In March 2011, I wrote a story about growing mint in my garden and baking a chocolate mint layer cake:
Ah, Grasshopper…Cake not Pie
“Spring is all about green – the pine trees get lost in the woods among the leafed-out hardwoods. The daffodils send their chlorophyll-plumped stems to the sky, the grass awakens and replaces its brown blanket with a verdant one. The markets start to show off green as well – forget the coarse, bitter greens of winter, welcome the tender spinach and lettuces of spring. Woody herbs fade and the tender ones appear, in the market and the garden.
I guess you could say I have a garden; it’s really just a glorified flower bed, home to daffodils, crocus, lamb’s ear, a few ornamental grasses and a selection of herbs. The rosemary, lavender and oregano are steady friends, surviving the winters and bouncing back every summer. I plant basil when the ground warms; it has no chance of surviving the winter here. The mint, however, like cockroaches and Keith Richards, could survive a nuclear holocaust and still thrive.
I used to keep mint in pots, a sane proposition to contain its trailer trash ways. Last year, in a temporary lapse of judgment, I let my daughter transfer the mint to the flower bed. The plant promptly became viral, spreading faster than an ultra-conservative anti-presidential diatribe on Facebook. In the cool days of fall, I pulled up runners four feet long, snaking through the bulbs and shrubs in the bed. Even the roots smelled like Doublemint, Doublemint gum.
Mint’s inherent freshness makes it a cool choice for a spring dessert. Enter the Grasshopper pie, a dessert based on a cocktail consisting of crème de cacao and crème de menthe. As tempting as that boozy concoction sounds, I remade it to serve children. In church cookbooks, (and maybe this is a Southern thing, but I suspect it’s more of a rural America thing) you’ll find recipes created without alcohol with the qualifier “Baptist.“ As in “Baptist Harvey Wallbanger Cake” and “Baptist Grasshopper Pie.“ Well, this is a Baptist Grasshopper Cake. Dark chocolate layers, a fluffy minty filling, covered with a glossy chocolate ganache glaze. It’s like an Andes Candies cake, cool and refreshing, with a brilliant green ribbon through the middle.
To create this cake, I adapted recipes from the “King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Companion,” a reliable cookbook for family baking. Like Shirley Corriher’s “Bakewise” and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Cake Bible,” it’s the kind of cookbook that helps aspiring bakers turn ideas into reasonably attractive culinary creations. This cake is similar to a devil’s food cake. The filling is enhanced with marshmallow creme and I added peppermint extract and a sizable dab of green food paste. I doubled the recommended recipe for the simple glossy dark chocolate glaze – using 1 cup cream simmered with four tablespoons corn syrup and a smidge of salt. I stirred in 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate and whisked until smooth, letting it cool slightly before pouring on the cake layers.”
Looking Back: Salon Kitchen Challenge
I wrote this story for the Salon Kitchen Challenge. SKC was a weekly food blogging contest edited by Francis Lam, food editor at Salon.com. I was part of a part-time food blogging community on Salon’s wild, spam-riddled, free-for-all forum, Open Salon (RIP). Writers submitted stories each week on a given food topic and the “winners” were saluted in stories on “Big Salon.” For the contest titled “Best Green Foods,” amidst a flood of green vegetable stories, my chocolate cake with mint filling won. Francis called the cake “fresh with the promise of springtime mint.”
I think the line about Keith Richards helped my story stand out.
The cake itself was mostly sugar, butter, cream and chocolate. However, there was actual green plant matter on top — I grabbed mint leaves from the garden and crafted white and dark chocolate mint leaves for the cake.
First Attempts at Food Styling & Photography
I didn’t have a smartphone in 2011. For the required photo, I used my Nikon Coolpix and set up the cake on my patio table. I cringe a little when I see this photo, but keep in mind, I was writing, baking and photographing on a tight deadline (less than a week) and there was no time for do-overs, especially with a cake.
I’m delighted to say that the new version of the cake is expertly styled and photographed by the amazing Debbie Wolfe of The Prudent Garden. (see below)
Where are they now?
Many things have happened in the dozen years since I first dreamed up this cake. Some of my fellow SKC contestants, like Grace Hwang Lynch, Linda Shiue, Felicia Lee, Paul Hinrichs and Lisa Kuebler are my longtime Facebook friends and continue to write and share their love of food. (Dr. Linda is now also Chef Linda and author of Spicebox Kitchen.) Francis Lam is Editor-in-Chief at esteemed cookbook publisher Clarkson Potter, and host of radio’s The Splendid Table.
Of all the changes in the past dozen years, the least surprising has to be that Keith Richards is still rockin’. He celebrates his 80th birthday in December.
Garden Mint is a Lifetime Commitment
I look into my spring garden observing the force that drives the green fuse. I don’t know a lot about poetry, but it seems plausible Dylan Thomas was writing about mint. (To this gardener, at least).
