I'm in a bit of a hurry today, as I have been summoned to beautiful downtown Las Vegas (the area where they film most of those gritty C.S.I. episodes) to attend jury duty. Somehow, I have managed to avoid being selected up until now, but I knew that eventually my luck would run out. On the plus side, I'll be able to spend my time, in what I'm certain will be a beautifully appointed and luxurious waiting area, working my way through at least a few of the magazines that I have stacked upon my nightstand. Maybe I'll even get a jumpstart on my Thanksgiving menu.
I'm sorry that I'm going to be spending the majority of today indoors, as this is the first day of the year that has started to really feel like fall. In terms of Las Vegas, this means that the highs are only in the 70s, and there are a few gusts of wind. Brrrrrrrr!!! As far as the weather, this is my favorite time of year. The blazing heat has vanished, and it becomes cool enough at night to open the windows and feel the fresh air on your cheeks as you snuggle under the covers. It's ideal for enjoying a steaming mug of hot spiced cocoa topped with a fluffy homemade marshmallow, out on the patio before bed.
The first time that I made homemade marshmallows, I was surprised by how simple the process was. It's really just a matter of following directions very carefully and preparing your workspace. The sense of accomplishment more than makes up for any sticky mess that is created, and the ooey-gooey deliciousness is ten times better than the store-bought variety. In the spirit of Halloween, I thought that it would be fun to shape the marshmallows like skeleton bones to serve with some "wicked" spicy hot cocoa. This recipe for cocoa (so called because it is made from cocoa powder, as opposed to hot chocolate, which is made from melted chocolate) is inspired by the chili infused drink featured in the movie Chocolat. Adding a spicy kick to the cocoa adds a nice contrast to the sweet, rich chocolate and milk combination, and the melting marshmallows will also help to "mellow" out the spice. Here are a few extra tips for making these devilish drinks and menacing marshmallows:
- The marshmallow bones will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
- If you prefer your hot chocolate to be extra frothy, then pulse it with an immersion blender or in a regular blender a few times before pouring it into mugs. Be sure to strain the spices first!
- If you don't have a pastry bag and a round tip for piping the marshmallows, then simply fill a large zip-top bag with the marshmallow meringue, cut off a corner, and you have a perfect substitute. Be sure to hold the top of the bag with one fist and guide the bottom with the other. This way, the marshmallow will not seep out the top of the bag.
- Star anise, cardamom pods, cloves, and cinnamon sticks can all usually be found in the spice section of your grocery store. Ethnic food stores, such as Asian markets, tend to sell them at a much lower price than traditional grocers. You can also substitute ground spices. I recommend 1/2 teaspoon cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon anise. Feel free to adjust these amounts to your taste.
- Instead of using vanilla to flavor the marshmallows, try using peppermint, almond, or coconut extract.
Marshmallow Skeleton Bones with Wicked Hot Cocoa
Makes about 20 bones and 6 cups hot chocolate
For the marshmallow bones
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper or parchment paper sprayed with nonstick spray. Combine 1/2 cup of the cold water and the vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, remaining 1/4 cup cold water, and the corn syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Continue to cook the mixture, washing down the sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush, until the mixture registers between 234 and 240F degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.
On high speed, whisk the gelatin mixture for 30 seconds. With the machine running, carefully pour the hot sugar mixture down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream. Whisk the mixture until very fluffy and almost stiff, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip.
To form the bone shapes, pipe in a continuous motion, first a small figure-8, then a straight line, then another small figure-8. Repeat until the mixture is used up. Let the bones stand, uncovered, for 10-12 hours in a cool and dry place.
Sift confectioner's sugar over the bones, turning to coat, and shake off the excess.
For the Wicked Hot Chocolate
6 cups whole or lowfat milk
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
15 whole cardamom pods, crushed
12 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
2 whole star anise
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring the first eight ingredients (through the crushed red pepper) to a simmer in a large saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla. Return the mixture to a simmer, whisking until blended. Strain the hot chocolate into a large heatproof measuring cup or pitcher; discard spices. Divide the hot chocolate among mugs and serve with the skeleton bone marshmallows. BOO!