A Marshmallow World

I watch an awful lot of Food Network.  If I didn’t write about food, and could call it professional research, someone would probably stage an intervention.

I really enjoy the competition shows.

Chef Madison, and below, Chef Lance.  The two greatest Chopped competitors in the show’s history.  If you ever have the opportunity to watch the episode, It will be one of the best hours of your life, I promise.

I try not to miss Chopped.  Four chefs get a basket of four mystery ingredients in each round.  In the first they make an appetizer, then the least successful dish and its chef are eliminated.  The second round is main course, after which another elimination.  Finally, two chefs prepare dessert, and the best group of three dishes and their chef wins.

The Magnificant Melissa.

The Next Food Network Star isn’t quite what it used to be, but I’ll always be grateful for Melissa D’Arabian’s year; the woman is a culinary genius.  Every recipe she makes looks great, and we’ve never made one of hers that wasn’t a winner (So was Melissa.  She won the season.).

They also have seasonal baking contests, multi-week elimination mini-series for Spring, Halloween, Winter holiday, and possibly arbor day, they start to blur together.On one year’s Thanksgiving/Christmas/Chanukah super bowl, there was a competitor named Jason from Kentucky.  He has a large personality.  He’s also very country.  His accent is extreme, and he’s full of folksy sayings about his “mama” and various critters, with a whole lot of “Lord Honey’s” thrown in for good measure.  I felt it all seemed a tad studied and a little exaggerated for the non-Southern viewers.


Jason Smith Hanging with fellow Food Network Celebs.

At his more over the top, dramatic pronouncements and pronunciations I would sometimes emit a few “pronouncements” of my own.

But you’ve got to give the man his due.  That guy could cook.  He had knowledge, skill, and imagination.  He could give a little twist to a classic French pastry and make it new for the judges.  He also made almost perfect versions of Southern, down-home desserts like pecan tassies, coconut cake, and chess pie.He was in the final round and they had to make a big showy cake.  He made a clever Santa’s workshop with elf silhouettes in the windows set in a snow-blown winter scene.  One of the decorations were piles of fluffy frosting piped to look like snow drifts.

He made it with the second of my favorite non-spongy marshmallow foods: marshmallow frosting.  He called it by its alternative nomenclature; seven-minute frosting.  This stuff is not only pretty and compulsively delicious, it’s less sweet than normal frosting and fat-free.

Chef Jason and his prize-winning cake.

It won him the contest.

Marshmallow Frosting

4 large egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

Big pinch of cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

marshmallow frosting 2018

Put mixing bowl over slowly simmering pot of water—double boiler style.  Whisk together eggs and sugar until sugar’s dissolved, and it’s warm to the touch.

Put on mixer with whisk attachment and beat until it’s glossy and holds a stiff peak (5-7 minutes).  Mix in salt and vanilla.  Immediately frost cooled cupcakes.  Piping the icing makes it go much quicker, and they’re especially pretty that way.

It doesn’t set up and form a protective skin like buttercream. If you’re traveling with the frosted item, either take extreme care, or use a kitchen torch or the broiler to toast and set it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a huge hit with the judges, Duff Goldman, Lorraine Pascale and Nancy Fuller.  Duff Goldman, a trained chef and owner of the fabulously successful Charm City Cakes said he had never had seven-minute frosting before but was a true convert.

Duff being a marshmallow frosting neophyte is odd, to say the least.  The recipe I use is based on Martha Stewart, who may be a lot of things but she sho ’nuff ain’t no Southern girl.

Martha, Snoop, and their homemade “brownies”.

Thanks for your time.

Frothy and White

It’s much maligned, but sugar can be deceptively beneficial.

Before you even bring the sack into the kitchen, sugar can do some impressive things:

Drinking sugar water before vaccinations can help babies better handle the pain of the shot.Sugar sprinkled over wounds kills infectious microbes and speeds healing.

Did you dig in to that pizza too quickly?  Sucking on a sugar cube can relieve the pain of a burned tongue.

