I can’t tell you how disappointed I am today that we got only a dusting of snow from the storm (weirdly named Nemo) that had the potential to finally turn Philadelphia white. While it is still cold I figured I could whip up a treat that, when I am not looking out the window, could make me think there’s a blanket of fresh snow outside. And nothing brings me back to snow days and shoveling that mile-long driveway in the woods like a mug of hot chocolate.
As you have probably gathered, there are few things about which I am lazy when it comes to the kitchen. Well, here’s one of them – I use Swiss Miss hot chocolate. You may gasp (!) but it’s true – when I want hot chocolate I have no time for tempering and melting and incorporating. But I have developed a method to elevate the humble packet to something a little bit more special.
Enter the immersion blender. This little gadget got some bad press in the New York Times, but it’s truly something we use at least once per week. It turns celery root or rutabaga , soups and (you guessed it) hot chocolate into smooth, silky delights. For the hot chocolate I add 6 oz. of milk to a pan (just like the packet says), warm it over medium heat (stirring so it does not scald) and then dump in the contents of the packet. I then tilt the pan (so air can become incorporated into the milk) and blend until it is frothy (about two minutes) with the immersion blender.
Think of this as making whipped cream with milk – you will see that the frothy layer you’ve just created is very similar. I then pour into a mug and add something. Add what, you ask? Whatever you want! My go-to is a shot of Bailey’s, but tequila, brandy and dark rum all work nicely. For a sweeter treat try butterscotch or peppermint schnapps. The Beekman Boys have published recipes for hot chocolate featuring international flavors (they do the real deal here, but I have just added the flavorings they suggest before blending the powdered hot chocolate with the milk), and Martha Stewart even has a recipe with peanut butter added.
Regardless of the addition you make to your hot chocolate, my guess is you’ll reach for some marshmallows to pack into the top of your mug. I knew that homemade marshmallows were possible, but I had no idea where to begin so I scoured through about a dozen recipes and realized that I was definitely up for the task. All marshmallows are is whipped egg whites, sugar and gelatin. So I set out to whip up some fluffy goodness.
Eggs are ubiquitous and they are used in both the least and most finicky of preparations. Marshmallows, along with real Belgian waffles and souffles, reside on the finicky end of the spectrum because they require the beating of egg whites. On her The French Chef, Julia Child typically showed a technique only once or twice since she felt her audience would “get it.” Whipping egg whites, however, is something she did over and over again because it is a process that must be done absolutely correctly for optimal results. Here’s how I do it:
I start out with three bowls: the KitchenAid mixing bowl (for the whites), a plastic container (for the yolks) and a small bowl big enough to hold an egg. As I will explain later, it is extremely important that none of the yolk end up in the whites, so separating the white into a small bowl first assures that if the yolk does break you do not have to discard the entire batch of whites and can simply add it to the rest of the yolks for use in an omelet in the morning. Many chefs will say breaking the egg on a flat surface rather than the edge of a bowl also prevents breaking the yolk since there’s less chance that a piece of shell will be forced into the egg upon breaking.
As you can see, I broke a yolk, so I was glad to have been using my three-bowl method. I have heard these rogue pieces of yolk called “goldfish” before – I think I will call this one Nemo.
Cold eggs are easier to separate than room temperature eggs, but room temperature whites whip better. This means it’s wise to plan ahead and allow an hour before you need to start whipping your whites so they can come to room temperature after separating.
Once at room temperature, you can start to beat the eggs. Go slowly at first to break the eggs up and then add a pinch of salt, which helps the process along. Once the whites are broken up you are ready to whip.
The goal here is to beat air into the protein of the egg whites. Proteins have hydrophobic (water hating) and hydrophilic (water loving) portions. By beating you “bend” the proteins, exposing the hydrophobic portions. Like a magnet repelling the proteins will go back to their original conformation (with the hydrophobic parts tucked on the inside). If we are incorporating air by beating when this occurs, the protein forms a bubble with air in it. Voila. Fat (like that of the egg yolk, or if the bowl isn’t impeccably clean) disrupts the bubble formation and as a result the whites will not whip up as well – hence the need to avoid goldfish.
So, turn up the speed and add a pinch of cream of tartar. This acidifies the eggs and actually helps to create and preserve the bubbles we are looking for. You can beat the whites to different stages for different uses, but we are looking for fully-beaten “stiff peak” whites.
With the eggs beaten, it is really just a matter of sweetening and hardening them for the marshmallows. A syrup (at 245°F) of sugar and cornstarch both sweetens and hardens the egg whites. Since it is hot it also causes the egg whites to expand as it is drizzled in (just like when a souffle is put in the oven). And next is the gelatin. The powder is softened in water, creating a sort of disc in the bowl. This needs to simply be heated quickly to dissolve the gelatin and it is also drizzled into the egg whites. They are then beaten until cool.
There are two options when it comes to forming the marshmallows. They can either be free form using a spoon or molded into a pan and cut after they set. Regardless of the method, the marshmallow mixture sits atop a dusting of 1 part corn starch and one part confectioner’s sugar. After setting for several hours, they are fully dusted in this mixture and then are ready to enjoy.
- 2 envelopes (17g) powdered gelatin
- 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup cold water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
- 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
- pinch of salt
- pinch of cream of tartar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1 cup corn starch
- In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of cold water to dissolve and soften.
- In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, mix the sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup of water. Place over medium-to-high heat.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, pour in the egg whites and beat on low speed until frothy. Add the pinch of salt.
- When the syrup reaches about 210ºF, add a pinch of cream of tartar, increase the speed of the mixer to high and beat the whites to stiff peaks.
- When the syrup reaches 245ºF, slowly pour the hot syrup into the whites, pouring so that the syrup does not fall on the whisk since some of the syrup will splatter and stick to the sides of the bowl.
- Scrape the gelatin and water into the pan that you used for the syrup and heat until dissolved (about 30-45 seconds). Pour the liquified gelatin slowly into the whites as they are whipping.
- Add the vanilla extract or paste and continue to whip until the mixture is feels completely cool when you touch the outside of the bowl.
- Meanwhile, combine the confectioner’s sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl Dust a baking sheet or counter surface evenly and completely with a generous layer of the marshmallow mixture with a sifter. Make sure there are absolutely no bare spots.
- Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer on the pan or a spoon to make free-form marshmallows on dusted counter. Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, uncovered.
- Put about 1 cup of the sugar-corn starch mixture into a large bowl. Use a pizza cutter or scissors (dusted as well with the dusting mixture) to cut the marshmallows into any size or shape pieces that you’d like. Toss the cut or free-form marshmallows in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. Shake the marshmallows vigorously in a wire strainer to remove the excess powder.
Storage: The marshmallows can be made up to one week in advance, and stored in an airtight container.