What’s the number one omnivore’s treat that vegetarians miss eating? Okay, fine, technically it’s bacon (don’t ask me why that is, as I don’t miss it at all), but I’m going to bet that marshmallows come more or less right after it, definitely in the top five.
This hole in the vegetarian’s candy jar is hard enough in the summer, surrounded by blissfully happy s’more-toasters at any campfire you twirl a veggie dog over. But months later, Easter hops onto the scene, and suddenly us vegetarians are surrounded by not only chocolate-covered marshmallow eggs, but Peeps, glorious Peeps.
A few years ago, I started satisfying s’mores cravings with a complicated procedure involving a low-heat oven, Marshmallow Fluff and a blow torch, but then homemade marshmallows became all the rage. It killed me even more than I not only couldn’t eat regular marshmallows, but I also couldn’t make their gourmet grown-up cousins. I saw a recipe for marshmallows made with agar at one point, but I was never really keen to try it knowing the kind of brittle, flaky gel agar tends to produce. At one point, there was a brand of vegetarian marshmallows on the market, but they were outed as not actually being vegetarian before I got my hands on a bag.
Fortunately, the situation is on its way to being resolved. Last year, Chris started getting curious about molecular gastronomy stuff, and one of the interesting recipes he came across was a recipe for marshmallows set with xanthan gum rather than gelatin. It’s from Texture: A hydrocolloid recipe collection, a free PDF download at khymos.org that contains all sorts of interesting recipes, from the weird to the ingenious. He made them, and even though he over-cooked the sugar and made “caramel marshmallows”, I was really amazed at how good the texture and flavor were.
Once you start working with sugar, all the rules change. Take today’s project, for example. In the normal practice of food photography, the components of the composition fall into two categories: food and food props. If this photo were a normal food photo, the apples would be the stars, and the bowl would be the prop, albeit a colorful and flashy one. But once I point out that I made the bowl by hand, and not out of glass, but sugar, suddenly the world goes topsy turvy. The dish is the star, and the apples demoted to mere props.
It goes beyond that, though. The hours in which you play with sugar belong to another world, a sunnier, warmer place, a place where magic walks the earth and comes to cook at your side. Colors are brighter. Pots bubble and boil with a constant snap and pop, like thick, syrupy soda on some serious steroids. Things come into real, three-dimensional being, springing as much from an inner wellspring of imagination as from the hot, malleable sugar in your hands.
My goal is to make this brand of magic a little more accessible to the common foodie. To that end, I’m starting off with the easiest techniques that take the least amount of specialized, expensive equipment. The other main advantage of this approach is that I need to relearn how to do it all, so it’s probably best if we don’t all jump in the deep end together just yet. Stick with me and we’ll get to pulled sugar and blown sugar, but don’t worry: just because we’re starting with basics doesn’t mean things are going to be boring.
Cadbury Creme Eggs: a guilty pleasure if there ever was one. If they were available all year long, I’m sure I’d be able to resist them, but because they’re so intimately linked to springtime and Easter, it seems almost irreverent not to buy a few each year.
I’m one of those people who everyone should be jealous of because I have the good fortune to have in-laws that I really, truly love having in my life. My mother-in-law in particular is an enthusiastic supporter of the blog and sent a request for a blog-worthy contribution for Easter through the contact form on the website. I was very excited about that because it was the first message I got that way! Her request got me thinking about Easter and what I could make. I wanted to do something different, and because I can’t resist a food pun once I’ve thought of it, the Cadbury Creme Brul’egg was born.
I bought both normal and mini Cadbury Creme Eggs at the store on Saturday. I also spotted these chicken-footed egg cups at Whole Foods and picked them up because they were oven safe and went with the eggy theme so well. Each of the egg cups got one mini egg, and I experimented with one large egg in two of the four ounce ramekins and three mini ones in the other two.