holidays that she would bust out after dinner. It was a sweet little treat to share with friends and something she would savor. I try to buy a box for our house every holiday, although they have been increasingly harder to find. But when I do find them, Lola always notices and appreciates it.
1951 was a big year for chocolate mint as that was the year the Girl Scouts first introduced the Thin Mint cookie, the crispy chocolate covered mint biscuit. This is the most popular Girl Scout Cookie accounting for 25% of all Girl Scout cookie sales. That surprised me. I would have thought that the Samoa was the top-seller, but nope, the mint takes the title every year. That does give you insight about how popular the taste of chocolate and mint together can be. Top selling. Those Do-Si-Dos have to start pulling their weight.
I was looking at some recipes for what I could make for chocolate mint day. When I celebrated the Peppermint Patty (another fine chocolate mint combination), I had found a recipe for a homemade patty that I wasn’t able to make on Peppermint Patty Day (I was in New York). That was in the back of my mind as a possibility. Then I saw a recipe for Chocolate Mint Fudge and that seemed more like me. It had been a while since I made fudge and experimenting with some flavors might be an added twist. I read through a few recipes and got the essence of the process. The recipes were pretty much made the same way I make my usual fudge, they just change up how you flavor it in the end. I felt I could easily adapt this to my own recipe (well, the Fluff recipe). I went out and got the supplies I needed. At the store, I had a little bit of a conundrum. I needed to buy mint extract to make the mint fudge, but the store carried peppermint extract and just mint extract. This confused me and I wasn’t sure what would be best. I went with the straight mint extract.
When I got home, Lola was on a walk so I had the kitchen to myself so I started making the fudge. Like all fudge, I started with the base which is essentially butter, evaporated milk, sugar and Fluff. You combine all that and bring it to a boil stirring constantly (and carefully – this stuff burns like a mofo if you get it on your skin). After boiling for five minutes, you remove from heat and add in your flavoring. For chocolate fudge, it’s usually a teaspoon of vanilla and two bags of chocolate chips. My idea for the chocolate mint fudge would be to split the base into two pans and add mint flavoring to one and chocolate to the other. I poured out half the super-hot fudge base into another pan (I just eyeballed it). To that pan I added a half teaspoon of the mint extract and one bag of white chocolate chips. I also added a few drops of green food coloring just to get a nice green hue. I stirred that up until everything was all melted together and combined. In the other pot, I used a half teaspoon of vanilla and one bag of semisweet chocolate chips. I stirred that up too. I then scooped out the mint fudge into a lined baking dish. When that was all scooped in, I poured the chocolate mixture out over the top of that so all the fudge was now in one pan. I then cut a knife through the mixture hoping that would create a swirly effect and combine the two. I then put it aside to chill. It smelled nice and minty.
I actually made this on Saturday night because I knew that it would take some time to harden before Sunday (National Chocolate Mint Day). On Sunday morning, I took the fudge out of the pan (it comes out in one big brick) and cut it up into pieces. I even gave it a little try. It was good – a nice smooth, soft texture. The mint flavor was strong. In retrospect, I think that maybe I should have gone with peppermint extract because it tasted a bit more spearmint-like than I had intended. I think the peppermint would have been the better mint flavor. I think too that dark chocolate would have been better as well because the sweetness of the semisweet chocolate was kind of lost in the mixture. It was still good, and maybe I was being overcritical. I cut it all up and put it into little containers. We were heading out to a lunch to celebrate some Mellow sister birthdays, so I brought a little container for everyone so they could celebrate Chocolate Mint Day too.
It was a freak warm day in February and the 60 degree temperature had everyone turning up in downtown Newport. It took us about 15 minutes to find a parking spot. After we found one, we went and had a great lunch at Plumby’s which is the burger bar on the top floor of the Brick Alley Pub in Newport. It was our first time here and it was outstanding. Cheers to the folks at the BAP for all the do. We were lucky to know some people on the inside (thanks Tina and Mike) so they had a table all ready for us. It was a great little afternoon where we got to celebrate some birthdays. I also got to hold our nephew Calix who is a smily little guy that fills your heart and I also got to talk about rhinoceroses with our niece Savannah who can be a silly little girl. I gave Savvy a piece of fudge to test and she liked it. She methodically ate away at the mint part until she had only chocolate left. Then she nibbled away at that. She was a fan. I then gave everyone their little tub of fudge. Early reports said that it was a success (Tara and Mike, two noted fudge enthusiasts) gave it the thumbs up, so maybe it is better than I think. I don’t think Lola has tried it yet. She gives me the straight truth, so I will wait to hear her opinion. You know this is a crazy quest when I have a whole tray of fresh fudge in the house and Lola doesn’t even know it’s there.
All in all, a pretty fine way to celebrate National Chocolate Mint Day. I’ve been a fan of chocolate mint since I was young. My grandmother would get a box of thin mints as a Christmas present every year (she was easy to buy for) and I remember waiting for her to open the box so I could get one. Something about that combination. It’s just meant to be. I also learned a new recipe for fudge today. I like being able to explore with new flavors. When I open Dan’s Fudge Packing Emporium, it will be nice to offer more than one flavor. I think I still have some more testing to do, but it’s always fun to test. And I can always find people willing to give it a try. That’s another good thing about chocolate mint – it brings us together whether it’s indulging in fudge after a great lunch as a digestive or by supporting our local Girl Scouts by stocking your cabinets full of Thin Mint cookies. That’s a powerful and delicious combo, and well worth our celebration.
(Some source info from Foodimentary.com)
Next Up: National Cherry Pie Day