Mint Hot Cocoa Penguins
Perhaps I should’ve titled this post ‘December of the Penguins’ instead 😉
Continuing the long-running theme of my odd collection of cookie cutters (turkeys, teeth, and trees) and my short-term theme of holiday cookies, now seems like a great time to feature my festively-shaped, seasonally-flavored penguin cookies!
The cookie recipe is a cozy hot cocoa cookie, which is a GREAT way to use up some of those instant hot cocoa mix packets that you purchased for guests — you know, the ones you bought because you thought your guests loved it, they had one mug during the course of the visit, and now you’re left with 7 envelopes of hot cocoa that you’ll never drink. That hot cocoa.
Critical note: hot cocoa mix is NOT the same as cocoa powder — cocoa powder is literally JUST cocoa powder; hot cocoa mix has sugar and other flavorings in it too. I have included the specs of the hot cocoa packets I used in the recipe below so that you can compare — I’m pretty sure the FDA doesn’t regulate hot cocoa packet contents. The most important aspect of the hot cocoa mix ingredients that you need to consider is the sugar. Sugar is a necessary part of roll-out cookies to help them achieve their structural integrity, but you definitely don’t want sickeningly sweet cookies, so the variable sugar content between different brands/flavors of hot cocoa mix must be considered. Since I like to embrace the science of baking, I converted the sugar content of my hot cocoa mix to teaspoons then tablespoons to decide how much to decrease my added granulated sugar amount [1 teaspoon of granulated sugar translates to 4 grams of sugar, and there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon]. If you don’t want to get all mathy, you can just adjust according to the numbers listed in the recipe below — if your cocoa mix is a bit more sugary than mine, add a little less granulated sugar, and if yours is a bit less sugary, add less granulated sugar to the dough.
The icing is a mint-ified version of a Royal Icing. Quick tangent on Royal Icing… Royal Icing is the traditional sugar cookie topping that you classically see on the quintessential decorated holiday cookie. Upsides of Royal Icing: its base color is bright white so you can dye it any color you like, you can vary the wet-dry ratios to achieve your desired handling consistency, and most importantly, the surface dries completely within hours yet maintains a glossy sheen so you can stack them and package them for sharing! Downside of Royal Icing [there’s only one]: the traditional recipe calls for raw egg whites (translation: not fit for consumption by pregnant women and children). Though Gaston had no qualms at all about downing raw eggs – shells and all, apparently – in Beauty and the Beast, I havequalms. I prefer my eggs to be cooked; I do toe the line a bit with my runny yolks, but still… #heateat #nosalmonella
Luckily, I have a workaround! I call it Noble Icing (almost Royal, get it?!). The icing recipe below contains NO raw egg but maintains all the above “upside” properties of traditional Royal Icing. I flavored mine with mint extract, but you can use any flavoring you like. My only recommendation is to use a clear extract, be it vanilla, almond, or whatever — adding a dark extract (like the standard vanilla extract) will tint your icing to an unappetizing ecru color…flavor thoughtfully.
Decorating pro tips:
Line your decoration station with wax paper — it’ll make clean-up so much easier!
Make sure cookies are COMPLETELY cooled before decorating, otherwise your icing will end up as a glaze as the warm cookies melt and absorb the icing
Make your icing in batches. Make the 1st batch pretty thick (~toothpaste consistency); this is your linericing — use this batch to outline your designs. Make the 2nd batch pretty runny (~fabric paint viscosity); this is your flood icing — use this batch to fill in your designs.
Have toothpicks ready. Even if you have super dainty fingers (if you do, I’m super jealous), any erroneous icing blebs are best removed with a toothpick to prevent smearing. Also, the toothpicks are a great way to tease your flood into any small corners of your designs.
Allow icing to harden completely before stacking decorated cookies. I let mine sit in my turned-off, completely-cool, locked oven overnight to prevent any disturbances from ruining my designs…just remember that they’re there before preheating your oven for its next baking adventure (I typically put a sticky note on the oven knob, since I have zero faith in myself)!
Mint Hot Cocoa Penguins
1 stick unsalted butter, melted & chilled in fridge for 20 minutes to semi-solidify
1 tablespoon canola oil — helps facilitate rolling-out dough!
