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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 01/26/2011

Chat Leftovers: Showered with marshmallows

By Jane Touzalin

It's Wednesday, and that means we're just a few hours away from this week's Free Range chat, when we open the floodgates and let readers' questions pour in. This week our guest chatters will include Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster, architects of the ever-so-hot Charcutepalooza -- you did read our story, right? -- and Real Entertaining columnist David Hagedorn, who today walks us through a cozy winter lunch: appetizers, entree, dessert.

Tune in at noon, and bring your questions. If we don't have time to get to yours, maybe you'll see it here in this spot next week. Just like this question from last week's chat:

Your chocolate-dipped peppermint marshmallows were a big hit for my holiday entertaining. Now I'm planning a bridal shower for a friend and would love to replicate that success. The theme is pink, but peppermint seems too Christmas-y for a party in February. Can I make the marshmallows with raspberry flavoring? Strawberry? Cherry? If so, would I use a puree of the fruit plus fruit oil? Juice? How should I start trying to adapt this recipe?

I was intrigued by this question and sorry that I had to be out of town all last weekend; otherwise, I would have done some experimenting of my own. I'm a huge berry fan and definitely would be interested in berry-izing the recipe. And, hmmm, how do you think lemon marshmallows would taste? I kinda love that idea, too.

But back to your shower. The true path to enlightenment, I quickly realized when I read your query, was through the author of the recipe, Nancy Baggett. So I e-mailed her and asked whether it would be possible to create flavor variations. "I can't say for sure without testing," Nancy emphasized, and then offered two possible methods you can try.

1. To the basic marshmallow recipe, add 2 additional tablespoons of corn syrup and 2 additional tablespoons of sugar. Omit the peppermint candy. Instead of vanilla extract, use raspberry extract; though, Nancy notes, "I'm not sure how well the extract would work in marshmallows or how much would be needed. Taste, and add more as needed." She adds, "the best choice would be to use raspberry or strawberry or cherry oil made especially for confectioners, but it would have to be purchased online or with gourmet supplies."

2. Or you could simply replace the peppermint candy with raspberry, strawberry or cherry hard candies (and omitting the peppermint oil, of course). "Again, this would likely work, but I haven't tried it," Nancy writes.

If I were doing it, I'd go with Option #2 and replace the vanilla with EXCELLENT-QUALITY fruit extract or essence; I see on La Cuisine's Web site that the store (in Old Town Alexandria, so it's within driving distance of many of our readers) sells strawberry and raspberry essences from France in two-ounce bottles. Might be worth a shot. And I mentioned EXCELLENT QUALITY why? Because there are a lot of bad artificial fruit flavorings on the shelves of supermarket baking aisles, and you want to steer clear of those. In fact, if you use crushed candies, make sure they're not a nasty, fake-tasting kind.

Here, for those of you who missed them the first time, are Nancy's original recipes for 1. the marshmallows, and 2. dipping them in chocolate. (Of course, you don't have to dip them. Or you could maybe dip them halfway or drizzle chocolate artistically over them, which might look really nice -- unless the confectioners' sugar drifts around and ruins the effect. I'm just thinking out loud here.) Anyway, these recipes look long, but they are NOT hard. And we heard from several readers who loved making them and loved the results. So here we go.

Peppermint Marshmallows, dipped and plain. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Peppermint Marshmallows

Marshmallows aren’t tricky to make, and they taste so much better than store-bought. These are light, moist and fluffy-soft, and often a hit even with those who don’t care for marshmallows.

These marshmallows depend on crushed peppermint candies for their mild, pleasing minty taste and pale pink color. Don’t try to boost the mint intensity by adding peppermint extract; the flavor will be harsh and unpleasant. However, if you have oil of peppermint (sometimes available in stores with cake- and candymaking supplies) and want a more pronounced menthol character, add a few drops of the oil; don’t add more, as it’s quite potent.

Plan ahead, giving the marshmallow slab at least 6 hours to set up before cutting. Otherwise, it might be sticky and hard to work with.

A sturdy stand mixer makes the mixing process much faster and easier, although a very good portable mixer can be used if necessary.

Crush the peppermint hard candies by putting them in a triple thickness of small plastic food storage bags; seal, then pound with a kitchen mallet into 1/8-inch or smaller pieces.

MAKE AHEAD: The marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 1 month.

96 generous 1-inch marshmallows

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting the marshmallows' surface and the work surface
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water
2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin (3 to 4 packages)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup crushed peppermint pinwheel hard candies
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 or 4 drops peppermint oil (optional)
2 or 3 drops red liquid food color (optional)

Grease a 9-by-13-inch flat-bottomed baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray. Line it with enough parchment paper so it overhangs by 1 inch on 2 opposing sides, then grease it with nonstick cooking oil spray. Generously and evenly sift the 1/2 cup of confectioners' sugar onto the paper; the marshmallow will stick to any spots that are missed.

