Friday, December 20, 2013

Molly's Peppermint Hot Chocolate

A great way to keep warm when things start getting chilly!

And last but not least on our historical holiday features is Molly! Unlike most of the other original historical characters (or at least through Julie, anyway), Molly didn't really have a focus in her holiday collection on a particular sweet she would have enjoyed. She did, however, have a candy cane tucked into her Christmas stocking, so I decided to use that as inspiration for picking a recipe to feature with her. While making home made candy canes sounds interesting, it also sounds like it might be really hard and very easily end in disaster, and I'm virtually certain I don't really have the right equipment to do it.

Peppermint hot chocolate is a pretty decent substitute for home made candy canes. Hot chocolate is definitely my beverage of choice in the colder months of the year, so I would not be too shocked if this is the first of many variations on it that appear on this blog! This one was simple, tasty and a nice alternative to going to the store if you're in the mood for something a little fancier than Swiss Miss.

Now, it's confession time: I actually don't like Molly very much as a character. World War II is one of my favorite periods of world history to study, and I found her series a little disappointing in terms of both how they chose to focus on the war changing the average American's life and also because Molly herself was often just too much of a brat for me to really root for her when she was confronted with a problem. That said, Molly's Surprise is one of the few books in her series where I really do feel for her, and it's probably actually my favorite installment in her series besides Molly Saves the Day. In it, Molly, her three siblings and her mother are all trying to deal with the fact that this is the first Christmas they've shared without Dad (who is overseas helping injured troops in England), and that means things are going to be really different this year. The main conflict features Molly mostly wanting things to be as close to normal as possible, while her older sister Jill seems to have lost all hope of this holiday being meaningful, fun, or even important at all, because there are so many other things to be worrying about in wartime. To make matters worse, their grandparents - who were supposed to be bringing the Christmas tree - can't make it after all, and for a while it seems like it might as well not be Christmas at all for the McIntires.

Things change when Molly, Ricky and Jill come up with a plan to make sure they have a Christmas tree, and they surprise their mother by decorating it before she and Brad get home. Molly remains convinced that their father will come through with Christmas presents because Christmas is his favorite time of year, and while she and Jill are out playing in the snow early the next morning, the girls find a box from their father that says "keep hidden until Christmas Day" and decide to keep it hidden from the rest of the family as a special surprise. Jill admits that she never really gave up hope that their father would come through, but as is evident throughout Molly's series, between being older and more mature than Molly, she just tends to have a more realistic outlook on things, and prepares herself for disappointment.

Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front, a.k.a. the Molly movie does feature a variation on this plotline, but basically combines the plot of Molly's Surprise with Changes for Molly, and has her dad make it home in time to see her dance as Miss Victory and celebrate Christmas with his family plus Emily, who is still living with the McIntires in the movie.

A lot of American families during the course of the Second World War weren't as lucky as the McIntires. Packages and letters could get lost or delayed which made keeping in touch difficult, and those who had actually lost loved ones over the course of the war had to deal with the harsh reality that holidays were always going to be different, and that the war wasn't a temporary inconvenience - which honestly is my biggest complaint with Molly's book series, and why I wish Emily had gotten to play a bigger part in it.

One artifact from this time that we're still very familiar with today is the song I'll Be Home for Christmas. I'm always surprised by how many people don't know the song's history, but I guess it's just become such a staple of Christmas CDs and radio stations that no one really stops to think about where it came from. I mean, I'll admit I don't know the history of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, or why it might have links to the rise of Communism.

(It doesn't - to the best of my knowledge - but hopefully you get the point I'm trying to make.)

I'll Be Home for Christmas was written by Kim Gannon, a lyricist, and composed by Walter Kent. A third creator - Buck Ram - has been credited in later releases of the song after he filed a lawsuit against Gannon and Kent because he had written a poem and song with the same title before their version had been released. Bing Crosby recorded the song on October 4th, 1943 and it became an instant success that was hugely popular with both people on the home front and soldiers fighting overseas.

What does this have to do with World War II beyond being recorded in the 1940's? Well, think about the lyrics again. It's not just about anyone wishing they'd be home to celebrate Christmas with their family this year, it's written from the perspective of a soldier fighting overseas writing a letter to his family, remembering the traditions they'd share and ending on the melancholy note that he'll be home for Christmas "if only in my dreams".

It always makes me really sad for all those people hearing the song and thinking about loved ones back home or overseas that they wouldn't be able to see for the holidays, and because I'm secretly a huge sap, I often get kind of choked up while listening to it. It's included on The American Girls Christmas Album, which - to everyone's surprise, I'm sure - was always a particular favorite of mine growing up. In particular, my sister and I would "skate" around the house like maniacs every time the Skater's Waltz would come on, and in general, it's a great collection of music from the first six dolls' time periods. I'll Be Home For Christmas is the second to last song on the album and I believe it's the original Bing Crosby recording.

This all admittedly has very little do to with hot chocolate, and for that I apologize. I just like taking the opportunity to talk about different historical highlights of the holiday season and American Girl stuff. Anyway, on to the recipe!

The recipe itself is from Food Network, and is pretty simple, all things considered. The only ingredient we had a hard time finding was the peppermint oil, but that honestly might be because there's an increased demand for it this time of year, and we did go looking for it kind of late. A local health food store came through for us though, so things could proceed without issue.

As I mentioned in our chocolate truffle adventure, chopping up chocolate chips is a lot more difficult than I thought was worth it, so I was excited when my mom found bittersweet chocolate bars, which were definitely much easier to work with.

Most of the other ingredients just go straight into the pan. Just the kind of recipe I like!

And once the milk and cream and everything else is steaming a little, you dump in the chocolate.

I might have added the peppermint oil a little too early, and honestly, I was a little irked by the way the bottle was designed. Peppermint oil is super strong, and when a recipe call for three drops, not having a little eye dropper or something to actually make those was kind of a pain. I guess I know what I'm going to have to look for next time!

And then you just mix in the chocolate until it's melted. It didn't take too long, although my taste testers were getting a little impatient (they did technically have to leave and I was sort of holding them hostage with promises of hot chocolate), so some of the chocolate didn't really get incorporated in.

The recipe suggests making homemade whipped cream, but we had some mini mashmallows and left over chocolate, so we tossed them in and shaved some chocolate on top.

So how was it? I honestly didn't think mine tasted that pepperminty, but one of my taste testers insisted that hers did, so I don't know if she was just trying to be nice, or if because she got some of the chocolate from the top of the pan, there was less of an overwhelming chocolate taste and more room for the peppermint to shine. I got the third mug from the pan, and discovered that the chocolate really didn't melt down into the liquid as nicely as I would have liked it to. Instead, everything was kind of chunky and more and more chocolate-y as you got to the bottom of your mug.

Don't get me wrong, it was still super tasty! But I think in the future, I might experiment a little with finding a way to make the mixture smoother so that the dregs aren't just molten chocolate with no peppermint or cream.

Until then, this will do just fine!

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