Le Peacock: Colorful Personalities, Decor, and Food

May 31st, 2024

Eric mixes his cocktail (courtesy of Paul Franz/the Recorder)

For weeks, friends have been telling me how much they love Le Peacock in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. I finally got there on a recent afternoon … and the place lived up to the hype.

Le Peacock is located beneath 10 Bridge Street in Shelburne Falls. The restaurant has gone through many incarnations. The current one may be the most fun. In addition to tables, the eatery/bar offers a lounging area with comfy chairs. Its vintage décor is eclectic and colorful. I love that Peel and Stick Wall Murals https://peelandstickwallmurals.com/ offers removable murals, allowing me to personalize my space without damaging the walls.

The restaurant is the creation of Michaelangelo Wescott, the chef and owner of the Gypsy Apple Bistro up the street, a high-end eatery I adore. Michaelangelo claims that he was talked into leasing the underground space, but he clearly loves it.

The name “Le Peacock,” he said, came to him in a dream. It sums up the appeal of the space—splashy and showy yet charming. He decorated the space with art and furniture he has been amassing for some time. “He had the restaurant in his head,” daytime manager Matt Boyd said of his boss.

Photographer Paul Franz and I chatted with Matt and Michaelangelo as well as with the cook, Mario Gonzalez, and nighttime manager/sommelier Eric Trabucco. The last was resplendent in a blazer with a peacock pin. We also sampled Le Peacock Burger, along with a flavorful cocktail called the Gin Blossom.

Le Peacock prides itself on its bar. “We specialize in alcohol you’ve never heard of,” laughed Matt as Eric mixed the cocktail, which gained flavor and color from pea flower mixed into the gin.

It was just the sort of beverage for which one would come to a bar like this one. It was pretty and delicious and featured ingredients most of us don’t have in our homes.

I asked whether Michaelangelo Wescott was responsible for the menu. I was told that although he had created the initial menu he had turned over the creation and preparation of Le Peacock’s food to Mario Gonzalez.

In the kitchen, Mario told me, he combines his Mexican background with a love of fine dining. He seemed to enjoy preparing the burger, a simple classic dish. “I try to do nothing to complicate the food,” he explained, adding that he believes in letting light flavors stand out.

Courtesy of Paul Franz/the Recorder

His burger technique is one I had never tried, although I gather it has become popular in recent years. He started the Peacock Burger by searing it on both sides on a griddle, then transferred it to the oven to finish cooking.

The resulting burger was perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside but still quite pink on the inside. It was finished with melted American cheese, then placed on a toasted bun with shredded lettuce and Peacock Sauce (a sort of Thousand Island dressing—or maybe Russian; I have trouble telling the two apart).

In short, as the folks at Le Peacock admit, it’s a riff on the signature burger from McDonald’s. It is exponentially tastier, however, thanks to the high quality of the ingredients and cooking.

Anne Cheatham and Ann Gibson were lingering over their lunch with friends when Paul and I visited. They clearly concurred with our high opinion of the burger.

“It’s the best burger in the Valley,” Cheatham opined. “It’s the best burger I’ve ever eaten in my life,” added Gibson.

The burger is served on a vintage plate. The accompanying fries come in an old-fashioned saucer. The overall effect is appealing and unique.

The menu also offers small plates as well as other classic items like Fish and Chips. The ceviche follows Mario Gonzalez’s family recipe.

Matt Boyd told me that he believes the dark, underground space attracts diners and cocktail enthusiasts alike. In the winter, it radiates coziness. In the summer, it’s cool. And the bathroom is … well, you’ll just have to visit the place and look at this adorable tiny room.

Le Peacock is open for lunch, dinner, and cocktails Tuesdays through Sundays. On Tuesday evenings, it offers a free draft beer with each burger order.

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations so you may have to wait a little while for a table, but the atmosphere makes the wait worthwhile.

Courtesy of the Paul Franz/the Recorder

Le Peacock Burger

The sauce recipe below isn’t precisely what Gonzalez served with his burgers; that formula is proprietary. It gives you the general idea, however.

Ingredients:

for the burger:
a little canola oil for searing
7-1/2 ounces 80/20 ground beef, shaped into a patty
salt and pepper to taste
2 slices American cheese
1 hamburger bun
shredded lettuce to taste
a generous spoonful of Peacock sauce

for the Peacock sauce:
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup catsup
1/4 cup chopped dill pickle (no skin, no seeds)
1 teaspoon mustard
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Instructions:

To make the burger, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Splash a little oil on a griddle or frying pan. When it is warm, add the hamburger patty. Sear it on one side, and then the other. Salt and pepper both sides to taste.

