|Hot Cocoa Mix with Peppermint Marshmallows - recipes in post|
There's nothing like coming in from the snow to wrap your mitton'd hands around a warm mug of hot cocoa. Just one sip can transform an unpleasant chill into the most wonderful feeling of renewal, melting away the cold, melting away the world.
It's hard not to romanticize it with memories of my childhood... except, when I was a kid, hot cocoa meant swirling Ovaltine into a glass of milk and microwaving. Not so romantic, after-all. Fortunately, I've grown up since then.
The best part of making your own cocoa mix is that it can be made to taste. We like to use dark chocolate, but if you prefer you can use milk, or even white. The amount of sugar can be increased or decreased, and any number of spices or flavorings can be added in. I've included some of these variations in the recipe notes. I stuck to the classics for my hot cocoa, to pair with the peppermint marshmallow snowflakes. These marshmallows have just as many flavor variations as the cocoa itself, so if you're not a fan of peppermint, don't worry!
For packaging, I filled pint-sized jars just over 1/2 full with cocoa mix, then added the marshmallows in a little cellophane bag. Don't forget to label each jar with basic brewing directions!
Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix
Makes approx. 5-6 cups cocoa mix
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (plus or minus a few TBSP to taste)
1 cup quality dark chocolate (use what you like)
3 TBSP corn starch
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder, or scraped vanilla bean (optional)
Add all ingredients to the bowl of your food processor, and pulse until smooth and well-powdered. Store mix in an airtight container in a cool dark place (or the fridge) for up to several months, or freeze indefinitely.
To Brew: In the bottom of a mug, combine 3-4 TBSP cocoa mix with 1/4 cup hot milk, or milk substitute. Mix well to make a smooth paste, then fill the mug with more hot milk or substitute. Stir well, and top with marshmallows, whipped cream, or a dash of cinnamon or spice to taste.
Recipe Notes: To make regular vanilla marshmallows, leave out the peppermint extract and add a splash more vanilla.
Marshmallows are incredibly versatile, and other flavor options include spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice... any flavor extracts you like, or even a splash of flavored liquor like Bailey's Irish Cream or Schnapps .. cocoa powder and/or melted chocolate... fresh fruit or jams... the list goes on and on.
3 packages unflavored gelatin powder (such as Knox - approx. 2.5 TBSP total)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup ice cold water, separated
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8th-1/4 tsp. peppermint extract*
1/2 cup cornstarch, plus more as needed
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more as needed
Food coloring (I use gel colors) and luster dust, optional
*A little goes a long way! 1/8th tsp. is merely 2-3 drops, and is what I use. I suggest starting with this, and adding more to taste if you like.
1. before you begin, prepare your work surface. Clear some counter space, and sift together the cornstarch and powdered sugar. Lightly grease (or spray with cooking spray) a rimmed baking sheet, and dust generously with the cornstarch/sugar mixture. It should look like a winter wonderland with no gaps in the snow - be sure to get the edges and sides of the pan as well. (I like to lay parchment paper over my counter before I dust the pan, that way I can funnel any excess back into my bowl to re-use later.) You'll also want to grease and dust a flexible rubber spatula. Set aside.
2. In a large metal bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, add the gelatin and 1/2 cup of the cold water. Set this aside while you prepare your sugar mixture.
3. Add the granulated sugar to a medium-sized pot with a lid. On top of the sugar, add the corn syrup, salt, and the rest of the water. Turn the heat to medium-high, cover, and let cook 3-4 minutes.
4. Once the sugar has cooked for a few minutes, remove the lid and clip on a candy thermometer. Let the mixture boil until it reaches 240f. - do not stir, just let it bubble away. This may take 5-10 minutes, but watch it closely. As soon as the sugar reaches temp., remove it from the heat and proceed to the next step.
5. Using a hand or stand mixer, begin beating the gelatin/water mixture. Slowly pour the hot sugar mixture down the side of the bowl while mixing - try to avoid letting the liquid fall directly onto the beaters, as it may spatter. If you're using a hand-mixer, a second set of hands might be
6. Once all the sugar mixture is poured, increase the speed of your mixer to high and beat for 12-15 minutes. After the first 5 minutes it will begin to take form and look like marshmallow fluff, but don't stop there. If you're using a hand-mixer you will notice a significant increase in resistance against the beaters (also, if using a hand-mixer, you may notice the fluff climbing high up the beaters - dip the beaters up and down slightly while you whip to prevent the sugar from engulfing your mixer!). Beat until the side of the bowl is just warmer than room temperature. In the last minute or two of whipping, add in the extracts (or any other flavorings you choose). If you'd like to make your marshmallows a solid color, add the food coloring now.
7. Use your spatula to turn the fluff out onto your prepared baking sheet. Smooth the top as evenly and quickly as you can, but don't worry, it doesn't have to be perfect. For the food coloring swirls, I used Wilton Gel color and the tip of a thin knife to swirl the color throughout. Let the marshmallow sheet sit at room temperature a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight.
8. Once the marshmallows are set, dust the top with more of the cornstarch/powdered sugar mixture (and a little luster dust if you like - I used silver to create a sparkling snow effect). Using a sharp knife dusted with powdered sugar, cut the marshmallows into cubes (or, dust a cookie cutter and make shapes like I did). Dust each marshmallow thoroughly to keep them from sticking. Shake or sift off any excess powder, and let the marshmallows dry for another hour or two.
9. Once done, marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to a couple weeks.
Update - forgive the bad, phone-quality photo below, but I thought it might be helpful to show my set-up for the marshmallows:
To the left is the sheet of marshmallow, being cut into snowflakes with a 1" cutter - in a 9x13" pan, I usually get about 70 marshmallows, give or take... then there are a bunch of scraps I cut up and save for myself (if I cut the sheet into cubes instead of shapes, I could probably get well over 100 marshmallows, depending on size).
The bowl to the bottom-right has the dusting powder in it, and is where I put the cut marshmallows. Once I've done ten or fifteen, I give them a toss, then shake them thoroughly in that sifter to remove any excess powder. Then I drop them in the upper-right bowl, and let them dry out a little more before packaging them up (if you were to seal them airtight right away, depending on the humidity, you may end up with a gooey mess). Once I'm finished, I store excess powder in an old corn starch container (clearly labeled 'marshmellow dust'). I find doing it this way makes things go quickly and easily, and minimizes mess.
Hope that helps!