Gooey Chocolate Cherry Mint and Oatmeal Cookies

December 8th, 2007  |  Published in All, Sweets and Desserts, Weekend Projects  |  6 Comments


Along the bicycle path I sometimes take on my way to work there is a twenty foot long clump of wild mint, growing untamed, tended by no one, slowly edging out native grasses lining the pathway. Without too much rhyme or reason, some days the scent of mint in the air is incredibly strong; other days it is barely noticeable.

If you have a garden, I’d advise you to think twice before planting mint in the ground. In a container, by all means, go right ahead. You should be warned though, mint is incredibly hardy, and left unchecked, it spreads like a viral weed. It can take over a garden in a matter of months.

To think of mint as a weed is strange for me since I have such positive associations with the mint flavor: hot mint tea on a cold winter evening, mint chocolate ice cream after a successful piano recital as a child, mint tea with honey and lemon when I am feeling sick, to name a few. In my mind, mint is associated with healing and warmth.

But ask a gardener who has had to eradicate mint from a prized vegetable garden, and they certainly won’t have such warm, touchy-feely associations. They’ll probably tell you that a mint plant can regenerate from as little as a two inch root clipping, so you’d better make sure to get it all when you’re pulling it out of the ground. Perhaps its phenomenal re-growth capabilities are why it is so often associated with health and healing.

I’m currently reading Michael Pollan’s first book, Second Nature, on the suggestion of my friend Amanda. You may have heard Michael Pollan’s name before in the context of the popular and very relevant book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Second Nature is a funny, honest, and delightful tale of Pollan’s informal education as a gardener.

One of my favorite passages of the book (so far) discusses his dealings with a resilient woodchuck that sets up camp at the edge of the garden and begins systematically eating through the garden like an all you can eat lunch buffet. At first, Pollan’s efforts to eradicate the free-loader are fairly gentle and non-invasive, i.e. filling the borrow entrance with rocks and dirt and hoping the creature will simply go away. When this gentle approach doesn’t work, he moves on to harsher (and more comic) measures. Woodchucks apparently have impeccable hygiene and hate to dirty their coats. Using this knowledge, Pollan fills the burrow entry with a variety of sticky and gooey substances like cracked eggs, grease, and molasses. When these tactics fail, he decides to stuff a dead road-kill flattened woodchuck into the burrow entrance as a macabre warning (by now, he’s not joking around…). Even this morbid gesture fails to deter the woodchuck. Exasperated, he dumps a gallon of gasoline into the burrow, lights a match, and drops it in… This action gets fumbled though, and it does little more than explode in his face and singe his eyebrows.

I believe this is how a lot of gardeners feel about mint, minus some of Pollan’s visceral anger. Having spent multiple hours on the Stanford farm yanking mint from the ground, often with both hands, playing an intense tug-of-war with the soil, I can understand this feeling. Still though, I somehow hang on to that comforting, ‘touchy-feely’ association with mint (probably because I have memories of a huge peppermint plant in the garden of the house in which I grew up…)

One of the plants I played tug-of-war with on the Stanford farm I brought home and planted in a container on my front deck. Unsurprisingly, it has flourished, even with very little effort on my part. And I mean very little effort. In fact, I planted it and pretty much forgot about it. It mustn’t mind being left alone though, as it provides me with a steady supply of fresh mint in return for my zero effort. If you are looking for an easy ‘in’ to the herb world, planting mint might just be your ticket.

But back to the bicycle path. One day last week while riding past the wild mint clump, the scent in the air was remarkably strong. When I notice something remarkable, I try to continue with it for at least another thought or two. That morning my thoughts turned first to how the smell of mint reminds me of Christmas, then to my far-off dream of someday having my own micro-farm, and then to how to use fresh mint in a way I’ve never used it before in a recipe. Sweets were on the brain that morning, and I spent the final few minutes of my ride coming up with a tempting cookie combination–mint, chocolate, cherries, and oatmeal… mmmm……

The basis of this recipe comes from Epicurious, and I’m sure as written it would be delicious. With the addition of fresh mint though, the cookies are heavenly! Gooey, sweet, full-bodied, and even refreshing from the hint of mint. Mmmm…. they’re so good that after writing that last sentence I was obliged to get up, go into the kitchen, and eat two. Really though, they’re very easy to make, and are absolutely delicious. I might even go eat another… mmmm…

Gooey Chocolate Cherry Mint and Oatmeal Cookies
makes about 3 dozen

1 cup dried cherries (I used a mixture of tart and sweet)
1 cup very hot water (for soaking cherries)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 t. mint spirits or mint extract
1 cup old-fashioned oats (tip: oats are almost always sold in the bulk section of natural foods stores. Since it don’t use them on a regular basis, I buy only as much as I need from the bulk bin)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 T chopped fresh mint

Place dried cherries in a bowl and cover with 1 c. very hot water. Allow to soak for 15 minutes to plump up. Drain, coarsely chop, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat (if either are available). Sift flour, baking soda and salt into medium bowl. Beat butter, sugar and brown sugar in large bowl until well blended. Mix in egg and both extracts. Beat in flour mixture. Mix in oats, then chocolate chips, reserved cherries and mint.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies about 15 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Cool cookies on baking sheets for about 3-5 minutes then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat until all of the dough is used up.

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