Each spring, the mint my daughter planted two decades ago wakes up, stretches, and proceeds to once more conquer the garden bed. And each spring, summer and fall, I pull roots and shoots of the fragrant leaves. It’s not a bothersome process.
Did you know that the scent of mint aids memory? It must, because every time I tug at mint, I think of the days when my girls were young and I dreamed up recipes and shared them with people I’d never met.
Chocolate Mint Cake 2023
This was such a good cake, I decided to revisit the recipe and see how it held up.
I tweaked the recipe, beginning with the fat. I’ve started baking with coconut oil more often, and subbed that for the canola oil in the original. It’s a 1:1 substitution. (Your results should be the same with a neutral oil like canola.) My testers liked the light coconut taste with the chocolate and mint flavor profile.
More notes: The original fluffy filling recipe made extra, so I halved that portion. This is the right amount for a two-layer cake. The glossy ganache is a keeper. It makes for an indulgent and glamorous cake.
You’ll notice that the chocolate mint leaves are missing from this iteration. They’re lovely, but fall into my self-declared PITA zone these days. The instructions for making the leaves are included, if you want to make them. I’m sure they’ll be gorgeous!
Instead of the leaves, I grabbed a pack of Andes Mints that’s been hanging out in my pantry since December. Unwrap a handful of candies, lightly chop and sprinkle over the top for a clever hint of what’s to come.
Try this memorable cake and let me know what you think!
Chocolate Mint Layer Cake (Grasshopper Cake) Recipe
This cake is two layers of chocolate Devil’s Food cake with a mint-flavored filling. The glaze is a decadent chocolate ganache.
1 ¾ cups sugar
½ cup coconut oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cups Dutch-process cocoa
¾ cup buttermilk (preferably whole-fat buttermilk)
2 ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup hot water
- Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. You can line the bottoms of the pans with parchment, if you like.
- In a mixing bowl, stir together the sugar and coconut oil. Mix on low speed until combined. Scrape down the bowl and add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla extract. Mix on low speed again until combined. The mixture will be creamy and lightly yellow from the eggs.
- Add baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, salt and cocoa. Mix on low speed until combined. Stir in buttermilk. Add flour and mix on medium speed for two minutes. Mixture will be dark from the cocoa and smooth. Slowly pour in the hot water and mix until combined. The batter will be thin.
- Pour batter into prepared cake pans and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 45 minutes. I use convection; bake times will be longer in a conventional oven. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Place cakes on cooling rack. You can prepare the cakes a few days before frosting. Wrap well and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to frost.
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup marshmallow creme
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-1/2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Green food paste
1.In a mixing bowl, use electric beaters to beat together the butter, marshmallow creme, vanilla and peppermint extract until fluffy.
2. Pour in the corn syrup and beat for another 30 seconds. Carefully add the powdered sugar and mix until combined. Add the green food paste a dab at a time until the frosting reaches the desired level of greenness.
Dark Chocolate Glaze
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1.Place the cream, corn syrup and salt in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Add chocolate and stir. Continue heating until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.
2. Cool, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, so that the glaze thickens slightly, but is still pourable.
Assemble the Cake
Enhance the minty freshness of this chocolate mint layer cake with a sprinkle of crushed mint candies on top.
Ingredient: Andes Mints, optional, unwrapped and chopped
To assemble cake: On a cardboard cake round or cake plate, place a dab of chocolate glaze and settle a cake layer atop. Spread mint filling in an even layer then top with second cake layer. Straighten and tweak the cake and pour the chocolate glaze over, covering the top and sides. Sprinkle the top with chopped Andes Mints.
If you’re feeling fancy, try making Chocolate Mint Leaves to decorate the cake.
How to Make Chocolate Mint Leaves
Ingredient: white chocolate and/or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1.Take fresh, clean mint leaves, press them between two layers of paper towels and weight with a book. You want flat, unfurled leaves.
2. Grab a new, food-safe paint brush and a spoon. You may have good results with a paint brush alone (make sure it’s impeccably clean). My best results were with a combination of a baby feeding spoon and a stiff child’s paintbrush (the kind that comes with children’s craft kits).
3. Melt two ounces white chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate in microwave and stir until smooth. Place parchment paper on baking sheet.
4. Take a flattened leaf. Working on underside of leaf, place a teaspoon of chocolate on leaf. Use brush to spread chocolate to leaf edges. Goal is quick, thick and even.
5. Place finished leaves on tray and move to refrigerator. When chocolate is set, carefully peel off leaf, beginning at stem end. Arrange finished leaves on cake and individual servings.
More Yummy Treats on A Cook and Her Books
My chocolate mint layer cake is just one of many sweet recipes on A Cook and Her Books. Give these recipes a try:
As seen on Food 52, try my Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with Biscoff Crust.
You can’t go wrong with my Gluten-Free Jam Bars recipe.
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