Ahh, there's nothing quite like a warm cup of chocolate to cup between cold hands on chilly October nights!
But it's not October anymore, it's November. I had every intention of writing this yesterday, of sharing with you all the glory of homemade cocoa and spooky Halloween marshmallows, but that was before I had a minor altercation with the espresso machine.
Despite the many warnings, and the clearly printed instructions not to remove the lid before relieving the pressure inside, I still managed to power wash the kitchen ceiling with the thing. Now, it isn't that I'm an idiot who ignores direction - well, sometimes, but not this time - but silly me for thinking, having run the steamer wand until it sputtered out, that I had relieved the pressure. And how naive of me to think there might be some safety mechanism that, in the event there were still pressure, it would stop me from opening the lid! Ha - wrong again!
With a sound like a gunshot the top of the boiler chamber shot off, nearly taking my arm with it, and dousing the kitchen in scalding water. Luckily, I managed to avoid getting a face full of steam, but my arm was not so fortunate:
(Thank you again to The Boyfriend, this time not only for his camera work but later for the topical anesthetic, gauze, and TLC)
This is right after icing. Minor burns from my wrist to my elbow, and bruising on my palm - those spots? Not food coloring, this time.
Let my stupidity be a warning to you - always follow proper safety instructions when using your espresso machine... Or pressure cooker... Or steam cleaner...
But let's not allow this to get in the way of pure deliciousness! Onward!
I've been seeing a lot of meringue cookies made to look like ghosts and ghouls this Halloween, and although meringues are quick and fun, and make for great ghosts, I have to ask myself this: can you toast your meringue over a fire? (Maybe). Can you sandwich it between slabs of chocolate and graham cracker? (You could, but what's the point). Can you melt it slowly into your cozy warm beverage? (I think not!). I'm not saying these are better than meringues, just that they're made of marshmallow. And marshmallows are made of awesome.
(This sign has been made very popular by the interwebs - I don't know where it actually is, but if I ever find it I will be sure to get my photo with it.)
First, before we get on to just how wonderful homemade marshmallows are (if you're shaking your head right now, it's because you've never had a homemade 'mallow, m'kay), we need to discuss the hot chocolate.
Whenever it comes to adding chocolate to milk (or non-dairy substitute), there are several options which present themselves.
There's the quick and nostalgic powder mix, such as Nesquick, or Ovaltine.
There's the syrup method, like Hershey's or Nestle.
And, there's the homemade route - which branches into a whole 'nother category of possibilities, including, but not limited to:
Homemade cocoa mix (with or without dairy, recipe included)
Whole chocolate, steamed (recipe included)
and a myriad of options in terms of flavoring, whether you prefer your cocoa to be classic and plain, or with a hint of cinnamon, orange zest, or cayenne pepper, as the ancient Aztecs used to do.
First, a home-made powder mix is a great thing to have on hand, or to give away as a holiday gift. There's nothing easier than filling festive coffee mugs, or cellophane bags, with cocoa mix and marshmallows and tied with a ribbon or string. Who wouldn't love that?
Hot Cocoa Powder Mix
Variations in italics
1 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1.5 Cups powdered or super-fine sugar (Plus or minus 1/2 cup, as per your taste)
1 Cup good-quality chocolate, use what you like, pulverized in a food processor (Optional, but best with)
2.5 Cups powdered milk (optional - if you want to keep it dairy free, increase the amount of cornstarch to 1/4 cup)
1 TBSP cornstarch
1 tsp. Kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp. sea or table salt)
Optional add ins include: 1-2 TBSP Cinnamon, 1-2 tsp. Vanilla powder (or inside of a vanilla bean), 1/4-1/2 tsp. Nutmeg, 1/8th-1/4 tsp. cayenne, 1-2 TBSP espresso powder, 1-2 tsp. powdered orange zest, 1-2 tsp. Chai spice... the list goes on.
Combine all ingredients with a few pulses of the food processor, then store for up to a year in a cool dry place, or the fridge, in an airtight container. If using the whole chocolate, in addition to the cocoa, the shelf life might be reduced slightly and storage in the fridge is best.
To brew a cup:
Add 1/4 cup of cocoa mix to a mug or cup.
Boil water, or heat milk or milk alternative until steaming.
