It’s December, in case you hadn’t checked your calendar yet. That means the holiday season is in full swing! I know this time of year means different things to different people. I’m not religious, so for me it means spending time with loved ones, putting smiles on their faces with yummy food, and well, eating, drinking, and being merry. I’ve made it a rule the past few years not to go overboard and really just enjoy this time of year.
I did some quick research on the 12 Days of Christmas, since I didn’t know much about it, and technically it starts December 25 and ends January 5. Well, I’m not going to follow that rule and plan to have my 13 days – a baker’s dozen – done long before that so we can enjoy the holiday treats.
Day 1 is a very easy project and one that makes great gifts for family and friends – hot cocoa and marshmallows! Who doesn’t love hot cocoa during the holidays? Both recipes are from Alton Brown – so you know they rock – and are easy to do with little time required. Ok, so the marshmallows can be slightly intimidating, but once you make them you’ll see just how easy it is. And tasty.
In fact, my hope is that once you make your very own hot cocoa mix, you’ll wonder why on earth you were wasting your money with sub par products like Swiss Miss. Let’s talk about the ingredient list in a package of Swiss Miss. I found this on Wal-mart.
Swiss Miss: Sugar, Corn Syrup, dutch process cocoa, Hydrogenated Coconut Oil , Nonfat Dry Milk, Less Than 2% Of : Natural Flavor, Carrageenan, Salt, Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono- And Diglycerides (huh?). Contains Milk.
Homemade hot chocolate: powdered sugar, dutch process cocoa, powdered milk, salt, and cornstarch.
Cayenne pepper is optional, but I like it (didn’t add it for my gifts though – not everyone is crazy about cayenne in their hot cocoa. They just don’t know what they are missing!).
Maybe you think I’m overreacting, but I’d rather have the cocoa with the ingredient list I can pronounce. Just. Saying. And you know what? It took all of five minutes to make. Dump all the ingredients in a bowl, mix, and you have a whole bunch of hot cocoa for much cheaper and better quality than buying a prepackaged product. And you can make it pretty and give it as gifts. This is what I did:
You could probably do better than me and even add a cute little scoop or something. And probably cuter labels. I’m not the most crafty person around.
This recipe makes several cups of dry cocoa. I don’t know how many servings because I am still using mine. But it will make a lot. And it is so yummy, especially when made with hot milk. Rich and creamy and chocolatey.
Moving on to the marshmallows. This isn’t quite as easy as the hot cocoa, but still only took about 30 minutes, depending on how you cut the them. And Alton’s recipe uses gelatin instead of egg whites, which makes the recipe even easier and almost fool proof. That’s good, right? Right. I tried to take pictures while making the marshmallows, but well, that just didn’t work. Didn’t want the camera too close to hot sugar, nor did I want to be distracted while working with hot sugar.
You do need a candy thermometer (or a digital one like this) and you need a mixer. Handheld will work, but you’ll be holding it for about 15 minutes. That said, it’s pretty basic. Disolve gelatin, bring sugar mixture to 240F, slowly pour hot sugar into gelatin and mix for about 15 minutes until you see fluffy white marshmallow. I also added a bit of red food coloring and peppermint extract. You could use any extract and color you want. Isn’t it great when you have creative control? And, on top of all that, you can use cookie cutters to create fun shapes. I did candy canes.
They taste so fresh and pillowy! After having homemade marshmallows you’ll wonder just how long the store bought versions have been sitting on the shelves. And let’s not forget the ingredient list. We’ll use Kraft Jet Puffed.
Kraft Jet Puffed Marshmallows: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Water, Gelatin, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (Whipping Aid), Artificial Flavor (gee, that’s my favorite flavor!), Artificial Color (Blue 1).
Homemade marshmallows: gelatin, sugar, corn syrup, salt, vanilla. (Plus cornstarch and more sugar for dusting).
Again, the choice is clear. Why put artificial stuff in your body if you don’t have you? People call me a food snob because I refuse to eat anything artificial. I’m not sure why refusing to eat chemically made “food” makes me a snob, but I’m ok with that.
On that note, I’ll step off my soap box and move on to the recipes.
Yield: 5 1/2 cups dry mix
Difficulty: Really easy!
Recipe from Alton Brown (I didn’t change a thing!)
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 cup cocoa (Dutch-process preferred)
- 2 1/2 cups powdered milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste
- Hot water or milk
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and incorporate evenly. Store in airtight container. When ready to use, warm water or milk in a mug and add several spoonfuls of dry mix (start with just one or two, and add until you like the taste). Top with marshmallows.
Recipe from Alton Brown
- 3 packages unflavored gelatin
- 1 cup ice cold water, divided
- 12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or peppermint extract
- 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- Nonstick spray
- 1 to 2 drops gel food coloring (optional)
1. Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.
2. In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat. (this took a bit longer for me, but I turned the heat down).
3. Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. (Make sure you do NOT pour the sugar onto the whisk! Sugar will go everywhere and you may get hurt!) Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows. (there is also a method for “mini” marshmallows that involve piping, but cutting them will be much easier).
4. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.
5. When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
6. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
And that’s it! Both recipes took less than 45 minutes combined! Enjoy!