I got it into my head to make homemade gifts for Christmas this year. I know. I KNOW. Busy people with babies zooming around their feet like caffeinated chihuahuas should give up any pretense of Martha Stewart-ism and just buy their loved ones pretty candles or something.
But I couldn’t help myself. I call it the Curse of Pinterest. After spending months scrolling past lovingly knitted scarves, beautiful jewelry, and gorgeous artwork, I somehow convinced myself that I am a handcrafting goddess, and nothing but the very best in homemade goodies would do for my nearest and dearest.
Unfortunately, it turns out that I don’t know how to sew. Or knit. Or paint watercolors. Or do any of the other Pinterestty things I’ve been considering. So after considering my strengths (baking) and weaknesses (see long list above) it was decided: edible gifts all around!
I may be a one-trick pony, but at least I’m a pony who comes bearing sweets.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a few different ideas for edible gifts. Today’s feature: Hot Chocolate Truffles and Peppermint Swirl Marshmallows.
This festive marshmallow recipe is from my book, The Sweet Book of Candy Making. They’re good year-round (especially if you decorate them using different color schemes), but I think they’re extra-appropriate during the Christmas season. Soft and plush, refreshingly minty, they’re equally delicious eaten plain, dipped in chocolate, or dunked in a mug of hot chocolate.
[I must admit that I got a little carried away with the red swirls. If you make these, I recommend going a little lighter with the food coloring, so that the white stands out a little more in the swirled pattern.]
Hot Chocolate Truffles are extra-large truffles that are melted with milk to produce a rich, creamy mug of hot chocolate. The only ingredients are chocolate and cream (and maybe a pinch of crushed candy canes for decoration) so the resulting drink has an intense chocolate flavor and a lovely thick texture. It’s a sipping chocolate, one to be savored slowly while the fluffy peppermint marshmallow slowly melts on top.
These two candies make the perfect edible gift for the sweet lover in your life. Package them with a cute mug and a quick note explaining how to prepare the hot chocolate, then sit back and prepare to receive hugs of gratitude.
Notes: I recommend using a semi-sweet chocolate that is not too dark. A very dark chocolate tends to be overwhelming and too intense to drink. A milder semi-sweet chocolate, or even a mix of semi-sweet and milk chocolate, produces the best results for hot chocolate.
Do not attempt to make marshmallows when it is stormy or humid—they will absorb moisture from the air and will be unpleasantly sticky and gummy.
Hot Chocolate Truffles
yield: about 10 hot chocolate truffles
18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (not chips)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) heavy cream
Crushed candy canes to decorate, optional
Chop the semi-sweet chocolate until it is in small, even pieces. Separate out 12 ounces (about 2 cups) and place it in a medium heat-safe bowl. Leave the remaining 6 ounces (1 cup) aside for now.
Pour the cream into a small saucepan and place it over medium heat. Heat the cream until it simmers, but do not let it come to a full boil.
Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate in the bowl. Let it sit for one minute, so that the cream softens the chocolate. Use a whisk to gently mix the cream and chocolate together. The mixture will be thick by the end. If some of the chocolate pieces remain unmelted, microwave the bowl in 10 second increments, stirring after every 10 seconds, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny.
Press a layer of cling wrap on top of the chocolate, and refrigerate it until it is firm enough to scoop, about 1 hour. If it is left too long in the refrigerator and is too hard, let it sit and soften at room temperature.
Use a cookie scoop or a large spoon to shape the chocolate into large balls, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter (about 1.5 oz each, if you have a kitchen scale.) Roll them between your palms to make them round, dusting your palms if necessary with cocoa powder to prevent sticking. You should get 10-11 hot chocolate truffles from this recipe. If you have the time, let the truffles sit out at room temperature in a cool room overnight to form a “skin.” This makes them much easier to dip and reduces the chance of the chocolate coating cracking, since you can dip them at room temperature instead of from the refrigerator. If you don’t have the time, refrigerate the truffles until they are firm enough to dip.