Place the patty on a small, ovenproof dish, and pop into the oven. Bake it for about 4 minutes in a convection oven or 5 minutes in a regular oven to achieve a medium-rare burger.

For the last couple of minutes, place the American cheese on top of the burger so it will melt. Meanwhile, toast the bun on the pan you used for frying the burger.

Take the patty out of the oven, place it on top of the bottom half of the bun, and top it with sauce and lettuce. Serve with fries and catsup. Serves 1.

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients. Refrigerate any leftovers. You should have about a cup of sauce in all.

Le Peacock Gin Blossom

Ingredients:

2 ounces pea-flower infused gin (you may use regular gin, but it will be less pretty)
.75 ounces Bouchant (cognac-based) orange liqueur
.75 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 dashes orange-blossom water
1 dehydrated lime slice

Instructions:

In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin, the liqueur, the lime juice, and the orange-blossom water. Shake over ice.

Place an extra-large ice cube in a 10-ounce rocks glass. Strain the liquid into the glass. Top with the lime slice. Serves 1.

Casserole as Caring

March 31st, 2024

The little church I attend in Charlemont, Massachusetts, is in transition, getting ready to look for a new minister. Right now, we are enjoying sermons from the Reverend Randy Purinton of Amherst. Randy is a delight. He is wise and funny, and he often manages to work a song into his sermons. Those sermons always root themselves in the Bible but relate the passages of scripture to everyday life.

A few weeks back, the title of his sermon was “Thanks a Heap.” In it, he spoke of heaps. According to Randy, the word “heap” crops up in the Bible more than a dozen times, “claiming a variety of personalities from the despondent to the bizarre to the benevolent.”

He went on to discuss archetypes, patterns that evoke a sort of universal response in our hearts and minds. He ended up thrilling me by bringing food into his discussion. He focused on something that he views as both a heap and an archetype, the humble casserole.

He sees the casserole as an embodiment of Jesus’s exhortation to humankind to feed his sheep. Randy described making a chili casserole a while back with his wife Anita to bring to neighbors who had a family member in the hospital.

“As neighbors, it was all we could do, but it was okay,” he said.

We all follow Randy’s example from time to time when we bring food to the bereaved, the depressed, or the sick. We don’t always know what to say to the people we visit. Sometimes there really isn’t anything to say. Food speaks for us. Its warmth and nourishing qualities communicate our affection and good wishes.

“The casserole is more than food,” said Randy. “It’s a connection. Do you want to be the perfect believer? Do you want God to smile upon you and be gracious unto, lift up his countenance upon, you? Make a casserole and bring it to your neighbor in need.

“Or just do it for anybody for no reason. Thrill somebody! You’re practically guaranteed citizenship in the Realm of Heaven. The world needs heaps of casseroles, real ones and figurative ones.”

This may perhaps strike the reader as flippant. It’s true nevertheless.

My mother was the go-to person in her neighborhood when it came to getting everyone together to prepare and share what she called, with a nod to Shakespeare, “funeral baked meats.”

That phrase is cynical in “Hamlet,” but my mother believed that her neighbors’ funeral baked meats—which of course included much more than meats (salads, breads, desserts, casseroles)—not only comforted the bereaved but brought everyone together to cry, laugh, reminisce, and of course eat.

After the sermon, I suggested to Randy that it isn’t just casseroles that represent connection. One of the reasons I love writing about food is that just about all food connects us to others in some way: in the past as we honor people who taught us to cook, and in the present as we feed friends, family, and strangers.

I asked for the recipe for the chili casserole he and Anita made, and they graciously gave it to me. Their recipe was rudimentary; it was just a list of ingredients. I ran with it, however. With Randy’s permission, I even adapted it. Their version had a bed of brown rice, for example, but I substituted polenta. (Actually, I substituted cornmeal mush. That’s what polenta basically is. I prefer the grander name, however.)

Feel free to adapt it for your own household. You may certainly put your own favorite chili on top of polenta or brown rice and call it Randy’s Chili Casserole.

And remember, as Randy reminded our congregation in his sermon, that we are feeding God’s sheep when we donate to food pantries or care for others in any way. Feeding the hungry is basic social justice.