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 envelopes instant hot cocoa mix [NOT cocoa powder – see Note below for packet specs] — this was 1/2 cup cocoa mix total, for me
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1 egg, room temp
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Andes creme de menthe baking pieces, optional
Noble Icing: You’ll make multiple batches, so just keep making these small batches as you need more, adjusting consistency as needed [see “Pro-tips,” above]
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk [I used cashew milk], adding more as needed to achieve runnier consistency
1 tablespoon light corn syrup [light refers to the color, not the caloric content]
1/2 teaspoon mint extract, if making for a different cookie, try almond extract or clear vanilla extract
A few drops of gel food coloring in your desired colors
Sprinkles and/or mini chocolate chips and/or those little silver ball things, prn
Make cookie dough by first creaming together the butter, oil, sugar, and hot cocoa mix until light brown and fluffy, ~3 minutes on medium speed. Add in vanilla, espresso, and egg, and beat for an additional 2 minutes. In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, use a fork to combine and aerate the cornstarch, 1 1/4 cups of the flour, and salt. Turn mixer to low, and gradually add in the dry ingredients, mixing only until JUST combined – if dough appears sticky, slowly add up to 1/4 cup additional four, one tablespoon at a time. When the right amount of flour has been added, the dough will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl as you mix. Use a rubber spatula to fold in Andes pieces, if using, and form dough into a ball. Transfer ball to a large piece of plastic wrap, wrap tightly, and flatten into a disk. Place wrapped dough disk in a zip-top bag, and chill in refrigerator 24-48 hours to allow flavors to meld.
Remove dough from fridge 90 minutes prior to rolling — when ready to roll, dough should be easily indented with moderate finger-pressure. Preheat oven to 375 degrees farenheit, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from bag, and unwrap the dough disk, keeping the plastic wrap underneath the dough. Place a second large sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough disk, and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough (between the 2 sheets of plastic wrap — DO NOT ADD EXTRA FLOUR FOR ROLLING) — until it is ~3/8″ thick. Peel off the top sheet of plastic wrap, and use your desired cookie cutter (penguin, if you have it!) to cut out as many cookies as you can, trying to be as space-efficient as possible. Re-roll dough scraps – again, between the two sheets of plastic wrap – up to 2 more times to cut out as many cookies as you can. Place cut-out cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing only ~1/2″ apart…cookies will barely spread during baking, and freeze for 10 minutes prior to baking to make sure cookies will keep their shapes perfectly. Bake 9-10 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. When cookies are done, the tops will appear set (small microcracks on the surface) but still look slightly shiny — since these are chocolate cookies, they won’t “brown” like a light-colored cookie does as it bakes, so you have to go by visual texture changes. Let cooked cookies sit on hot sheets for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks for complete cooling.
Undecorated cookies may be stored in airtight containers, at room temp, for up to 5 days.
Make icing by whisking together all icing ingredients, starting with the 1 tablespoon of milk — these quantities should yield a paste-like-yet-pipable consistency to use for outlining your designs, thin slightly with micro-aliquots of additional milk if needed. Transfer to a pastry bag with a small tip, and outline each cookie — doing all of the outlines at the same time allows for them to set a bit before you “flood” them, which makes for much easier decorating. Make another batch of icing, whisking in enough milk to achieve a thickly-flowable consistency (think Log Cabin maple syrup). Transfer to a clean pastry bag, again with a small tip, keeping your finger over the tip end so that the runnier icing doesn’t leak out as you fill the bag. Carefully apply the “flood” icing to your outlined shapes — leave some blank spaces and go back with toothpicks to guide the flowable icing into all of the corners, adding more icing as needed. Add any sprinkles or other decorations before icing sets. Leave decorated cookies to set in a protected environment for a few hours or overnight before stacking.
Note: I used Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate Sensation hot cocoa mix. These packets are 1.25 ounces each and contain 18 grams of sugar apiece (which translates to 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar per packet). If your hot cocoa mix is more sugary or less sugary than this one, compensate accordingly with your granulated sugar quantity to maintain the taste and structural integrity of your cookies!