Marshmallow Chicks, Just in Time for Easter

April 10th, 2009

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For any sweets aficionado, Easter is a can't-miss holiday; more candy is sold for Easter than any other holiday besides Halloween, so if you've been caught with a bag of jellybeans in your shopping cart, know you're not alone. Easter also boasts probably the largest variety of candy specifically created for celebrating the occasion: who can think of Easter without thinking of jellybeans, or giant chocolate bunnies, or foil-wrapped malted milk eggs, or yes, those (in)famous marshmallow Peeps? 

Besides the intrinsic delight in eating something that can't be found for the rest of the year, I also love Easter candy because it's so pretty: all delicate pastel shades of daffodil yellow, cherry blossom pink, and robin's-egg blue, and in the shapes of adorable little chicks and bunnies. Easter candy makes me feel happy and springlike, exactly how one ought to feel in this season of bloom and renewal.

While working on my candy book, I had the chance to research and work with a lot of different candies, and a lot of techniques and molds. I am totally in love with molds now. They make it so easy to create professional looking confections, turning your pot of tempered chocolate or hot sugar into a endlessly versatile medium. Among other candies, I was able to make some chocolate eggs and little peep-like marshmallows with my molds.

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Looking back, I'm surprised I haven't blogged about marshmallows before. These boon companions to a cup of hot cocoa are also an ethereal delight on their own, especially when homemade. After hand-cut guimauve (the French word for marshmallow) that tastes of vanilla, strawberry, or violets, how could those store-bought imitations seem like anything but a sad substitute? Although making marshmallows seemed intimidating at first, after a few tries I got the hang of combining hot sugar, whipped egg whites, and gelatin into a glorious, puffy white cloud. Seeing marshmallow take shape, just like meringue or buttercream, never fails to be pastry magic for me.

Now, I've made marshmallows in a pan before, but never ones molded into the shapes of animals; however, with a mold it was surprisingly easy to make a little flock of chicks and bunnies. What you'll need is a 3-D candy mold, that creates two mirrored halves of the same shape. Once the marshmallow candy mixture you pour in has set, you can unmold and put the two halves together to form one 3-D shape. (You can also do the same thing with chocolate to make your own 3-D chocolate bunnies. I don't know why I never thought of doing this until I started experimenting with molds and discovered how many of them there were. Some excellent online sources for molds include Sugarcraft and Candyland Crafts; both offer a great variety of molds in almost any shape you can think of.

The marshmallow chicks came out quite well, and once rolled in colored sugar (one of my favorite decorating items) they are ready to perch in a chocolate egg or perhaps an Easter basket.

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If you don't want to bother with 3-D molds, you can pour the marshmallow into a prepared pan and let it set, the way marshmallows are traditionally made. Then you can take a cookie cutter and cut out shapes from the sheet of marshmallow.

The recipe below is adapted from the marshmallow recipe I developed for my book; I hope you enjoy it as a little preview of what's to come.

I hope you have a happy Easter and find lots of sweets in your Easter basket!

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Marshmallow Chicks

4 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup potato starch

1. Prepare candy molds by making sure they are perfectly clean and dry. Spray them lightly with cooking spray, then sprinkle them with colored sugar to coat. Or, line a 9 by 13 pan with a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the bottom and sides and overhang the edges to act as handles. Spray the wrap with cooking spray so it can be easily removed from the finished marshmallow. Sprinkle colored sugar over the surface.

2. Combine gelatin with 3/4 cup water in a small bowl and let dissolve. Be sure the gelatin dissolves entirely and does not turn spongy. If necessary, heat in the microwave or over a stove to keep it liquid while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

3. Combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1 cup of water in a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue cooking without stirring until the mixture to come to a boil.

4. Continue cooking until mixture reaches 260°F, hard-ball stage. While the mixture is cooking, prepare egg whites. Place them in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When the sugar syrup reaches 245°F, begin whipping the egg whites on medium high speed until they form firm peaks. Do not overwhip.

5. When the sugar syrup has reached 260°F, remove from heat. Pour in the fully dissolved gelatin mixture into the saucepan and swirl to incorporate.

6. With the stand mixer running on low, pour the sugar syrup in a slow, steady stream into the egg whites; pour down the side of the bowl to avoid having hot syrup spatter out.

7. Once all the syrup is added, turn the mixer up to high speed and whip for about 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture is very thick and glossy white.

8. Add vanilla extract and mix to incorporate.

9. Spoon the mixture into prepared molds and smooth off the tops with an offset spatula. Or, use a rubber spatula to scrape the marshmallow into the prepared pan. Smooth out the top and let the pan sit for a couple hours at room temperature to let the marshmallow set.

10. After the marshmallows have set, unmold them and fit the halves together to form 3-D shapes. Roll them in more colored sugar to coat. 

11. Or, if you've made a pan of marshmallow, combine the confectioners’ sugar and potato starch into a bowl. Sprinkle some of the mixture over a clean counter. Turn out the marshmallow onto the surface, and dust the surface and sides liberally with more of the mixture to prevent sticking. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the marshmallow into cubes. Run the knife under hot water and wipe clean between cuts to prevent sticking and to keep the cut edges neat.

12. Roll the marshmallows in the mixture to coat all over.

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