Monday, December 17, 2012

It's a Marshmallow World in the Winter

When it comes to Christmastime coziness, what could be better than a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows? A steaming cup of hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows, that’s what! And maybe some whipped cream, too.

I don’t know what Christmas is like in places with warm winters like California or Hawaii, though I imagine it involves surfing Santas wearing Hawaiian shirts. Man, I’d like to experience a little Mele Kalikimaka someday. But even if the snow is fake or only in your dreams, I’m sure there is always hot chocolate around the holidays. And where there is hot chocolate, there must be marshmallows. It’s a simple rule to follow.

Not to diss good old Jet-Puffed, but they can’t even be compared to the real stuff. Homemade marshmallows are softer and sweeter, with a creamy melt-in-your-mouth smoothness that the store bought kind simply cannot provide. Soaked in a mug of hot cocoa, real marshmallows soften into a gooey, sticky layer of fluffy goodness—so much dreamier than from the bag, or worse, those Lucky Charms nuggets that come in the hot chocolate packets.

Gourmet marshmallows are a thing now, you know. A lot of bakeries have started selling the squishy squares as a specialty. The marshmallow makers at Three Tarts Bakery of New York City are even calling them “the new cupcakes.” I can see that. In fact, I was recently lured to the marshmallows at Three Tarts Bakery in the Plaza Food Hall. At just a dollar a piece, it was hard to walk past the jars of colorful, fresh marshmallows, which come in flavors like raspberry, espresso, and rosemary-chocolate. Williams-Sonoma also sells some pretty good ones.

Below is a basic marshmallow recipe that I tried from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. It’s pretty straightforward, though they are not something that you can just whip up real quick. They do require some standing time; once for a couple of hours to set before cutting, then again overnight to dry the surface a little. The recipe is for traditional vanilla-flavored marshmallows, but you can substitute peppermint oil or any other flavoring of your choice.

So get with it already! Whether you buy some or make your own, try homemade marshmallows for yourself. Without them, your hot chocolate will forever be incomplete.

Merry Christmas! Love, Marisa.

Have fun with your marshmallows; cut them into shapes other than squares. I used a small star cookie cutter for some of mine, then dipped them into chocolate and stuck them on candy canes to make delicious and festive holiday swizzle sticks.

From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser
Yield: 36 squares
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 packet powdered gelatin
- 1/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavoring of your choice)
1) Sift together the cornstarch and confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl; mix well. Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking pan and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch mixture. Tilt the pan in all directions to coat the bottom and sides. So not shake out the excess.
2) Blend the gelatin with the water in a small saucepan and let soak for 5 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and stir over low heat until the gelatin and sugar dissolve.
3) In a mixer, combine the gelatin mixture, corn syrup, salt and vanilla and beat on high speed for 15 minutes, until peaks form.
4) Spread the gelatin mixture over the bottom of the prepared pan and smooth the top. Let stand for 2 hours, or until set.
5) With a wet knife, cut the marshmallow mixture into quarters and loosen around the edges. Sprinkle the remaining cornstarch mixture on a baking sheet and invert the marshmallows onto it. Cut each quarter into pieces, and roll each in the cornstarch and sugar mixture.
6) Place the marshmallows on a rack and cover with paper towels. Let stand overnight to dry the surface slightly. Store in an airtight container; the marshmallows with keep for up to a month.