Place the cold water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Let it stand, stirring once or twice, until the gelatin softens, about 6 minutes.

Stir together the granulated sugar, corn syrup, crushed candy, salt and warm water in a 3-to-4-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until the candy and sugar have dissolved. Increase the temperature to medium-high and bring to a full boil, stirring constantly; boil for 20 seconds, then stir in the proofed gelatin. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring as the mixture bubbles. Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and oil of peppermint, if using. Stir to make sure the ingredients are completely dissolved.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer; discard any remaining solids. Use a balloon whip attachment to beat the mixture, first on low speed, then gradually increasing the speed to high. Beat on high for 6 to 7 minutes, until the mixture has stiffened, lightened in color and become quite fluffy.

If using, add the drops of food color, separated from one another. Grease both sides of a flexible spatula with nonstick cooking oil spray; use the spatula to fold the color into the mixture just until lightly rippled and swirled.

Use the spatula to scrape the marshmallow mixture into the prepared dish, spreading it evenly to the edges. Generously sift confectioners' sugar over the marshmallow surface. Evenly coat a second sheet of parchment with nonstick cooking oil spray; pat the sprayed sheet down on the marshmallow surface. Cover the top with foil. Let the mixture cool and firm up; this will take at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours; the mixture will become firmer and easier to handle if left the full 24 hours. After that time, refrigerate it if not using promptly.

To cut the marshmallows: Sift about 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar onto a large, clean cutting board. Remove the top sheet of parchment paper from the marshmallow slab, then invert the slab on the sugared surface. Peel off the second sheet of parchment paper and sift more confectioners' sugar over the top. Using lightly oiled kitchen shears (preferred) or a large, sharp, lightly oiled knife, cut the slab crosswise into 12 portions and lengthwise into 8 portions to form generous 1-inch marshmallows; or cut as desired. Dust all of the cut surfaces of the marshmallows with confectioners' sugar to reduce their stickiness. As necessary, clean off the knife and re-oil. Dust the cut marshmallows all over with extra confectioners' sugar so they don’t stick together during storage.

Store, loosely packed in an airtight container, for up to 2 weeks; for longer storage, freeze for up to 1 month. Defrost before serving.

Chocolate-Dipped Peppermint Marshmallows

Although homemade marshmallows are nice as is, they are to die for when dipped in chocolate. I usually prefer dark-chocolate confections, but here I think semisweet balances the mildness of the marshmallows best. Don’t try to add vanilla or any other liquid to the chocolate-oil mixture; the natural starch in the chocolate might grab on to it and cause the chocolate to stiffen up, or "seize."

You’ll probably have some chocolate left over, but the ample amount this makes facilitates dipping down into the bowl and coating the marshmallows evenly.

MAKE AHEAD: The chocolate-covered marshmallows can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

96 generous 1-inch chocolate-covered marshmallows

Ninety-six 1-inch peppermint marshmallows (see related recipe)
1 1/4 pounds 55 to 65 percent cacao chocolate, broken up or coarsely chopped, plus 6 ounces left in large chunks
2 to 4 tablespoons corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil, plus more as needed

Arrange the 96 cut, sugar-dusted marshmallows on a wax paper-lined tray; refrigerate while you ready the chocolate. Line several very large baking sheets or trays with aluminum foil.

Combine the broken-up chocolate and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir, then microwave for 1 minute. Stop and stir well. Microwave on 50 percent power, stopping and stirring at 30-second intervals until most of the chocolate has melted.

Stir until the remaining bits of chocolate have melted and the mixture is smooth and begins to cool down. If the chocolate is not fluid enough for easy dipping, stir in up to 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil.

Add the large chocolate chunks and stir them in until the melted chocolate is almost cool to the touch (or registers 88 to 89 degrees on an instant-read or candy thermometer). When the chocolate is cool enough, push any unmelted chunks to one side of the bowl.

Remove about a quarter of the marshmallows at a time from the refrigerator. Use a large dinner fork to submerge them, one at a time, in the chocolate, then lift them out of the chocolate and shake off any excess. Rap the fork against the bowl several times, then scrape it against the bowl edge to remove as much excess chocolate from the marshmallow as possible.

Occasionally stir the chocolate to keep it blended. If the chocolate begins to cool and set while you’re working, return it to the microwave oven and microwave on LOW for 10 to 20 seconds, then stir well until it is just fluid again; repeat as necessary, being careful not to overheat it.

Set the dipped marshmallows, slightly separated, on the foil-lined sheets; if necessary, use a second fork to push them off the fork you are using. If a pool of chocolate forms a "foot" around the base of the marshmallows, tap off excess chocolate as more candies are dipped.

When a baking sheet is full, transfer it to the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up the chocolate completely. Gently peel the marshmallows from the foil.

Store them airtight in the refrigerator with wax paper underneath and between the layers. Let the marshmallows warm up just slightly before serving. They will keep for 3 weeks.

By Jane Touzalin  | January 26, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags:  Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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