Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Marshmallows & Hot Cocoa Sticks : Homemade Gifting

Happy 12/12/12!
No matter how busy I get this time of year, I have a tradition of making homemade marshmallows and gifting them before Christmas.  I usually include some packets of powdered cocoa mix with the bags of ooey gooey 'mallows.  This year, it would be different.  Grown up spiced cocoa, meet my vanilla marshmallows with their delicate halo of orange!

Last year I saw a lot of folks posting about hot cocoa blocks - hot cocoa on a stick meant for swirling in hot milk.  This was so appealing to me because the packets, well, although they take you back to childhood, I really wanted something special.  I started with the King Arthur Cocoa Blocks recipe and tweaked it a bit.

Everyone has their own version of this, with different combinations of chocolates and spices, but this is mine.  I have a habit of including a pinch of ancho chile powder in my cocoa - undetectable heat but immense depth of cocoa flavor!  The last bit of advice on this: use the best chocolate you can.  The brands/types used here provided not only the depth of flavor, but also a hint of the familiar.  I wanted the receiver to feel like their childhood cocoa grew up right along with them : memories and all.  Chocolate snobs might not like that I combined Hershey's with Callebaut, but that's the girl I am.

Hot Cocoa Sticks

1/2 cup (113g) heavy cream
1 1/4 cup (one 14oz can) sweetened condensed milk
3 cups total semisweet chocolate:  (I used 330g Nestle Semisweet chips, 180g Callebaut dark) chopped
3/4 cup (113g) unsweetened baking chocolate (I used Baker's - 4 blocks chopped)
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ancho chile powder
1/4 tsp Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee beans, ground fine into powder
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used dark Mexican vanilla)
16-20 paper or wooden pop sticks, 7 inch length
cocoa powder for dusting

Line an 8x8 inch cake pan with parchment paper, coming up and over the sides.

Combine cream and sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Heat until steaming, but not boiling, stirring occasionally to keep from scorching.  Add all the chocolate and spices and remove from the heat.  Stir once and allow chocolate to melt, undisturbed for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, put back on medium-low heat and whisk until thick and shiny.  Add vanilla at the end of whisking.  Spread the mixture into the pan and rap the pan on the counter a few times to loosen air bubbles.  Allow to cool at room temperature 12 hours or overnight to firm.

To unmold, place a cutting board on top of the pan and flip it over, peeling off parchment once settled on the cutting board.  Cut into equal squares (I measured and got 25 squares) heating the knife it hot water and wiping dry with a lint-free cloth after each cut.

A Gooey Just-Cut Edge. It firms back up in a few minutes.

At this point you don't need to worry about a few surface bubbles.  We're going to double the cubes on the stick.  Just hide a bubbly cube by placing a smooth one on top!

Double the cubes and insert the pop stick into the center, pushing down nearly to the bottom.  Lay each stick on it's side and dust with cocoa powder along the sides.  Leave the tops "naked" to expose the dark chocolately goodness below!
These beauties just get swirled into 6-8 ounces of steaming milk.  Even fat-free skim milk tastes decadent due to these rich cocoa blocks!  Try soy milk if you want an extra nutty flavor.


Homemade Marshmallows
adapted from Alton Brown's
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray
Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.
Fully Bloomed Gelatin
In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.
The Difference A Few Degrees Makes
Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.

Work Quickly Once The Whipping Is Done!

While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.  When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan.

Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into desired sizes and shapes using a pizza wheel or deep cookie cutter dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture.  I've done rounds but like the hand crafted look of the big squares best.

Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.*  The smaller you cut them, the shorter their shelf life.  These are NOT the bagged marshmallows that last a year in the cupboard!

One Might Build Oneself A Marshmallow Igloo If Inclined
Heather's Note:  I once rolled my cut mallows in crushed peppermint candy canes.  They were beautiful for about 30 minutes, atter which time the moisture in the mallow combined with the sugar in the candy and became an impermeable coating, half melted and distorted.  No amount of additional cornstarch/confectioner's sugar could mend the wound.  I recommend sticking with powdery coatings like cocoa, chai tea powder, or cinnamon combined with the the cornstarch/confectioners.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sweet Holiday Traditions

Meet "Nogg", our Elf on the Shelf

I have a few sweet projects coming up next week to share, but until then, I thought it wouldn't be out of line to show you what we've been up to here. 

In our home we have joined in the Elf on the Shelf tradition.  There are mixed feelings about this little guy, and I've seen some rather, well, crude interpretations of the Elf getting into lots of trouble at others homes.  Our elf, however, follows the original intention of Scouting for Santa.  He's creative and fun, but he doesn't get into trouble.  Since that's what we're trying to avoid!

Today, our elf named "Nogg" surprised our little one with a Candy Farmer's Market!  Apparently the North Pole Candy Farmer's Association had a great harvest this year, and allowed Nogg to share the bounty when he returned last night.

Having fun with sweets at this holiday time of year doesn't always mean getting your hands covered in can also be simple and whimsical!

Quiz question for those readers out there who are shy about comments:  From the movie, Elf  with Will Farrell, what were Buddy's four major food groups?

If you need a hint, they are all shown in Nogg's market stand today in the photo above.

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