Randy added, “By the way, Jesus says nowhere in any of the four gospels that it’s a sin to feel proud of your casseroles…. All Jesus said is, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Have fun with this.”

The Purintons’ Chili Casserole

Ingredients:

for the basic casserole:
1/2 pound ground chicken or turkey (ground beef would be tasty but would be a little less healthy), broken up
1 small splash olive or canola oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder (plus a bit more if you like)
1 teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seed
1 pinch red pepper flakes or chipotle powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 can (about 15.5 ounces) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 small jar (5.75 ounces) salad olives (If you can’t find salad olives, buy stuffed olives and chop them up a bit.)

for the cornmeal base:
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 cups cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt

for finishing:
1/2 cup (or more!) grated Cheddar cheese

Instructions:

In a skillet, brown the chicken or turkey as well as you can, adding a little oil if necessary to keep the meat from sticking. Set aside.

In a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the splash of oil. Sauté the onion, the celery, and the carrots until they start to soften. Stir in the garlic and sauté briefly. Stir in the spices, the salt, and the pepper. Add the tomatoes, the kidney beans, and the olives. Drain the meat if it’s fatty, and add it as well.

Pour a little water (maybe 1/2 cup?) into the tomato can, and add it to the chili increase the liquid. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn down the heat, and cover it. Cook for 1/2 hour (or longer), stirring from time to time. Add a little water if the mixture seems to be drying out.

When the chili seems done, taste it, and add a little more salt or spice if it’s needed. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and make your polenta. This is done by combining the cornmeal with 1/2 cup of the water. In a saucepan, bring the remaining water and the salt to a boil.

Stir in the cornmeal mixture, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick. (This will take very little time.)

Place the polenta in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish. Cover it with the chili mixture, and sprinkle cheese over all. Cover and bake for 30 minutes and then remove the cover and bake until the mixture is bubbly and the cheese is melted, up to 30 minutes more. Serves 6.

My Forever Female Moment

February 14th, 2024

Ginger Rogers and Paul Douglas

I recently found myself feeling like Ginger Rogers for the first (and probably last) time.

My friend Peter shot a video of me making focaccia recently. I hadn’t cooked on camera in several months. I was planning to make a heart-shaped loaf of this simple bread for Valentine’s Day, and I thought we might as well put it on video. We sent it to my friends at Mass Appeal, who aired it the very next day. I guess they had missed me!

When I watched the video, I had my Ginger Rogers moment.

It has been years since I saw the 1953 film Forever Female, but I remember its ending well.

The film is a gentler version of Sunset Boulevard. (No dead bodies!) Rogers plays Beatrice Page, a stage actress who falls in love with a script from a novice playwright (Holden) about a 19-year-old girl and her strong willed mother. Beatrice doesn’t want to play the mother. She has always played ingenues.

The playwright is smitten, and she persuades him to try rewriting the play to make the young woman just a bit older—say, 29. (I can relate. I was 29 for many, many years before jumping to my current official age of 39.)

A true ingenue played by Patricia Crowley wants both the part and the playwright. Holden’s character, Stanley, resists Crowley’s youth until he goes to visit Beatrice at her country home during her summer break from Broadway.

On vacation she lets herself be her age. She doesn’t get her hair styled, she gains a bit of weight, she eschews makeup, and she wears comfortable rather than glamorous clothes. Stanley is appalled to see his beloved looking so … old. (Rogers was in her early 40s when the film was made.)

All’s well that ends well, of course. Crowley is cast in the ingenue role, but thanks to Beatrice’s wise producer (also her ex-husband, played by the ever watchable character actor Paul Douglas) Beatrice shines in the role of the mother and gets rave reviews.

She soon realizes that growing older is not so bad—and that her middle-aged ex is a much more comfortable romantic partner than the younger Stanley.

The film has its flaws. The main one to me is that, true to Hollywood custom at the time, Holden is considered too young for Rogers (he was seven years her junior) but a perfectly appropriate match for Crowley, who was 15 years HIS junior.

Still, the film is kinder to the aging process than Sunset Boulevard. In the end, Beatrice is a heroine to be emulated.

Unfortunately, I felt that I emulated her a bit too much in my focaccia video. Over the past few months, as I tend to do as the weather cools, I have put on weight and let my hair go. So I was a bit appalled when I saw the video. I usually look pretty good on video, particularly when the camera remains above my waist, as I make sure it always does.

