The best kind of Hanukkah gifts are those you can make and your friends eat. In this series, we’ll present four sweet and savory ideas to spice up your holiday gift giving for everyone on your list.
Every holiday season, I don an apron and crank out huge batches of truffles, granola, chocolate bark and other edible treats as gifts. Besides the fact that homemade presents are a boon for my budget, I also like that they have a special, personal touch. I try something new each year and last year’s edible DIY project took the cake (err, cookie): Homemade marshmallows and graham crackers, along with a piece of nice chocolate.
If you’re anything like me, then the mere thought of homemade marshmallows knocks your socks off. Before seeing the recipe in Karen Solomon’s “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It”, I had only vague notions that marshmallows came from anywhere besides a plastic bag in the grocery store. But, like so many things, homemade marshmallows are a game changer.
A stand mixer makes easy work of marshmallows, which are made mostly from gelatin (yes, kosher varieties work well), sugar, and corn syrup. The alternative (which I’ve done with an heirloom hand beater) takes a fair amount of elbow grease, but is possible and still yields pillowy results.
Once I decided to take on marshmallows, I knew I needed graham crackers to go with them. But they can be surprisingly hard to come by in Israel, so I went the homemade route on those, again following Solomon’s recipe. These honey and molasses cookies are as doable as any rolled cookie recipe, and while they may not match commercial graham crackers exactly in texture, they nail the flavor.
Homemade marshmallows and graham crackers make the perfect holiday gift — they’re simultaneously impressive and nostalgic. There are any number of ways you can present them, but I like to put a marshmallow along with a nice piece of chocolate in between two graham crackers. I put the still-to-be-melted s’more in a clear bag and tie with a bow for the finishing touch. It makes a whimsical holiday gift.
Makes about 36 medium (1¼-inch) or 16 large (2-inch) marshmallows
2/3 cup room temperature water, divided
3 (¼-ounce) envelopes unflavored (kosher) gelatin
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
Pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
1) Lightly oil the inside of an 8 by 8-inch pan with vegetable oil. Generously coat with confectioners’ sugar. Set aside.
2) Pour 1/3 cup of the water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water, and let stand for about 10 minutes, or until the gelatin has softened.
3) In a saucepan, off heat, mix together the remaining 1/3 cup water and the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of the pan and make sure it does not touch the bottom. Heat the mixture without stirring until it reaches 240F (don’t worry, it won’t burn). Brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush (or a clean paintbrush reserved for kitchen use only), dipped in water, to gently wipe away any residual sugar crystals.
4) With the mixer on low speed, very carefully add the hot syrup to the softened gelatin. Add the vanilla, increase the speed to medium-high, and beat for 8 to 13 minutes, until the mixture becomes very white, stiff, and sticky.
5) Spread the mixture into the prepared pan using a lightly oiled spatula. With wet hands, press the batter evenly into the corners of the pan. Set aside for at least 1 hour, or until the mixture is firm and cool (keep uncovered).
6) Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a shallow dish or bowl. Run a wet knife around the edge of the cooled pan to loosen the marshmallow from the sheet. Remove the marshmallows from the pan. Cut into 16 or 36 squares, wetting the knife often to keep it from sticking. Toss each marshmallow in the confectioners’ sugar until completely coated.
7) Store marshmallows in a single layer or in layers separated by wax paper. They will keep for at least 1 month when stored airtight at moderate temperature.
Homemade Graham Crackers
Makes about 3 dozen 3-inch square crackers
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt 2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup honey
¼ cup blackstrap molasses
1/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1) In a bowl or food processor, mix or pulse the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, and baking powder. Cut in the butter or, if using a food processor, add the butter and pulse until the dough is the consistency of coarse crumbs. Add the honey, molasses, and the 1/3 cup sugar and combine. Then add the milk and vanilla, bringing it all together into a stiff dough.
2) Lightly oil 2 baking sheets with vegetable or canola oil. On a work surface, cut the dough in half. Shape the first half into a rectangle and place in the center of a sheet of parchment paper. Lay another sheet of parchment paper over the dough. Roll, trying to keep the dough as rectangular as possible. The dough should be ¼-inch thick, and about 12 by 15 inches.
3) Lightly prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Sprinkle evenly with 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and roll the sugar gently into the top of the dough with a floured rolling pin. Using a knife or fluted pastry cutter, trim the edges of the dough rectangle to yield neat crackers (or leave them uneven if you prefer). Cut into approximately 3-inch squares.
4) Using a spatula, carefully transfer the crackers to the prepared baking sheets, leaving a little space between them. Repeat the process with the second half of the dough. Freeze the crackers for 15 minutes.
5) Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 350F.
6) Bake the chilled dough for 18 to 22 minutes, until just a little browned at the edges. Cool completely and enjoy.
7) Store in an airtight container, up to 2 weeks. You can also freeze the crackers for 2 months, allowing 2 hours to thaw before eating.
Recipes reprinted with permission from the publisher from “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects” (10 Speed Press, 2009) by Karen Solomon.