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.

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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.

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)

pb-cookies

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.