Cover the powder in the bottom of the mug with liquid (maybe a half cup), and mix into a paste. Then fill with an additional 1/2-3/4 cup liquid, mix to combine, and serve with marshmallows or whipped cream, or a dash of cinnamon or other spice.
Of course, if you don't have a mix prepared, you can still enjoy a warm and frothy cup of cocoa in mere minutes with the help of a milk steamer. This is where the espresso machine came into play, but don't let my bad judgment deter you - using a steamer wand is really quite easy.
Variations in italics
What you need:
A milk steamer, or espresso machine with a steaming wand (this could be done with milk heated over the stove until steaming, then poured over the chocolate, but it won't result in the same frothy crema like what you'd get from a coffee shop)
1 Cup Whole milk, or milk substitute - soymilk, rice milk, almond milk...
2 oz. high-quality chocolate, as dark as you like, chopped or in chip form
Any additional flavors/spices - vanilla, espresso, cayenne... I like mine with about 1/8th tsp. powdered orange zest, and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon.
Water for steamer.
Fill steamer with water, and let it come up to temperature.
Add chocolate and any spices to the bottom of a mug. Pour milk over top.
Insert the steaming wand to the bottom of the mug before turning on the steam, then move the wand around the edges of the cup until all the chocolate is melted, and the milk has a creamy head of froth on top. Turn off, then clean the steamer wand.
Enjoy with marshmallows or whipped cream!
Oh, but the cocoa is only the half of it! We all know what you want, what you really, really want... Marshmallows! Ghostly marshmallows, to be precise.
Alright, so what is a marshmallow? Well, it's made up of...
Variations in italics
3 packages unflavored gelatin (approx. 2.5 TBSP)
1.5 cups granulated sugar, or vanilla sugar
1 cup light corn syrup (I've heard this can be replaced with half the amount of honey, but have never tried this. I presume it would change the flavor quite a bit, if not the texture as well)
1/2 cup ice cold water
1/2 cup plain water
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract (This can be replaced, or in addition to, any other extracts or flavors you wish to add - from almond extract, or peppermint, to liquors like rum, Kahlua, or bourbon. Make it as strong as you like it, up to 3-4 TBSP total liquid should be fine.)
Optional add ins: 1.5 TBSP cocoa powder, 1/2 tsp. vanilla powder, 1-2 TBSP cinnamon... chai spice, orange zest, espresso powder, etc.
OTHER optional add ins: (These I hear have worked, but have not played around with myself) - up to 1/2 cup pumpkin puree, chocolate ganache or melted chocolate, nut butter, apple butter, or up to 1/4 cup pureed strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. NOTE: if Adding fruit or squash purees, reduce the amount of plain water to 1/4 cup)
Any food colorings you like
1/2 cup corn starch
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Optional: Cinnamon, cocoa powder... etc.
Non-stick cooking or baking spray
Baking trays or pans
Hand or stand mixer
Note: If you'd like to make your marshmallows vegan, I've heard that you can replace the gelatin with a sifted-together mixture of 5 TBSP soy protein isolate (available at most health food stores and online), 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. xanthen gum. Then add 1 TBSP Carrageenan, or Genutine Vegetarian Gelatin, to the sugar and wet ingredients in the pan. I have not yet tried this, so if you do, please let me know how it goes!
If you have a stand mixer, use it. If it has a whisk attachment, use it. If not, be prepared to give your arm a work out with your hand mixer, like I did - it'll still work, don't worry.
1. First, prepare your work surfaces. Clear off lots of counter space, and sift together corn starch and powdered sugar.
For large marshmallows that can be cut into squares, or cookie-cutter shapes, prepare a 9x13'' baking dish by spraying with cooking spray, then dusting generously with the cornstarch/sugar mixture. You want it to look like a winter wonderland, with no gaps in the snow - be sure to go up the sides of the pan, as well.
For mini marshmallows, or piping out ghosts or other shapes, prepare 3-4 cookie or baking sheets by lining with parchment paper, spraying with cooking spray, and dusting liberally with cornstarch/sugar mixture.
Reserve extra dusting mix for later.
If you plan to pipe, prepare a disposable piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner cut off. An open tip will probably do the job, but I found a 1M piping tip to be helpful. I wouldn't go much smaller than that, because as the marshmallow fluff begins to set up it gets very difficult to pipe.