As a scrub, it’s miles better than anything you can pick up at Sephora.  Mix with a little olive oil into a loose paste and it can exfoliate lips, smooth rough elbows, and knees, and even get paint and grease off hands.And sugar, almost all by itself can make lots of dreamy dishes.

Caramel.  At its most basic, it’s nothing more than straight cooked sugar.

Add butter, cream and manipulate cooking procedure and you produce everything from pralines, to vanilla fudge, to dulce de leche. Hard candy, or what the Brits call “boiled sweets” are just cooked sugar with a little color and flavor.  Taffy is cooked sugar pulled, stretched and aerated.  Cotton candy is sugar, melted and spun into gossamer strands.

Last week I spoke about another face sugar can present to the world—the marshmallow.  But the rubbery aspect of its personality is off-putting to me and lots of others.  I also mentioned that I’ve discovered how to get the delicate flavor and soft fluffiness without the creepy elasticity.The first way is through the divine meringue.  Not the topping for lemon pie, although they both begin life the same way; egg whites beaten into foam with sugar slowly added.  For the candy meringues, you pipe out individual portions and then bake them so low and slowly they dry out and pick up no browning.  Think of them as giant, irresistible Lucky Charm marshmallows.The recipe is easy.  But preparation is more often than not, a heartbreaker.  If it’s humid, they’ll never completely dry out.  If they’re not all consistent sizes, some may brown, while others may stay soft in the middle.  They literally attract and retain moisture from the air, so must be stored with extreme care.

I normally get a 25% success rate.

Yeah, a serving is considerably less than the entire tub…

So, I seldom make them anymore.  They can be bought at grocery stores, pre-made and packaged in air-tight tubs.  They’re inexpensive, and usually get me into loads of trouble.  Despite vows of moderation when purchasing, many tubs have been devoured within 12 shameful hours of acquiring.

So, I try not to do that anymore, either.

The actual case o’ meringues

Now, I purchase handmade meringues from this amazing bakery, La Castellana (It means the lady from Castile), on highway 98 in Durham.  They have an entire case of them the exact size and shape of a Big Mac and in all the colors of the pastel rainbow.  I’m a purist and always go vanilla, but each color denotes a flavor, like lemon, strawberry, and blueberry.

The price of these sugary behemoths?One paltry dollar.  And the place is so full of other scratch-made delights you’ll find loads of other treats on which to spend the rest of your dollars—so be careful.


A chocolate rice crispy cupcake with my marshmallow frosting.

Next week I’ll talk about another avenue to get your marshmallow on without that weird texture thing.  It’s marshmallow frosting.  Fat-free, less sweet than buttercream, and delicious on a multitude of vehicles, including beaters, spatula, and fingers.  Despite the showy appearance, it’s easy to make at home.  And, I’ll tell you how.I’m always a little skeptical about those sweeping “metaphor for life” pronouncements.

But consider if you will, the cooking of sugar; it’s messy, dangerous, time-consuming and at times boring.  But the payoff, which can come in infinite varieties, is so, so sweet.Thanks for your time.

Squishy & White

I should maybe feel delighted that at my advanced age, I’m still discovering things about myself.

But, because this realization was pretty much a gimme, I instead feel resigned and annoyed.  The sound “duh” comes painfully to mind.

What, Gentle Reader is this thunderbolt of personal awakening?It concerns marshmallows. 

I’ve always disliked the fluffy cylindrical confections. I’m not a fan of s’mores.  I’ve always steered clear of those seasonal chocolate covered candies.  And when toasting them over a campfire, I’d toast, eat the crispy caramelized shell only, and repeat.

But.But, I’m a fiend for rice crispy treats.  Those Lucky Charms marshmallows make my heart skip a beat. I even enjoy toasted marshmallow Jelly Bellies.

I have actually bought them like this before.  Spoiler alert: eat ’em quick, they go sad and soft quickly.

It took more than half a century, but I finally figured out my beef with those pillow-y confections.

I’d begun making marshmallows.  I packaged them in Christmas bags to go with homemade hot cocoa.  They’re kind of impressive, but once you get a reliable recipe (Alton Brown’s; natch), they’re easy to make.

