Kentucky Derby Memories and Mint Julep Cookies

Over a decade ago, I went to my friend D’s graduation in Lexington, Kentucky the weekend of the world-famous Kentucky Derby horse race. It fell on the same weekend as Cinco de Mayo as well as a U2 concert and the University of Kentucky graduation. It was a crazy crowded weekend to be in Lexington! I still remember L went to Louisville for the races. When we saw him the next day, he was sun-kissed and raving about the great time he had. It was something I had wanted to do, but fate never made it quite work out. I have my tee-shirt though and I wear it each year with pride.

Other than the year I was in Kentucky, my most memorable Kentucky Derby was definitely the year I babysat for four boys. I drew mazes, created word finds, and compiled simple fact sheets on horses, racing, and Kentucky – and we watched the race. They were well under the drinking age for a real Mint Julep so we made Mint Julep cookies. No bourbon, no ice, but boy did they have fun making them. The funniest part of the evening that just completely reminded me of the fresh eyes with which children see the world was when the screen displayed the winnings for someone who bet $1 on the winner based on the horse’s odds. The children thought THAT was what the jockey and horse won for the race (not the hefty purse and stud fees actually in store for them). It was so sweet! Needless to say, I didn’t correct that assumption. I actually sat for them for the other two races in the Triple Crown too. We had Maryland crab cakes for Preakness, of course!

If you want to know how to make a real Mint Julep, watch this YouTube video (bow tie optional) because the Red Robin bar in the Willard in DC is who Henry Clay himself taught to make the drink way back when so they make it right (and they’re south of the Mason-Dixon so there’s some Southern street cred too). I’d love to reprint Henry Clay’s original recipe (from 1898-ish) here, but not sure about copyrights his estate may have on it. But that’s ok because this post is about cookies not drinks. So, here’s the super basic recipe for the cookies:

Mint Julep Cookies

2 – 2 ¼ cups white granulated sugar
5 peppermint candy canes, broken into pieces (put them in paper envelopes within zippered plastic bags and let the kids stomp them to bits)
1 ¼ cups salted butter  – or –  1 ¼ cups unsalted butter plus ¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract/essence
4 ½ cups white flour
1 ¾ teaspoons baking soda
2 ¾ teaspoons cream of tartar

1. Place the granulated sugar in the food processor with the candy cane pieces and grind to a coarse sugar blend. This will be your peppermint sugar.

2. Cream butter with 2 cups of the peppermint sugar. Add oil, eggs, and vanilla to create the batter.

3. Separately, mix flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar together. Add to batter mixture.

4. Chill dough for 30-60 minutes.

5. Form balls of dough batter then press lightly to flattened. Sprinkle the top with your remaining newly-made peppermint sugar.

6. Bake at 350F/175C (convection fan) on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly brown. You want them chewy soft in the center with a light crispy edge texture. Remove and let sit until cool then transfer to your serving dish or storage container.


White Granulated Sugar
Sugar before blending with crushed candy canes.This photo was selected from over 6,000 member posts to be part of FoodBuzz Top 9 on May 7, 2012

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