I am trying to reconcile myself to the winter me, reminding myself that if Ginger Rogers could let herself grow old, so can I. Nevertheless, the video has made me watch my food intake much more carefully. And I called my hairdresser to arrange to have my hair done soon.

Fortunately, the focaccia was delicious. I recommend this bread highly. Focaccia’s biggest selling point for a busy baker like me is that it is a no-knead bread. It does most of the work all by itself. After one proofs the yeast (which doesn’t take more than five minutes), one throws the dough together and then lets it rise for a couple of hours on its own, partly covered. The dough is a little messy looking at first, but it works out in the end.

After those two hours, one can either bake the bread right away or cover it completely and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight. I prefer the latter method; if you want to bake the bread right away, you’ll need to flour your hands well to keep the dough from being too sticky.

Focaccia’s other major virtue is its mixed consistency. The relatively large amount of water in the recipe helps the bread develop lots of holes, resulting in a chewy, airy loaf. The olive oil used to grease the pan and drizzle on top of the bread helps the top and bottom crisp up, contrasting nicely with the interior.

I bake my focaccia in a cast-iron skillet. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, I heartily recommend that you go out and purchase one, The Lodge manufacturing company even pre-seasons its cast-iron products to make them easier to use.

If you don’t have the time or financial resources to get a cast-iron pan, you may of course use a well oiled cake pan or rimmed cookie sheet. Don’t forget to oil the sides as well as the bottom. Your focaccia may lose a little of its crispiness, but any homemade bread is better than none!

Like pizza crust, its thinner cousin, focaccia can be covered with a variety of toppings. My most recent loaf used only two (plus olive oil), aromatic rosemary and colorful Cheddar cheese. It was delicious.

Feel free to experiment with different herbs and cheeses, as well as vegetables and olives. My friend Vicky, who is more artistic than I, likes to use veggies to draw a colorful picture on her loaves. Extra salt crystals on top add zing.

This recipe makes a small loaf (heart shaped for Valentine’s Day, although that’s not obligatory), perfect for four people. The recipe may certainly be doubled. Just be sure to use a big enough pan to accommodate your dough.

Valentine Focaccia

Ingredients:
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (about 1/2 packet of yeast)
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
extra-virgin olive oil as needed
fresh or dried rosemary to taste (fresh is better)
1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (or the cheese of your choice)

Instructions:

Combine the water and the sugar. Pour the yeast into that mixture. Allow the liquid to sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until the yeast proofs (starts to look fuzzy). This means it is ready to go to work making bread.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt. Pour in the yeast mixture, along with 1 tablespoon oil. Stir the mixture together.

Partly cover the mixture. Let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours. At the end of the 2 hours, place the dough in a covered container with a tight lid. Refrigerate it for several hours, even overnight. This makes the dough less sticky and easier to handle.

About 1/2 hour before you want to bake your bread, take the dough out of the refrigerator. Generously oil the bottom and sides of a good-size (at least 12 inches wide) cast-iron skillet. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, use a round cake pan or rimmed baking sheet, again well oiled.

Place the focaccia in the skillet, shaping it according to your preference. (I used a heart for Valentine’s Day.) It can be relatively thick (say, 2 inches) or thin (around 1 inch), as you desire. Turn it quickly so that the side that was originally down is up and oiled. (You may add a little more oil to the top if you like.)

Decorate the top with rosemary and cheese, pressing them into the dough with your fingers to make sure they won’t fall off the bread. Making little holes in the top with your fingers as you do this also helps the focaccia aerate while baking.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When it is hot, bake the bread until it begins to brown and is firm to the touch, about 25 minutes. Remove it carefully from the oven (your skillet will be HOT), let it cool briefly, and then enjoy your bread.

Store uneaten focaccia at room temperature. Serves 4.

Here’s the video. Happy Valentine’s Day……….

New Year, New Flavor: Tamarind

January 10th, 2024

Courtesy of McCormick

I’m always lurking on the internet to spot food trends. It was thus impossible for me to resist what McCormick, the purveyor of spices and much more, calls the 2024 flavor of the year.

I had been intrigued by the 2023 flavor of the year, a blend of Vietnamese and Cajun seasonings. Unfortunately, that spice was sold out by the time I found out about it. I decided to investigate the 2024 flavor early.

