Willow Bird Baking is a contestant in Project Food Blog, a contest comprised of a series of 10 challenges to find the next food blog star. Voting for Challenge #6 is now open! To vote for my special birthday picnic to win this round, register for a (free) Foodbuzz account. Once you're registered, sign in and go to my round 6 entry here. To vote, click the heart next to the words "Vote for this Entry." I am so grateful for your support!
Part of the Project Food Blog Round 6 challenge was to prepare a beverage to take with you on your road trip. Lemonade was the first thing that came to mind, but I quickly nixed it. Mike's not big on lemons (I know, crazy!), and this meal was all about him! But all Mike drinks is water, and that didn't seem very creative. I scanned my memory banks for some help.
Help came in the form of a memory I mentioned in my picnic post: a memory of a previous road trip Mike and I had taken to Gatlinburg and Sevierville, Tennessee. We'd gone so that I could introduce Mike to the apple orchards that my family has loved for years.
I wanted him to eat apple fritters and fried apple pie for breakfast, see the aviary in the middle of the Apple Barn restaurant full of flippant finches, walk by the creek with me while we waited to be seated for dinner. I wanted him to taste the sausages with peppers and onions from the street vendors in downtown Gatlinburg, bite into his first funnel cake, and ride the terrifying (to me -- everyone else seems downright calm!) tramway up the mountain to see the black bear habitat. All the things I'd loved as a child.
When we arrived, I broke out some hot chocolate mix that I'd packed, but little did we know we'd have access to a fireplace! When we saw it, we were thrilled -- for some reason, it seemed like the most romantic thing in the world to sit by a fireplace and drink hot chocolate. I still have the mugs we picked up from a corner drugstore to mix our cocoa in.
This memory decided it. I found a simple recipe for hot chocolate mix, heated some milk, and mixed the two in a thermos before packing it snugly into my Project Food Blog cooler. Two mugs and two spoons went into my box of dishes to cart along. I tucked homemade marshmallows (one of those amazing recipes that looks fancy but is actually quite simple) into a bag to add sweetness and fun to our nostalgic drink.
Now to share the memories with you! As the weather cools, I hope you'll mix up your own hot chocolate, find your own fire somewhere, and enjoy a special night with family.
Reminder: Have you entered to win the cute chalkboard giveaway yet? If not, head on over and enter!
Homemade Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows
Recipe by: adapted from Martha Stewart (hot chocolate) and Joy of Baking (marshmallows)
Yield: about 31 servings of cocoa mix
Hot Chocolate Ingredients:
1 cup + 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cups sugar
2/3 cup + 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cocoa
1 teaspoon table salt
Whole milk for serving (you'll need 1 cup warm milk per each 2-tablespoon serving of cocoa mix)
1/3 cup cold water, divided
1 1/4-ounce envelope unflavored gelatin
2/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2/3 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I eyeballed this measure - you can also add other flavorings and extracts here)
Make marshmallows the day before you plan to serve your hot chocolate. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray, line the bottom with parchment, spray again. Place about 3 tablespoons powdered sugar into the pan and shake it around to coat.
Place about 3 tablespoons of cold water into the bowl of your electric mixer (with whisk attachment) and sprinkle gelatin over the water to soften for about 15 minutes.
While the gelatin softens, place sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining water into a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture boils, and then cover the saucepan with a lid for three minutes to allow sugar crystals to dissolve. Remove lid and attach a candy thermometer to the saucepan. Turn heat up to high and let the mixture boil without stirring until it gets to 240 degrees F (after about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.
Immediately, with your mixer on low, pour the hot syrup in a thin stream down the side of the mixing bowl into the gelatin. Slowly increase the speed to high and beat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is triple its original volume, thick, and stiff (like marshmallow cream). Add vanilla extract and/or any flavorings and beat about 30 seconds longer.
Using a spatula sprayed with cooking spray, spread mixture into your prepared cake pan. Smooth as best you can into a smooth layer. Sift 2 tablespoons powdered sugar over the top of the mixture and let marshmallows stand and dry uncovered about 12 hours.
When set, slide marshmallow disc out onto cutting board (use a greased knife to loosen it from the pan if it's stuck). Use a cookie cutter sprayed with cooking spray to cut out shapes of marshmallows. After cutting each shape out, you can use a damp finger to make the sides sticky and dip the shapes in colored sanding sugar to create a fun border (I just mixed regular sugar with a few drops of red food coloring). Alternatively, Shake the marshmallows in a bowl of powdered sugar to coat them and then shake off excess. Store the marshmallows in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
To make hot chocolate, heat 1 cup of milk in a microwave-safe mug until hot and mix in 2 tablespoons of cocoa mix. You can also heat large batches of milk over medium-low heat in a saucepan (being careful not to let the milk boil) to make cocoa in bulk. Serve with marshmallows on top!