Eating well


Marshmallows make the perfect edible toy

By Bev Benett

Since childhood I've been fascinated by marshmallows with their dazzlingly white color and bouncy consistency. I used to wonder how something that tasted so good could also be so much fun. Talk about playing with your food-marshmallows are the perfect edible toy.

Now, this funky hot chocolate classic has grown up and gone gourmet. Rather than the classic spool-sized candy I grew up with the fashion is for “hand-crafted” gourmet marshmallows that sell for $4 to $7 a pound in upscale food stores.

If your children-or you-are tempted by this sophisticated twist on the classic marshmallow, I'll let you in on a secret: this confection is very easy to make. And, Halloween offers an excellent excuse to do so. Instead of shopping the supermarket isles for the latest commercial products, set aside an hour or so with your children and prepare marshmallows from scratch.

I can't argue that a marshmallow is nutritious, but heck, you're not giving kids candy for the vitamin content anyway. Most health experts say sugar is permissible in modest amounts as an occasional treat.

Instead of preaching health, I'm suggesting this project as a way to spend time together. What's more, you'll save money and have a fresher-tasting marshmallow than you'd buy.

If you've never cooked along with your children, this is a great way to start. Let preschool children pour ingredients into measuring cups with your help. School-age children can do these steps unaided. Children can also mix ingredients, spread the marshmallow batter and cut out shapes.

However, I'd recommend an adult handle the top-of-the stove part of the recipe. To make marshmallows you have to heat a sugar mixture to 240 degrees. The sugar can cause serious burns if it splatters.

Assemble all the ingredients before you start. Get out the measuring cups and other utensils. That way your assistants won't wander away or distract you. This recipe gives you lots of options, but decide what you're doing before you start.

• Leave the batter white or dye using liquid food coloring.

• Use vanilla extract or another flavoring such as mint, lemon or cherry. You can match the color to the expected flavor or contrast the two. For example, green-colored candies are usually either lime or mint flavored. How about cherry for a change?

• Eat the batter straight from the mixer or save some for actual marshmallows. When you first beat the mixture of gelatin, corn syrup and sugar, it's light and luscious. Use it as the frosting for a cake you intend to serve immediately (before the marshmallow firms up) or drop it by the spoonful onto hot chocolate. Or, spread the combination in a pan and let it set.

Marshmallows 4 (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin 1 1/2 cups room-temperature water, divided 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup 3 cups granulated sugar 3 to 4 drops food coloring, optional

2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 1/2 teaspoons mint extract 1 cup mini chocolate chips 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa 1 tablespoon cornstarch, optional

Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with cooking spray; set aside. Sprinkle the gelatin over 3/4 cup of the water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Set aside for several minutes until the gelatin has dissolved. It will be semi-firm. Combine the remaining 3/4 cup water, corn syrup and sugar in a medium-size heavy-bottomed pot. Cook over medium high heat to a temperature of 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the gelatin and beat until thick and fluffy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Beat in the food coloring if using, and the vanilla. Cool until tepid if necessary. Fold in the chocolate chips by hand. Spread the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing the top well. Top with a cookie sheet and set aside to solidify at room temperature for 12 hours. When the marshmallows are sticky but not soft, cut into desired shapes using a wet serrated knife or cookie cutter or simply cut into 36 cubes. Place the confectioners' sugar, cocoa and cornstarch in a sieve and stir onto a cookie sheet or into a plastic bag. Add the marshmallow pieces and toss gently, but well, to coat. Store in a tightly-covered container. Makes 36 servings.

Bev Bennett is the mother of two and the author of 30 Minute Meals for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003).

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