Peppermint is one of the flavors most closely associated with the holidays, probably because candy canes are so prevalent this time of year! Candy canes are not the most delicious thing to eat on their own – not on a regular basis, anyway, but that doesn’t stop me from buying them around the holidays. I always have more than I can hang on a tree. I prefer to crush mine up and use them as garnish for drinks like homemade Peppermint Mochas. These drinks are yet another coffee shop favorite, and are a drink that I love to indulge in on a cold evening as a treat.
Fortunately, peppermint mochas are a drink that is easily made at home. I make up a simple mocha, using either a combination of cocoa powder and sugar or whatever hot chocolate mix I have on hand, and add a small splash of both vanilla and peppermint extract to it. The vanilla takes the edge off the peppermint extract, which is very strong on its own. And since this is always a treat, I finish mine with whipped cream.
If you want to use crushed candy canes for garnish, try to start with some that are very dark red and vibrantly colored for the best effect. Otherwise, you can garnish your drink with a whole candy cane, using it as a stir stick to refresh the flavor as you sip.
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I always seem to end up with a few of those chocolate oranges in my stocking at Christmas. You probably know the chocolates I’m talking about – they’re shaped like oranges and break into individual slices with a light rap on the counter. Orange and chocolate is a classic combination that never goes out of style. These chocolates are great for sharing, but I find that the orange can be a little overwhelming if you sit down to try and eat the whole orange alone. So, I am always looking for something that could use a little orange and a little chocolate so that none of those slices go to waste.
My Dark Chocolate Orange came from Trader Joe’s this time around. They only have a dark chocolate version, but I’ve seen both dark and milk from other brands before. The orange is about the size of a real orange and comes with 20 orange slices. One firm rap and those slices break apart easily. The Trader Joe’s orange is made with natural orange flavor and has a crisp dark chocolate flavor. It isn’t too sweet and you can really taste the orange.
The Caramel Brûlée Latte is a popular seasonal drink that Starbucks brings our around the holidays. The brûlée flavor is that of the dark, caramelized sugar that is on top of a creme brûlée and the drink is garnished with a few caramel shards. I am a big fan of the drink because I like that dark caramel flavor, which has a toaty, bitter note that takes away from the sweetness of the usual caramel sauce. And that means that the drink isn’t too sweet, even if I get a big one.
This homemade version is a little more playful because I actually added a layer of caramelized sugar to the top of the drink using a kitchen torch! The torch is a small, handheld blowtorch that is used in kitchens to easily finish off creme brûlée and is available in most well-stocked kitchen stores. I simply topped my drink with a thick, dense foam and plenty of sugar, then caramelized it with the torch. Be generous with the sugar to ensure you get a good crust.
If you don’t have a kitchen torch (and I recommend it, since they are a lot of fun), you can caramelized the sugar in a small sauce pan and let it set on a piece of parchment or a Silat, then break it into shards to finish your drink off.
The Pumpkin Spice Latte is a fall favorite that people wait all year for. It’s a warm, spicy serving of autumn in a mug. A lot of people mistakenly think that there is pumpkin in the drink, but the drink is actually named after a very common spice mix – pumpkin pie spice – which is used to flavor all kinds of pumpkin desserts, from pumpkin bread to pumpkin pie. The Starbucks drink is made with a flavorful syrup that features cinnamon, cloves and other spices that are found in this spice mix.
I whipped up a batch of Pumpkin Spice Simple Syrup to use as flavoring for my homemade version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. My syrup is made with water, sugar and spices – that’s it. It has a warm, spicy flavor and definitely captures the essence of “pumpkin pie spice” in a sweet, concentrated form. It both sweetens your drink and adds that signature pumpkin spice flavor. Once you make the syrup, it will keep in your fridge for at least a week, which should save you several trips to the coffee shop - or simply entice you to drink twice as many PSLs, since they’re so much more accessible when you can make them in your own kitchen.
You can make your homemade version of the drink with espresso or with coffee, depending on what kind of coffee maker you have at home, and I’ve given directions for both options below.