Mallowing Out: A Resolution for the New Year

30 Dec

I gave up making promises to myself with the coming of the New Year long ago. If I am truly resolved to do something, I realized that it will happen regardless of whether I make up my mind in January or August. And if I’m not, well… no amount of January-induced-guilt is going to goad me into following through. So this year, I am keeping it mellow and not making any big plans. I’m also keeping it ‘mallow with some homemade peppermint marshmallows.

Peppermint Marshmallows

A couple of days ago, I was scanning the Washington Post food section looking for something of interest . . . and then my eye was caught by a recipe with two words that instantly reduce me to giddy kid status. Who doesn’t love a marshmallow to float in hot chocolate on a cold day, or just to mindlessly nibble in front of the television? Homemade marshmallows are particularly alluring and irresistible. Unfortunately, I grew up on the uniformly cylindrical, rubbery variety that you find in the grocery store by the large bagful. I was also well-acquainted with the crunchy, freeze-dried-textured nubbins that disappeared in my instant hot cocoa mix before I could even take a sip, leaving in their wake a trail of powdered milk-like residue. They weren’t so hot, but I didn’t know any better. And besides, the properties of a commercially processed marshmallows render them impossible for kids to resist: they are (a) small enough to fit in your mouth; (b) impossibly sweet; and (c) fun to manipulate whether via melting (in mouth or in hot liquid) or toasting (a la smores).

So imagine my surprise when I tasted a “gourmet” marshmallow as a an adult. I was instantly ensnared by the small bag of lightly-dusted chocolate marshmallows with a much more tender consistency (I could tell this even through the cellophane package) than the marshmallows of my youth. They were worth every penny that Dean & Deluca charged. They were richly cocoa-scented, cloud-like, and did not require chewing. Instead, I just let them sit upon my tongue and gradually dissolve. I also found myself wanting to savor the taste of these marshmallows as stand-alone treats, rather than needing to choke them down with several gulps of an accompanying hot beverage.

The marshmallow wasn’t the only draw for me in the recipe. Peppermint is one of those words that dances on the tongue and evokes so many warm waves of nostalgia. I feel a similar sense of enchantment with anything pumpkin-flavored (yogurt, frozen yogurt, cake, pie, bread, you name it). And although peppermint is not so seasonal as pumpkin, I have to admit that there is something about the winter in particular that makes me crave peppermint. Maybe I just saw too many York Peppermint Pattie commercials as a kid with the skiers and the snow and the catchy slogan. Or maybe it was the ubiquity of candy canes in December. Or the brisk and breezy, tingly massage that the menthol in peppermint conveys to the nerve endings.

My mind was settled in any event. I would have peppermint marshmallows for the New Year. I have only made marshmallows once before and they were chocolate-flavored. The recipe I used contained essentially the same ingredients, but the syrup cooking instructions I remember were a little more specific, noting to cook the corn syrup, sugar and water mixture to the softball stage temperature of 240 Fahrenheit. I like exactitude, but I figured I would test the recipe as written. I combined the sugar, salt, corn syrup, crushed pieces of peppermint candy (later to be strained out) and water and waited until the mixture reached a full boil (more like a froth) for 20 seconds before adding the proofed gelatin. I cooked and stirred the mixture until the gelatin was fully dissolved and removed it from the heat. Next, I strained the mixture and I added the vanilla extract and a drop of peppermint extract (a deviation from the recipe, but I did not have peppermint oil. Shh).

The fun part comes next and that is watching the mixture transform from a somewhat viscous transparent syrup (tinted the lovely color of a cosmopolitan) to a baby pink creamy fluff  as you crank up the mixer gradually to high speed. I fell in love with the color so much that I chose not to add additional artificial coloring, which you can do by hand for a swirl-in effect. Instead of using oiled and confectionary-sugar-coated parchment to line the marshmallow tray, I used oiled plastic wrap. I find this to be a lot cleaner and easier to manipulate at the end of the day and don’t see that it made a difference in the final product.

Creamy Marshmallow Mixture

At this point, patience is key, because you must let the gelatin in the marshmallow mixture set at room temperature for six hours. Yes, it is hard because the block of fluff looks so fun to play with. Every once in a while, I would give the pan a slight wiggle, just to check in.

Waiting for the Marshmallow Mixture to Set

Once the mixture has set, you can then invert the marshmallow pan over a confectionary-sugar-coated sheet of parchment. Cutting the marshmallows can be tricky and requires some patience. I found that while scissors slice through the marshmallow matter easier than my knife, which would invariably get stuck even if oiled, the cuts were not as straight as I’d like.

Peppermint Marshmallows cut with Scissors

I also found that I didn’t quite have the patience to cut exact one inch by one inch pieces and that often, the scissor blades would compress the edge of the marshmallow, unlike a knife. I decided to grab my smallest circle biscuit cutter, and coated it with confectioner’s sugar. The cutter sliced through the marshmallows very easily, did not compress the edges, and created very pretty uniform marshmallows. I then dusted my marshmallows very generously with more confectioner’s sugar, especially the newly cut sides that had not been previously dusted. Otherwise, they will stick to everything.

Marshmallows cut with Small Biscuit Cutter

If you want to eat your marshmallows as stand-alone treats, rather than floating them in hot chocolate, you may consider dipping them with chocolate as the recipe suggests. I would make two modifications though. Instead of  adding the oil to the melted chocolate and in effect making a chocolate coating, I would take the time to temper the chocolate so that you will not end up with streaky surfaces and a dull end product. Tempering is particularly important if you are aiming to give these marshmallows away as gifts, but if you are just enjoying them at home as I am, it may not matter to you. Second, I would only dip half of the marshmallows because that way, you get a nice contrast of pink and brown. Do this gently by hand (you don’t want to leave finger or fingernail indents) rather than with a fork as the latter is better for dipping the entire marshmallow. If you want, you can add a few crushed particles of peppermint candy to adorn the top. These marshmallows are tender rather than toothsome, and the peppermint flavor is pleasant and satisfying without overcoming your taste buds like a cough drop. The perfect treat for the kid in you on a cold day. ‘Mallowing out? Now this is definitely a New Year’s resolution I can stand by.

Dipping the Round Marshmallows

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