With the winter comes changes in not only the climate, but also with our palate for sweets. For example, coffee shops now offer peppermint hot cocoa, and frozen yogurt stores have swapped Thanksgiving pumpkin and Christmas eggnog for peppermint flavors. Last month, we focused on root veggies, a fall staple. This month, we segue into a winter favorite which we all know and love: peppermint. In the following article, I will show you some inventive ways to use this beloved treat.

Remember, do not be afraid to experiment! For me, there is nothing more comforting than peppermint hot cocoa on a snow day. But did you know that peppermint candies can be used to create gifts that are perfect for teachers, friends, family, and neighbors? Most dollar stores sell Mason and other glass jars which can be used to fashion your home-made gift. While you’re there, pick up 24 packets of instant hot cocoa mix with marshmallows, 12 mason jars, or any other glass or see-through plastic jars, approximately 36 mini candy canes, sparkly red or green ribbon, wax paper, craft scissors, and a fine tip marker. First, empty the hot cocoa mix into the jars, using as many packets as needed to fill the jars nearly to the top. The number of packets varies with jar size, so buy extra packets in case you need more. Next, crush the candy canes into small pieces by putting the candy into a re-sealable plastic bag and tapping with a rolling pin or spoon.

Mix the crushed candies into the jars, evenly dividing the amount of candy. Close the jars and tie ribbons around the neck of the jar. Slip a wrapped candy cane in between the ribbon and the jar for an extra special touch. Finally, cut the wax paper using patterned scissors and write a personalized winter message. If your sweet tooth still has not been satisfied, try the ultimate winter treat: super peppermint vanilla cupcakes. You will need a box of vanilla or white cake mix, vanilla frosting, candy canes, and red and green decorating sugar (optional). Prepare the cupcake batter as directed, and fold in ¾ of the crushed candy canes into the batter. Save the remaining ¼ for later use. Scoop the mixture into standard sized cupcake tins lined with festive paper and bake as directed. Let the cupcakes cool after they come out of the oven, and when they are at room temperature, frost them with the vanilla icing. For these cupcakes, rustic style icing looks great. Rustic icing is a technique of spreading icing with a butter knife in no particular pattern. The effect of this technique is to replicate snow that has been played in. After you are done frosting, top with the left over candy cane crumbles and the decorating sugar if desired. This bite of winter would be a decadent accompaniment to the sip of winter you’ve just made.

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The final treat on my top three list is a classic. The combination of creamy white chocolate and the blast of bright peppermint in peppermint bark is very well-known. A good rule of thumb is for every 1 pound of white chocolate, have a total of ½ cup crushed candy canes. To start, crush the candy canes in order to determine how much to double the white chocolate to achieve the correct amount. Melt that much white chocolate in a double boiler. While the chocolate is melting, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or if you have one, a sil pad (a silicon, reusable, flexible baking sheet liner). To the melted chocolate, add a few drops of peppermint extract. Peppermint extract is very strong, so use it sparingly. Taste the chocolate to alter the peppermint flavor to taste. Once the chocolate is melted, pour it onto the lined baking sheet and spread it into a ¼ inch layer or thicker. Top with the crushed candy canes and leave in the refrigerator to set.

Break the set bars into approximately 2x4 inch pieces and serve. Enjoy this combo!