I haven’t baked any Christmas cookies but I have been playing around with some sugar confections for the holidays. First were marshmallows. I have been wanting to make marshmallows since I read Molly Wizenburg’s ‘A homemade life‘. She describes coming home and finding her then boyfriend making marshmallows, and that being the decisive moment that she knew that she would marry him. It’s not that I have any such romantic illusions but her description of the pleasures of homemade marshmallows was persuasive and the snowy forecast provided an excuse.
There are lots of recipes online for marshmallows from Wizenburg, Smitten Kitchen, Sugarlaws and they all vary slightly around the theme of gelatin and sugar. Marshmallows are not an instant gratification food, ideally they should dry overnight and they therefore require advance planning. They also require a stand mixer. I think your arm would fall off if you tried to mix them by hand and I was worried that my hand held whisk would start smoking before the required 15 minutes were up. I followed the recipe in Helen Witty’s ‘Better than store-bought‘ and the flavor was good, but they were a little gooey in the middle. The mixture may just have needed a little more time – stiff peaks being subjective, but the Witty recipe did not have egg white which while preferable for people worried about eating raw eggs may have affected the texture. I might try adding egg whites next time to see if they come out firmer or one of the other recipes. More experimentation is required and I am happy to take on the challenge.
We spent a cosy evening with friends watching The Christmas Story and drinking hot chocolate with our homemade marshmallows. I love the fact that marshmallows are perfect for both winter (hot chocolate) and summer (s’mores).
Sugar laden experiment number 2 was sesame crunch also from Helen Witty’s ‘Better than Store Bought‘. It just happened to be on the page before the marshmallows and given that AD loves all things sesame, and I happily had all the necessary ingredients I decided to try it while the marshmallows were drying. I halved the recipe and guesstimated some of the quantities but it still turned out perfectly – as Helen said ‘Better than store-bought’. You can often find cheap sesame seeds in ethnic grocery stores and they are sold in larger quantities than regular grocery stores.
Helen Witty’s Sesame Crunch
2 cups hulled sesame seeds (un-toasted)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup (I substituted homemade sugar syrup)
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread the sesame seeds out on a baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes or until the seeds are cream-beige, stirring once or twice. Don’t over toast them as they will continue to brown later in the syrup. Butter another baking sheet and a metal spatula.
In a heavy 3 quart pan combine the seeds, sugar, corn syrup, water, butter, honey and salt. Bring to a full boil over a moderate heat, stirring constantly. Then boil without stirring until a candy thermometer reads 295°F (we guestimated this as well dropping drops of the mixture into cold water).
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the candy onto the buttered sheet and very quickly spread it out as thinly as you can (ideally 1/8th-1/4 inch thick). If you want neat squares you can score it into a grid with a sharp knife, or you can go for rough angular pieces like I did. When it has cooled (which doesn’t take long) break it up. You can store it in a airtight container for several weeks in the unlikely event it lasts that long (ours lasted 2 days). Sheets of wax paper between the layers will stop it sticking together.
My third foray into confection was sugar crusted cranberries. I first read about these on Hounds in the Kitchen. Apart from in relish or juice I don’t think it ever occurred to me to eat cranberries raw. I was thinking about trying them and my resolve was cemented when I saw them featured on 101 Cookbooks. I followed the 101 Cookbooks method (this is another recipe that requires waiting time). You soak the cranberries in sugar syrup and then roll them in coarse sugar and then a finer sugar and let them dry. You end up with a moreish, somewhat healthy treat. That might counteract the Bulleit bourbon balls that Margaux just dropped off!