Sunday, January 24, 2010

black sesame marshmallows

black sesame marshmallows
weeks ago,
i was in h-mart,
our newest asian market find
(ok, it found us - the new store
opened its doors, a 1/2 mile
away from us, right around
the end of november).

i was buying sesame seeds
for lauren, when i saw the black
sesame seeds.
just like that,
i knew i had to have them.
because just like that,
i knew i was making
black sesame marshmallows.

it happens to me all the time:
i see something,
have an idea
and then become obsessed
until i make it work.

this time, though,
i had my doubts.
the whole car ride home -
yes, all 10 blocks -
i tossed questions larry's way:
do you think black sesame marshmallows
are a good idea? or a bad one,
and you're afraid to tell me?
how do you think i can get them to scream sesame?
do you think i can add sesame oil to the
marshmallow mixture without the entire
thing deflating? or will the droplets of sesame
oil rise to the surface? do you think the
sesame oil will make it bitter? are you excited
about sesame marshmallows?

the answers, were as follows:
i don't know.
i don't know.
brooke, i don't know.
i really don't know.

and, so, i knew i had to
get to the bottom of this myself.
i read through a book about marshmallows.
i searched high and low on the internet,
only learning that, if i wanted to,
i could buy marshmallow-scented oil,
i asked two friends with culinary backgrounds.
the second one said to me,
you know what i'm going to say.
and she was right,
the only way to truly know if i could
incorporate oil into marshmallows was
to try it for myself.

finally - last week - i decided to give it a go.
colleen, and her husband, christian,
were having a housewarming party for
their new beautiful home (more on this
soon) and i had already committed
to bringing another dish.
the day after we were going to a party
at larry's parents' house, and i had something
ready for them, as well.
read: if the marshmallows were a bust,
i would not panic, nor would i need to
run around like a lunatic looking for
something else to make.

i stuck with what i knew,
using my standard recipe.
as the sugar mixture came to a boil,
i prepared the pan,
measured out the seeds,
found the vanilla extract
and then finally,
stared down the sesame oil,
sitting boldly on the counter.
on the rise
somewhere in the back of my head,
i remembered that this was an experiment,
but let's be honest - i was not going to
be happy if they failed.
it was a friday night.
i was still dressed from work.
and my fingers were slightly grey from the seeds.
i was counting on this -
maybe not for colleen's party,
but for me.
i poured the hot liquid down
the side of the mixing bowl,
into the bloomed gelatin below,
and turned on the mixer.
i gave myself 12 minutes to watch
the beginning of the first episode
of project runway, willing myself
to not care about the end result -
it's just a recipe, which could be
tested 10 times before it goes right.
(i know - i've been there.)

when the marshmallows were good
and fluffy, i poured in the vanilla extract.
so far so good.
and then, i half closed my eyes,
added 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
and kept the mixer running for 30 seconds more.
the mixture looked exactly the same.
it worked!
quickly - oh, how quickly you have to work
with this sticky, sticky batter - i poured
everything into the pan, patted it down
and sprinkled the top with sesame seeds.
almost marshmallows
i grabbed a spoon
and sampled some renegade marshmallow
that had stuck to the mixer bowl.
it tasted like sesame. and larry agreed.
could it be that easy?
i guess so.

but, then, my mind wandered back
to the next step - coating.
usually, that's the step that's the most
messy. and the most fun.
you cut into shapes,
toss with a confectioners' sugar
mixture to make them stop sticking to
everything in site, and then you're done.

but this time -
i had made life considerably harder for myself.
earlier, i decided to only coat
the top with sesame seeds.
i figured that huge
black squares
would just not be so pretty.
and, it seemed kind of wrong to make something
so fluffy,
so crunchy.

and now that the top was
shiny and pretty and very dark,
i knew i had to keep them that way.
my first thought was this:
if i mixed them with ground sesame seeds,
they would stay dark all over,
but they wouldn't be as crunchy.

so i pulled out the spice grinder.
once powdered, their color was more of
a dark speckled brown. i tossed one
marshmallow in and it was clear that
this was not a workable method.
the ground sesame was clumping,
the marshmallow looked mottled
and, worse, they were still sticky.

i knew what i had to do -
there was no way to avoid it.
i added confectioners' sugar to
the ground sesame seeds, whisked
them together and then,
one by one,
coated the marshmallows,
making sure not to dunk
the sesame seed coated side
into the powder.

and it wasn't that bad.
sure, once i finished about five,
i realized that these would
be better in small bites,
and set to work quartering each,
so that instead of cutting and coating
25 squares, i cut and coated 100.
but they were the perfect size
and it just made sense.

i tried one.
and i knew that i loved them.
and larry gave them a thumb's up.
but, i still wasn't sure where the
popular vote would land.
i had two parties to find out.
and luckily, although they only
disappeared at colleen's,
they seemed successful at both -
twice prompting marshmallow conversations,
which makes me very, very happy.

because yes, so many times,
recipes need to be tweaked and played
with and perfected. but once in a while,
something just works.
and that?
is so, so nice.
cut marshmallows
black sesame marshmallows
sesame seeds can be expensive in a regular grocery store. if you have an asian market anywhere around you, head there to find them (mine were $2.99 for 8 ounces). the other great thing about buying sesame seeds from an asian market is that there, they're often sold already roasted. (can you imagine trying to roast black sesame seeds without burning them?) if you don't have a spice grinder, don't worry about adding the sesame to the confectioners' sugar coating - the addition does give the marshmallows one more level of sesame, but they'll survive without out it.

oh, and as always with marshmallows. make sure everything is ready to go - once you turn off the mixer, the marshmallows should be poured into the pan immediately.

1 cup water (plus more, if needed), divided
3 (.25 ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 large pinch table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil
1/3-1/2 cup roasted black sesame seeds,
plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 cup confectioners' sugar

coat a 9" x 9" pan very well with a thin coating of neutral flavored oil or cooking spray.

pour 1/2 cup water into bowl of electric mixer; sprinkle gelatin evenly over water. (you don't want to play around too much with the liquid, but if a lot of the gelatin is dry, sprinkle about 1 tablespoon water over the gelatin to keep it from clumping and to help it bloom.)

in heavy saucepan (i used a 3-quart), combine remaining water, sugar, corn syrup and salt. set heat to low and cook until sugar has dissolved, stirring constantly. increase heat to medium and bring to a boil, without stirring. add thermometer and boil, without stirring, until the thermometer reaches 240˚f (soft-ball stage). remove from heat and let stand 30 seconds.

meanwhile, turn mixer to medium and break up gelatin. reduce speed to low. with mixer running, carefully pour hot sugar mixture in a steady stream down the side of the bowl. increase heat to high and beat 12-14 minutes, or until mixture is very thick (make sure your bowl is locked into place). reduce speed to low and pour in vanilla extract, then sesame oil. increase speed and beat 30 seconds more, or until combined.

immediately transfer marshmallow mixture to prepared pan. wet hands with cold water and smooth the top of the marshmallow. dry hands. sprinkle sesame seeds over top of marshmallow to cover, pressing lightly. let sit, uncovered, at least 2 hours.

to make coating and to coat:
in spice grinder, process remaining 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds until finely ground. in small bowl, whisk together ground seeds and confectioners' sugar.

using lightly oiled bench scraper (or you can coat the scraper with cooking spray), cut marshmallows into 100 squares, re-oiling bench scraper as needed. or, cut marshmallows into desired shape and size. add marshmallows, one or two pieces at a time, to confectioners' sugar mixture, coating every side except for the black sesame top. pat off excess sugar.

store marshmallows at room temperature in a sealed container.

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