Alton’s Homemade Marshmallowsmarshmallows 2018

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped, reserving pod

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Nonstick spray

Place gelatin into bowl of stand mixer with ½ cup water.

In small saucepan combine remaining water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and empty vanilla pod. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto side of pan and cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees, approximately 7 minutes. Once mixture reaches temp, immediately remove from heat and remove vanilla pod.Turn on mixer.  Using whisk attachment, turn on low speed and, while running, slowly pour sugar syrup down side of the bowl into gelatin mixture. Once you’ve added all the syrup, increase speed to high. Continue to whip until mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 10 to 13 minutes. Add the vanilla bean caviar during last minute of whipping. While mixture’s whipping prepare pan:Put confectioners’ sugar into small bowl. Lightly spray 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray. Cover with a piece of oiled foil.  Add sugar and swirl to coat bottom and sides.  Save remaining sugar for later.

When ready, pour mixture into prepared pan, using oiled spatula for even spreading. Dust top with enough remaining sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest again.  Allow marshmallows to sit uncovered for a few hours before cutting.Once candy’s set, place a piece of parchment onto large cutting board.  Turn marshmallows out and peel off foil.  Dust bottom and sides with more powdered sugar.  Using powdered sugar dusted pizza cutter, cut 8 pieces wide and 4 long.  As you cut, place into zip-top bag with powdered sugar in it.  Gently shake to coat.  Place onto parchment to fully set.

*For fancy flavored candies, switch out vanilla for other flavors, such as peppermint, almond or orange.  You can also put spices into the confectioners’ sugar, like cinnamon, Chinese five-spice, or cayenne.  Or use cocoa powder instead of powdered sugar.What I discovered about marshmallows is I love the flavor.  It’s the texture that weirds me out.  That spongy, bounce-back, “it’s alive and will devour you” feeling—I can’t even.  I do not like food that feels like it’s fighting back.

And I’ve discovered and begun making two scrumptious items that have all the marshmallow taste and none of that marshmallow-y “sentient and plotting against me” consistency.

Next week I’ll talk about them and share the recipes.Thanks for your time.

Fluffer What-er?

It literally took the cookies longer to bake than make.  And they only take 10 minutes to bake.

The Kid is kind, softhearted, and funny (although my child’s mortified when this news leaks).  It all goes against the carefully cultivated image of a cranky old man, shaking his fist at neighborhood children who venture too near his yard.

The Kid’s role modle

I’d made some lemon cookies for The Kid, who was joining us for dinner.  But they weren’t Petey’s thing, so I texted our offspring, to grab something sweet for Daddy on the way over.

I didn’t hear back, but I hardly ever do, so I just assumed that our conscientious child would deliver.

Only, The Kid either never received the message or forgot to procure.  I’m not entirely sure which; my spawn was a little fuzzy on the details.  But the upshot was, there was no dessert for Daddy.

The Kid was distraught.  Our child was all set to miss dinner to get him something when I had a thought.It was a thought about my kitchen crush; Alton Brown.

I’d been reading the October issue of Food Network Magazine.  And within its pages was an Alton recipe for peanut butter cookies.  But it was as stripped down as an abandoned Cadillac in a sketchy part of town.  It didn’t even have flour, for heaven’s sake (which means they’re gluten-free).  Regardless, they were a hit.

So thank you Chef Brown.  Call me maybe?

Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

*(I haven’t tried it myself, but if there are peanut sensitivity issues you could probably sub in almond or sunflower butter)


1 cup smooth peanut butter

½ packed brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Alton mixes by hand, but at this point I just dumper everything into my mixer bowl and mixed until it just came together.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls.  Place 6 on each pan, and flatten with the tines of a fork making the traditional cross-hatch.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cookies look dry and are lightly browned around the edges.

Let cool on pans for 2 minutes then place cookies and parchment onto racks until totally cool.I tried rolling the balls in dark cocoa powder to give them a hit of chocolate.  It didn’t really flavor them, but when baking the cookies got an interesting pattern of black with light brown peeking through.

Which gave me an idea.