2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, or a large mixing bowl, add the gelatin and then the 1/2 cup ice water. Let this sit for several minutes to dissolve and begin to gel.
3. While the gelatin is sitting, add the granulated sugar to the bottom of a medium sized pot with a lid. On top of the sugar, add the corn syrup, salt, and the other 1/2 cup water. Turn the heat on medium-high, and cover the pot with a lid. Let cook, lidded, for 3-4 minutes.
After 3-4 minutes, remove the lid and clip your candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Don't stir the mixture, just let it bubble away until the temperature hits 240 degrees F. This should take 5-10 minutes, but watch it closely. As soon as it reaches temp., remove from the heat and proceed to the next step.
4. Set your mixer on low speed and begin beating the gelatin/water mixture. Slowly, pour hot sugar/corn syrup mixture down the side of the bowl while mixing. Try to avoid letting the liquid fall directly onto the beaters, as it may fling out of the bowl. This is where having a stand mixer, or an extra set of hands, helps.
Once all the liquid is in the bowl, increase the speed to high and beat for 12-15 minutes. After the first five minutes it will begin to take form and look like marshmallow fluff, but don't stop here. It will continue to thicken until there's significant resistance against the beaters, and the fluff will be warm, not hot.
5. In the last minute or two of whipping, add in the vanilla extract and any other flavors or add-ins you wish to use. I used 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp. vanilla powder, and a dash of cinnamon. You can also add food coloring at this point, and mix it in as thoroughly as you like. If you mix for only a few spins of the beaters, you'll get a slightly swirled look.
For large, classic marshmallows: Lightly spray a rubber spatula with cooking spray, and use it to turn the fluff out into your prepared 9x13 pan. Smooth the top, and let sit a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.
For additional swirls of color, you can add drops of food coloring to the top of the freshly poured mixture and drag the color through with a toothpic or sharp knife.
Once the marshmallows have complete set up, dust the top with more cornstarch/sugar, and turn the block out onto a cutting board. With a sharp knife, warmed under hot water and dried, cut the marshmallows into cubes, then dust all sides. Alternatively, you can use a cookie cutter to make whatever shapes you like.
Shake off excess dusting powder, then store in a sealed container for up to 3 weeks.
For regular mini marshmallows: Using a lightly greased rubber spatula, fill your piping bag and pipe long strips of fluff onto your prepared baking sheets. Let set a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight. Once completely set, dust the tops with more cornstarch/sugar, then cut into the desired lengths using sharp kitchen shears or a knife. Toss with more dusting powder to coat all sides, shake off the excess, then store in a sealed container for up to 3 weeks.
And finally, for the ghosts: With the help of the lightly greased spatula, fill your piping bag with fluff. Holding the bag vertically above your prepared baking sheets, pipe mounds of whatever size you like - the smaller they are, the less likely to droop. Once the mound is as big as you want it to be, stop squeezing and pull the piping tip away, letting the fluff stretch thin to create the tops of the ghosts.
You have to work quickly, here, because as the fluff cools it becomes much more difficult to pipe.
Once all your ghosts are piped, let sit 4 hours or overnight, then dust with more dusting powder, coat all the sides, and shake off the excess.
To paint on the faces, I first brushed even more of the dusting powder off with a pastry brush, then used a small, clean (and dedicated to food) art brush and black gel food coloring. You can, of course, use any colors, and paint whatever face, you like.
I made some scary, and some not so scary.
Some were big, some small, and I even ended up with a whole family - Meet the Marsh's: happy parents, grumpy teen, and a cute wee baby!
Then I had some misfits, like the angry uni-brower:
And of course, Jabba the HutMallow:
Do you ever wonder what goes through a Marshmallow's head as it's being roasted? Sugar, I know, but I mean if they had brains and could think. Imagine the horror!
(Uh, somebody? Can somebody put me out?!)
Roasty-toasty marshmallows are the best, though. Even if they are screaming inside.
One of my favorite things, besides putting them in the microwave and watching them all turn into Jabba the HutMallow's, is to torch the tops, and serve over hot cocoa with sticks of graham-cracker. It's like S'mores in a cup!
Dang. If only I had some graham's.
(Oh no - we're melting! Melting!)
What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy a cup of cocoa? Let me know in the comments!