Melt the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate in the microwave. (Since the hot chocolate truffles will be stored in the refrigerator, you don’t need to worry about tempering the chocolate.) Pour a large spoonful of chocolate in your palm. Place a truffle in the puddle of chocolate and use your other hand to turn it around in the chocolate until it’s evenly coated. Tip the truffle from your palm onto a foil-covered baking sheet. This method gives the truffle a very thin coating of chocolate and a charming rusting appearance. If desired, sprinkle a pinch of crushed candy canes on top while the chocolate is still wet.
Once the chocolate is set, store the truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.
To make hot chocolate: combine 6 ounces of milk and 1 hot chocolate truffle in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk occasionally as the milk heats and the truffle melts. Once everything is melted and warm, your hot chocolate is ready!
Swirled Peppermint Marshmallows
Reprinted with permission from The Sweet Book of Candy Making by Elizabeth LaBau
2 1/2 ounces or 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
8 ounces or 1 cup cold water
3/4 ounce or 3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
14 ounces or 2 cups granulated sugar
5 1/2 ounces or 1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2-1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Red food coloring
4 ounces or 1 cup powdered sugar
Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or plastic wrap, and spray the foil or plastic wrap with nonstick cooking spray.
Place the room temperature egg whites in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Pour 1/2 cup of the cold water in a small bowl, and whisk in the gelatin. Set the bowl aside to let the gelatin “bloom,” or absorb the water.
Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, and stir in the granulated sugar, the light corn syrup, and the salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves. Brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any stray sugar crystals. Insert a candy thermometer.
Cook the sugar syrup, without stirring, until the thermometer reaches 260° Fahrenheit. This will take 10-15 minutes, so while you’re waiting for the sugar to cook, microwave the gelatin bowl for about 20 seconds, until the gelatin liquefies.
When the sugar syrup reaches 245° Fahrenheit, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed. The egg whites should be well-beaten and be able to hold firm peaks at approximately the same time the sugar syrup reaches 260° Fahrenheit.
When the sugar syrup is at 260°, remove the pan from the heat and carefully whisk in the liquid gelatin mixture. It will bubble up and steam a bit, so watch your hands during this step.
The hot sugar syrup now needs to be added to the egg whites. If your saucepan does not have a spout, pour the syrup into a large mixing cup or pitcher with a spout, to give you more control over the process. Turn the mixer to low, and with the mixer running, slowly stream the hot sugar syrup into the beaten egg whites. Try to pour the syrup close to the sides of the bowl, so it doesn’t hit the whisk and splatter everywhere.
Once all of the syrup is added to the whites, gradually increase the speed of the mixer until it is running on medium-high speed. Whip the marshmallow until it is very thick, shiny, and opaque, about 8-10 minutes depending on your mixer. When you lift the whisk from the marshmallow, it should slowly stream from the whisk in a thick ribbon. Add 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract and mix for 20 seconds to incorporate it. Taste the marshmallow, and if you would like a stronger mint flavor, mix in an additional 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract.
Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer. Drizzle red food coloring over the top of the marshmallow in a random pattern. Drag a toothpick through the marshmallow, swirling the food coloring on top. Stop before the colors start to bleed, while you still have distinct red and white swirls. Let the marshmallow sit and rest, undisturbed, at room temperature until it is completely set, about 8 hours.
When you’re ready to cut the marshmallow, dust your work surface with powdered sugar, and sprinkle a layer of powdered sugar on top of the marshmallow. Flip the marshmallow face-down on the work surface and peel the foil or cling wrap off the back. Dust a large chef’s knife with powdered sugar and cut the marshmallow into long thin strips, cleaning the knife frequently as it gets sticky. Cut the strips of marshmallow into small squares. Toss the marshmallows squares in powdered sugar to prevent them from sticking together. Store the marshmallows in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.
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