Before baking, I added orange gel food coloring into the dough until it was bright orange.  I made the cookies about ¼ the size of the originals.  After they baked and cooled completely, they looked very Halloween-y.

I then made a batch of the marshmallow frosting that I talked about a few weeks ago.hallo-1Using the frosting I made cookie sandwiches.  They’re pretty good right away, but if you make them, cover them, and let sit overnight, the frosting sets up, and won’t squish out the sides when you take a bite.

These littles cookies are very similar to a sandwich I’ve heard about.  Called a fluffer nutter; it’s marshmallow fluff and peanut butter on spongy white bread that was created in New England in 1913.

Which is pretty horrifying.  But if you don’t have the sandwich ingredients on hand for the small fry, you could give them approximately the same nutritional benefits by having them dine on cotton candy and gin (Of course, that’s assuming you always have cotton candy and gin in your kitchen–but who doesn’t?  Amiright?).

Thanks for your time.

I’m Not Martha Stewart

I have a confession to make.

Martha Stewart kinda scares the figgy pudding out of me.

There’s just something about her.  Anybody that can make a grilled cheese by starting with a wheat field and a cow is pretty darn intimidating.  Part of it might be that fixed, slightly deranged gaze of an unhinged synchronized swimmer.  I firmly believe that under the right circumstances, she’d happily cut me.  She’s done time in the slammer you know.

But, I do admire Martha’s skills.  That woman could take an envelope and an old sock and turn it into a chandelier.  She could take half a Big Mac, an apple, and four dodgy Brussel sprouts and create a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner for twelve.

I was on her website looking at recipes when I saw a Rice Crispy treat surprise birthday cake.  You cut the treats into round cake shapes and decorate it like a cake. But for Martha, the whole thing seemed run-of-the-mill and frankly, dull.

For anybody else this would be a masterpiece, but for Martha…well…

It did get my wheels turning, though.

I imagined a deep, deep Devil’s food cupcake, with a not too heavy or sweet seven-minute type marshmallow frosting.

But, in the bottom of the liner, I would put a Rice Crispy treat.  The only problem was, I had no idea if it would turn out awesomely epic or a Charlie Sheen/Chernobyl-level disaster.  So, I gathered my supplies, informed Petey he had guinea pig duty, and entered my kitchen/lab.

You know what?  It worked.  The marshmallow treat part didn’t burn or harden, the cake was moist and super chocolatey, and the marshmallow frosting was just the right touch (and as an added bonus, the frosting is fat-free).

But I do have a couple of tips to reduce possible stress and future heartache.

df cupcake

Since I had to make the rice treats, cupcakes, and frosting, I decided to use a cake mix.  Only I subbed out the water for coffee and added a couple tablespoons of dark cocoa powder because I wanted to cut down the sweetness and amp up chocolate.

I put a rounded tablespoon of the still-warm treats in the bottom of cupcake liners, which I had sprayed with cooking spray (You only need a half a batch of the treats at most.  The recipe for them is on the cereal box).  Then I flattened the treats with my thumb and poured the cake batter almost to the very top.  Because of this, I only got about 18.  Coincidentally they also baked for 18 minutes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe frosting stays sticky.  If they’ll need to travel, I suggest you toast it with a kitchen torch to seal it.  The recipe was a traditional cooked marshmallow/meringue topping.  It turned out to be easy to make, and so good you need to frost fast, to reduce the chance of eating it all from the bowl.

Marshmallow frosting

marsh frosting

4 large egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

Big pinch of cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Put mixing bowl over slowly simmering pot of water—double boiler style.  Whisk together eggs and sugar until sugar’s dissolved, and it’s warm to the touch.

Put on mixer with whisk attachment and beat until it’s glossy and holds a stiff peak (5-7 minutes).  Mix in salt and vanilla.  Immediately frost cooled cupcakes.  Piping the icing makes it go much quicker, and they’re especially pretty that way.

wallp toast1.pngI think, in a way, I may have out-Martha-ed Martha. But maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud.

She might come after me.  And hurt me.

Thanks for your time.