Happy winter days! We got an amazing snowfall this past Thursday. On Friday, the powdery snow was soft and fluffy and shimmered like sugar crystals under the sun. The urge to go outside was irresistible, so we did, and here below are a few photos of the beautiful landscapes of the Minnesota countryside we visited on that day.
And now, for this weekend, we will be enduring subzero temperatures as we reach them for the first time this winter! I know that for many, the winter in Minnesota is something to endure or survive. I am in the minority that really, really loves winter, and my key complaint tends to be the lack of sunlight rather than the cold temps. Maybe it’s because I’m part Danish and somehow there, buried in my genetics, is that Scandinavian attitude towards winter that’s been passed on through the generations from my great-grandpa to me. In Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland, the winters are as harsh as those in Minnesota except that, up in those Nordic latitudes, there can be up to 20 hours of darkness per day. Generations of Scandinavians learned to embrace winter, staying active in the outdoors with snow sports, celebrating all things cozy and developing what we know today as hygge. The essence of hygge is experiencing an atmosphere of coziness and closeness, a feeling of being home, of being safe and warm, shielded from the world. It can be having a distended conversation about the small or important things in life by the fire or simply enjoying a warm cup of tea by yourself. It’s about being with the people we love. It can be wearing woolen socks and flannel pajamas or sitting comfortably on the couch after an afternoon of hiking or snowshoeing by the lake. Some of the sounds of hygge are the quiet bubbling of the stew boiling on the stove, the spark of the fireplace, and the quiet hum of conversation.
Another key element of hygge is candles and warm lighting, and my personal favorite is: candles! Candles are instant hygge. There is no faster way to get to hygge than to light a few candles, and in Denmark, this shows up in the population’s outrageous candle consumption: Danish people burn twice as many candles as their European counterparts. 96% of Danes light a candle every week between Thanksgiving and winter. But don’t get fooled: Danes don’t go for the scented candle stuff, in fact, Danes are the top in Europe when it comes to buying organic or natural products, so they consider scented candles to be artificial unless preferable. I’m telling you guys, after reading about hygge, I understand so much more about myself and the choices of décor in my house.
In addition to hygge, one of the ways to experience Winter is to embrace the outdoors. Minnesotans are known for their love of nature—camping and outdoor sports—and many of us have a favorite outdoor activity, whether it is cross-country skiing, showshoeing, ice skating, pond hockey, ice fishing, sledding or even dogsledding. There is no bad weather, only bad clothing choices! They key is to dress warmly and properly so that you are prepared for the elements and staying active will help you stay warm as well. Chunky homemade sweaters, boots with thick and non-slippery soles, and a down jacket, are some of those essentials, and of course you can’t leave the house without hats, gloves, or scarves. If they are in bright colors, it’s a wonderful way to change the monochromatic palette of the winter, which can get kinda dull sometimes. And now, onto baking! Baking over the weekend is very hyggelig!
Of course, baking and cooking can also be a way to experience hygge. A lot of hygge is about sharing good food with family and friends. A lot the sense of hygge are similar to those of Christmas: cardamom in Swedish coffee, cinnamon in ginger snaps and homemade buns, the warm spices in sausage and stews and many winter dishes. What could be better than the aroma of freshly-baked bread wafting out of the oven or the sweet and buttery scent of homemade cookies? I think overall, winter in Minnesota and winter during the pandemic lend themselves nicely to the concept of hygge, even if we are not Scandinavian! We can create our own personal version of hygge. Candlelights, knitting clubs, baking, good company, and being cozy at home are essential to survive the dark times, as is knowing that the light will eventually be back. Cooking and baking have been two of those activities that people had flocked to during stay-at-home periods and quarantines, a darkness maybe not of light but of adversity. Inspired by this time of staying home and being creative and being cozy, I am continuing my theme of cookie recipes, and this one is a chocolate chip cookie variation featuring melted butter and peppermint bark pieces. You can chop up a bar of peppermint bark or, if you’re lucky, you may have access to peppermint bark pieces, like the ones I found at my local co op. I love the contrast of the refreshing peppermint flavor with the dark chocolate and the buttery sweetness of the dough, especially with all the caramel notes of all the butter and brown sugar.
Do yourself a favor and make these cookies! You’ll love their smell as they come out of the oven when they’re done. They will make such a delicious, cozy snack by the fire. It is the the perfect addition to a time of quiet and calm in the darkness of evening, or a way to warm up during coffee break or Fika in the middle of the working day. I promise you, this recipe will be one of the coziest things you can do during the winter.
Peppermint Bark Chunk Cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Chill time: 2 hours or overnight
Bake: 10-12 minutes
Servings: 14 cookies
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp Celtic salt
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- ¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup granulated cane sugar
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp ground vanilla powder
- ½ tsp mint extract
- 2/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
- 1 cup peppermint bark chunks, coarsely chopped, or chips
- In a small saucepan, warm up the butter over low heat until melted. Do not let it boil or brown, just warm it up enough to liquefy it. Let it cool and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and Celtic salt. Whisk in well. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the cooled, melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated cane sugar until fully mixed and no lumps of brown sugar remain.
- Add the egg and egg yolk followed by the vanilla extract and vanilla powder, whisking until everything is fully integrated.
- Add the dry ingredients ¼ cup at a time, mixing together with a large spoon or rubber spatula. The dough will be thick and soft.
- Fold in the mini chocolate chips. Some of the chips may not stick to the cookie dough because of the consistency of the dough, so do your best to press them into the dough.
- Add in the peppermint bark chunks or chips, folding them into the dough with your hands if necessary. Scrape the dense cookie dough into a glass bowl, cover it, and chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight. This will make sure that the resulting cookie will be soft and chewy, so don’t skip this step! You may store the dough in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- On the day you want to bake the cookies, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to soften at room temperature until you can handle it.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Using an ice cream scoop, form balls of cookie dough and scoop them onto the prepared baking sheet, placing them at least 2 inches apart from each other. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, you can form cookie dough balls by hand and the equivalent is about 3 tbsp dough per ball.
- Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes. The cookies will be soft and slightly under-baked and will have the lightest hint of golden on their edges. That’s how you know they are done. You may press a few more chunks or chips of peppermint bark while the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a more pleasing look if desired. Please note that while the cookies cool on the warm baking sheet, they will continue to cook a little bit more, solidifying the base.
- Once the cookies are cooled, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store them in a tin or airtight jar so they can stay fresh and soft.
Note: you can make the cookie dough ahead and even freeze the dough for up to 3 months. I do not recommend to pre-shape the dough into cookie balls and then freeze, unless you don’t care that your resulting cookies will not be as soft and chewy as if you followed the instructions above.