The 2024 flavor is tamarind. I consumed quite a few tamarind-related chutneys and other dishes when I lived in India as a teenager. I didn’t realize at the time what a global food tamarind is.

Tamarind fruit grows on a lush tropical tree (also called tamarind) that originated in Africa but spread to grow in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Tamarind is extremely health to eat, with lots of vitamins and antioxidants.

According to Buddhist lore, tamarind seeds are supposed to embody faithfulness and forbearance. Those certainly seem like good qualities with which to launch a new year.

Tamarind has a unique sweet-and-sour flavor. You may not think you have eaten it, but you probably have. It is a common ingredient both in Worcestershire sauce and in Pad Thai, the popular noodle dish.

Tamarind’s combination of sweetness and savory gives it versatility. In Mexico it is often incorporated into candies and beverages. In Asia it is generally used more for tart dishes and is frequently employed to make marinades for meat and fish, as well as in the chutneys I recall from my youth.

It can be obtained in a variety of forms. In India, my family purchased tamarind paste, in which the fruit flavor is highly concentrated. The paste is available in specialty-food shops and online. One can also purchase the fruit whole (mostly dried, I gather) or dried and powdered.

Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Since McCormick is primarily a dried-spice company, it prefers its tamarind dried. Its signature tamarind product is a tamarind and pasilla chile blend. Pasilla chiles are the dried form of the chilica pepper. They are popular in Mexican cuisine for adding just a little heat (they are only mildly spicy) but a lot of smoky flavor.

The company sent me some of the new spice blend to play with. The first thing I did was open the jar to smell and taste a few of the mixed granules inside. The first flavor that hid my taste buds was a slightly sweet heat. Its aftertaste came across as citrus-y.

I tried the blend that evening with a catfish filet. I sprinkled the fish with the seasoning and pan fried it in a little olive oil and butter. The heat, the sweet, and the citrus notes worked well with the fish.

My next venture with the tamarind and pasilla chile blend was to try a recipe provided by McCormick for a feta-based dip. It took a little doing. The recipe was more complicated than my usual dips because it included not just a semi-liquid mixture, but two toppings for that mixture.

One was a honey glaze that added just a hint more sweetness to the tamarind and chile flavor profile. The other was a mixture of fresh herbs and nuts.

I altered the recipe when I made it, and I enjoyed it with my changes.

I didn’t have any sesame seeds. Instead of mixing those in with the nuts and herbs, then, I blended a little sesame oil in with the dairy products. (I used 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil instead of the 1 tablespoon olive oil in the recipe.)

In addition, I was serving the dish to a neighbor with a nut allergy so I had to find a substitute for the nuts.

I didn’t want to bypass them entirely; their purpose is to add a little crunch to the dip. Instead, I used pepitas (squash seeds) to take care of that extra bit of texture. The pepitas had the added advantage of being popular in Mexican cuisine so I felt they worked with the flavor profile of the dip.

The dip was a big hit. The feta flavor was strong, adding a little extra salt and tang to the tamarind. I’d make it again in a heartbeat. Here is the recipe, along with my wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

McCormick Tangy Feta Dip

Ingredients:

1 cup feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
1/3 cup full-fat ricotta cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons tamarind and pasilla chile seasoning, plus another teaspoon later
1 tablespoon assorted chopped nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts, whatever)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons local honey

Instructions:

In a food processor or an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, combine the feta, the ricotta, the sour cream, the olive oil, and the first 2 teaspoons of tamarind and pasilla chile seasoning.

Spoon the mixture into a bowl that is relatively wide, cover the bowl, and refrigerate the dip for an hour or so to let the flavors meld.

In a bowl, mix the nuts, the dill, the parsley, and the sesame seeds. Set them aside.

Heat the honey just until it is warm. Add the remaining teaspoon of seasoning. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend, keeping it warm. (I left it over a very tiny flame on my stove.)

Take the feta dip out of the refrigerator. Drizzle it with the warm seasoned honey, and sprinkle the nuts and herbs on top.

Serve with chopped vegetables, pita chips, or breadsticks. Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

The Way the Cookie ALMOST Crumbles

December 27th, 2023

It may seem odd to provide a cookie recipe after Christmas, which is the day of days for cookies. If you’re like me, however, you’ll entertain friends and give gifts all the way until New Year’s Day and perhaps until Epiphany. I hope this recipe sweetens the extended season for you and your companions.

