We all have the habit of buying items at the grocery store that we really actually could make for ourselves at home. I suppose we could use the excuse that it's a convenience thing, but in most cases it's probably laziness or lack of time or even ignorance. For example, until recently I had no idea I could make graham crackers at home! I hadn't ever thought about it! So...what could be better than making something from scratch that you normally find in a box or a bag at the store?
For Valentine's Day this year I decided instead of a fancy dessert, I wanted to make something nostalgic. So, remembering a s'mores dessert on the menu of a restaurant we recently visited, I chose to make homemade s'mores (OK, so they were only 2/3 homemade, since I didn't want to mess with chocolate this time around). I know some of you may not think of this as a romantic dessert. After all, s'mores are a campfire treat...something you would make with marshmallows you've skewered on an unsterilized branch and held over a smoking fire trying to lightly toast into a beautiful brown but usually torching into a black outer shell instead. All while avoiding mosquitos and trying to catch a glimpse of the stars...and in the end wiping sticky marshmallow goo and melted chocolate off your chin. But trust me, there's something very romantic about making things from scratch. Especially surprising things from scratch...like things you normally buy in a bag or a box and have never truly had "fresh from the oven."
I've been intrigued by the concept of making marshmallows for quite some time now but hadn't been brave enough to try them. But my friend Kippy reassured me they were super easy. So off I went. They are simple, but getting them out of the mixer and into the pan is quite a difficult and sticky process (Or rather, if I'm completely honest, a gigantic heap of gummy chaos). A wet or cooking spray-coated spatula definitely helps to get them out of the bowl and off of the attachment as well as smoothing them out into a rectangular slab. Also, once they're cooled, when cutting, dampen your knife with cooking spray and then coat with the corn starch/powdered sugar mixture. This should help you cut easily through the block of marshmallow rather than having them all stick to the knife.
Graham crackers are even simpler to throw together although the end process of forming the crackers takes a little patience. And if you were wondering what makes up graham cracker flavor, it's honey, dark brown sugar (molasses), and butter. Who knew! Graham dough is super, super easy in a mixer. And I'll admit, this first attempt didn't result in flat rectangles like I had hoped and some of the "stamped" detailing disappeared when I baked them. I suspect I wasn't patient enough in leaving them in the freezer prior to baking and maybe didn't roll them out flat enough. But that sure didn't affect the flavor. They sure did smell and taste like graham...and they were so much better fresh out of the oven rather than slid out of a cardboard box.
I'll have s'more please...
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
- 1 c all-purpose flour
- 1 c whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1 c dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1 t baking soda
- 1/2 t kosher salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
- 1/3 cup honey
- 5 T milk
- 2 T pure vanilla extract
- Make the dough: Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
- In a small bowl, whisk together honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, a couple of hours or overnight.
- Roll out the "crackers": Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Use side of the rolling pin to even out the edges of the rectangle. Then cut the rectangle width-wise into several smaller rectangle "crackers."
- Place the crackers parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Finally, gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll.
- Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Decorate the crackers: Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.
- Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes prior to moving to a cooling rack.
Adapted from Epicurious
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 1 cup cold water, divided
- 3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
- 2 cups sugar
- 2/3 cup corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup corn starch
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- Line 13x9x2-inch glass dish with foil. Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray.
- Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.
- Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over mediumlow heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240°F, about 8 minutes.
- With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 10 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.
- You will now have a big sticky mass in the mixing bowl and on the attachment. Using a spatula sprayed with cooking spray, scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan (this is the most difficult part of the process...since the marshmallow is very sticky). Smooth the top out with a wet spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.
- Stir corn starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto large cutting board. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture and peel off foil. Spread more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab.
- Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray and then starch-sugar mixture. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture.
- Store in an airtight container to preserve freshness.