B loves peppermint. As a consequence, the tip of my tongue is burnt. Only slightly burnt, but it's noticeable every time my tongue touches my teeth, or the roof of my mouth.
Let me explain. The other day, I was in line at the grocery store when I noticed that there were peppermint-flavored marshmallows displayed prominently next to the check-out. Not only that, they were on sale! I'm a sucker for gimmicks like this. (Last night I bought a headband located suspiciously near the cash register in a clothing store; was it a coincidence that it was also on sale?) Obviously, peppermint-flavored marshmallows were not on my carefully-constructed grocery list, which contained the components of our dinnertime meals for the next four nights, but lacked a section called "impulse buys." Apparently, the marketing ploys I learned about in a college sociology class called "Shop Till You Drop" are devastatingly effective, even on a presumably educated consumer like me, because I (needless to say, impulsively) bought the marshmallows.
We had the marshmallows for dessert that night, the perfect topping for a mug each of Scharffenberger cocoa (I tend to prefer marshmallows to whipped cream in terms of hot chocolate toppings, because the whipped cream disappears ever so quickly). The marshmallows melted, in typical gooey fashion, releasing the perfect amount of pepperminty flavor into each sip. I was a little greedy, though, and tried to drink my hot chocolate too quickly, leading to the slightly burnt tongue that I already described.
While excellent in the cocoa, the marshmallows on their own, without the chocolate-y accompaniment, were disappointingly firm. And for some reason, I decided that firm marshmallows were not to be tolerated this holiday season!
I think you can see where this is headed.
Thenceforth, I ventured into an unknown realm: homemade marshmallow-making. The only occupant of this realm that I know personally is my mother, she of the three turkeys at Thanksgiving and the homemade ricotta and the countless other culinary feats. For those of you not my mother and thus not familiar with the making of marshmallows, this blog entry will serve as my official field report. At first I was quite intimidated by the recipes I looked into, all of which called for a stand mixer. There's a lot of variation in the recipes as well, in terms of amount of gelatin and presence or absence of egg whites. I figured the recipe in the Scharffenberger cookbook would be a good place to start; chocolate and marshmallows go so well together that I trusted their marshmallow-making acumen.
Though I have a well-equipped kitchen (complete with such gems as a stand-alone pizza oven, a mozzarella slicer, and a milkshake maker), I do not yet own a stand mixer. I'm pleased to inform you that homemade marshmallows are (a) no more difficult to make than any other candy (and, as with all candy-making, a candy thermometer is essential); (b) far more pillowy than their store-bought compatriots; and (c) possible—nay, easy—to make with a handheld mixer.
The marshmallow-making experience was a revelation. I would actually say that marshmallows now fall into a can-and-should-be-made-at-home category, the same category that homemade pasta occupies. B and I eat marshmallows only rarely, but when we do, I want them to be perfect. Which means that I can't go back to the dried-out, slightly firm, store-bought version.
An added benefit is that I can pick the flavoring of the marshmallows if I make them myself! For now, I'm pretty content with peppermint, though I'm planning to whip up a batch of plain old vanilla too. Actually, the only other extract I have in the cupboard right now is almond, and almond-flavored marshmallow sounds a little odd, doesn't it? Besides, peppermint is so much more seasonal.
When my brother E and I were little, we played poker with tidbits from around the kitchen standing in for plastic betting chips. We used marshmallows, chocolate chips, and Mallomars as currency, and you could choose to bet with your pot of winnings, or to snack on them instead. Mallomars, those classic cookies, were worth the most. We never had these peppermint marshmallows back then, but I can imagine that they would have surpassed even the Mallomar in betting value. They are awfully delicious. Enjoy!
Adapted from Scharffenberger and Steinberg's The Essence of Chocolate
Time: 20 min active, 2 1/2 hours total
Makes: 16 2-in marshmallows
3/4 c. powdered sugar
3/4 c. cornstarch
2 1/4-oz envelopes gelatin
3/4 c. cold water, divided
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. peppermint extract
Grease an 8x8-in pan. In a small bowl, mix together the powdered sugar and cornstarch. Sprinkle about 1/2 c. of the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture over the bottom and sides of the pan, then set aside the remaining mixture.
Put the gelatin and 1/4 c. cold water in a medium-sized bowl.
Meanwhile, mix together the remaining 1/2 c. water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a small saucepan on the stove, and bring to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, bring the mixture to 236 degrees. While the mixture is heating, make an ice water bath in a large bowl. Cool the pot to approximately 210 degrees (about 10 to 15 seconds), stirring constantly (the mixture will become very thick and gluey).
Pour mixture into the medium-sized bowl containing the gelatin, using a spatula to scrape the pot. Beat with a handheld mixer for about 5 minutes, or until thick, white, and fluffy. Beat in the extracts.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared 8x8-in pan, using a greased rubber spatula. Sprinkle top with another 1/2 c. of powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture. Allow marshmallows to set in a cool area for at least two hours. Then invert onto a board (you may need to run a knife around the edge to loosen the marshmallow), and cut into desired shapes with a sharp knife, scissors, or greased cookie-cutters. Coat cut edges with remaining powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture. Marshmallows keep, tightly covered, for at least 1 week.
Adapted from the Scharffenberger website
Time: 5 minutes
4 t. cocoa powder
1 T. sugar
1 c. milk
marshmallows, for serving
In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the chocolate, sugar, and 1 T. of milk until dissolved into a thick paste. Add the remaining milk and stir infrequently until warm. Serve with marshmallows.