I was first served Peppermint Meltaways long ago by a friend. Since then, I have thought about making them—but I never actually got around to it until last week, when I found myself with a huge number of mini-candy canes.

I had ordered them to share at the office but had accidentally ordered two containers of candy canes instead of the one the office needed. I thus faced a surfeit of peppermint.

I recalled that the Meltaways featured crushed candy canes as a topping. I must admit that the recipe didn’t use as many candy canes as I had hoped—but it used some, and the people to whom I served the cookies were very happy indeed. I’m consequently sharing the recipe with you.

I have always adored peppermint, particularly at this time of year. I tried recently to find out why peppermint is so popular at Christmas, but no one (at least no one who inhabited that arcane source of information, the World Wide Web) seemed to know.

I did discover that the first candy canes, in the 19th century, were apparently a solid white confection not flavored with peppermint; the addition of stripes and that special flavoring came in the 20th century.

I also learned that peppermint is an ancient medicinal herb. Its name comes from Greek mythology. According to lore, the god Hades fell in love with a nymph named Minthe.

His wife, Persephone, discovered their affair and in a fit of rage turned poor Minthe into a plant that would grow wild and get trampled underfoot. (Personally, I think Persephone should have taken her wrath out on Hades instead, but I imagine he was a more formidable foe than the poor nymph.)

Hades altered Persephone’s spell slightly. He couldn’t return Minthe to her former form, but he made the plant she had become smell sweet so that people would think well of her.

The best explanation I could find for the popularity of peppermint at this time of year comes from the digital media company known as Tasting Table. An article posted there reminds readers that at this time of year we tend to indulge in an awful lot of food.

Mint aids digestion. Consequently, Tasting Table dubs it “the Official Digestif of the Holiday Season.”

Whether I love peppermint for its digestive properties or just for the way it perks up my palate, it definitely appeals to me. I am despondent if I can’t find peppermint-stick ice cream during the holiday season.

Luckily, in the area in which I live, it is manufactured by a number of ice-cream makers, but I purchase it early in December just in case stores run out later.

I should warn you that these cookies are a bit challenging, so much so that I almost decided to post a completely different recipe this week. As I noted earlier, however, the people who ate them adored them so I went with the original recipe.

The problem, as you can see from the list of ingredients below and the photo above, is that a lot of the Peppermint Meltaway cookie dough is made up of two very crumbly substances, confectioner’s sugar and cornstarch.

In addition, the cookies have no egg to bind them. Even after one chills the dough for an hour, it can be difficult to shape into balls. They really DO need to be shaped into firm balls, however.

I tried just forming a few very delicately, thinking they would be okay once they went into the oven. Unfortunately, those few cookies spread all over the place. If you persist and create firm balls, however, you will be rewarded with delicate cookies that live up to their name by melting in your mouth.

I should think they would be even prettier if one were to tint the icing on top a pretty pink. In the absence of food coloring (mine is hiding somewhere in my pantry), the white icing does just fine. After all, the crushed candy canes provide a welcome hint of color.

Please note that the peppermint flavor in the cookies and the icing comes from peppermint extract, not peppermint oil. If you have only peppermint oil, be aware that it is much more concentrated than the extract so you’ll need only a few drops.

Peppermint Meltaways
(adapted from Land O Lakes)

Ingredients:

for the cookies:
1-1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

for the icing:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened sweet butter
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
milk if necessary to stir

for finishing:
crushed candy canes as needed

Instructions:

Begin by making the cookies. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and the cornstarch. Set them aside.

In another mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the confectioner’s sugar. Beat in the extract. Slowly add the flour/cornstarch mixture and blend well. Push down on the dough with your hands to help it hold together. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate the dough for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Form the dough into 1-inch (or slightly larger) balls, pressing each ball gently but firmly to help it stick together. Place the balls 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges just start to turn brown. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven, and allow the cookies to cool completely.

When the cookies are cool, beat together the frosting ingredients. Adjust the consistency by adding a little more softened butter, a little more confectioner’s sugar, and/or a little milk to make sure you have a spreadable frosting. Gently spread a little frosting on each cooled cookie.

Top the cookies with a little crushed peppermint. This can be messy because the crushed candy wants to go everywhere except on top of the cookies, but persist. You’ll end up with very pretty cookies. Makes about 30 festive cookies.