Freshen up holiday baking with peppermint desserts

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Freshen up holiday baking with peppermint desserts

Peppermint Marshmallows

This recipe adapted from David Lebovitz makes a fine marshmallow, but know that homemade marshmallows melt faster than their store-bought counterparts, such as when microwaving or roasting for s’mores.

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup cornstarch

2 envelopes powdered gelatin

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light corn syrup

4 large egg whites, room temperature

Pinch salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. peppermint extract

Mix together powdered sugar and cornstarch, and dust the inside of a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan with the mixture, making sure there are no bare spots. You can use a sifter to do this; reserve remaining mixture to coat marshmallows.

To dissolve gelatin powder, sprinkle both envelopes of gelatin in 1/2 cup of cold water in a small bowl. The gelatin will solidify and be melted down later in the recipe.

In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, mix sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup of water, over medium high heat. While the sugar and corn syrup heats up, beat egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer on low speed until frothy. Add pinch of salt.

Keep an eye on the heating sugar, and when the syrup reaches 210 degrees Fahrenheit, increase the speed of mixer to high and beat egg whites until thick and fluffy.

When the syrup reaches 245 degrees Fahrenheit, slowly pour the hot syrup into the whites. Be careful that the syrup does not land on the whisk, or it will splatter and stick to the sides of the bowl.

Scrape the gelatin and water into the pan used for the syrup and swirl to liquefy, using the residual heat from making the syrup. Pour liquefied gelatin slowly into the egg whites as they are whipping. Add vanilla and peppermint extracts and continue whipping for five minutes, or until the mixture feels completely cool when you touch the outside of the bowl.

Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer in the prepared pan. Allow to dry at least four hours, preferably overnight, uncovered.

Dust the top of marshmallows with powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture. Using a pizza cutter or scissors dusted with mixture, cut the marshmallows into any size or shape pieces you desire. Toss cut marshmallows in a large bowl with one cup of powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture. Shake marshmallows in a wire strainer to remove excess powder.

Marshmallows will keep up to one week stored in an airtight container. Makes 25-50 marshmallows.

— Adapted by Melissa Martinez from a recipe by David Lebovitz.

Peppermint Fantasy Fudge

This recipe is adapted from a fudge in Shirley Fan’s helpful new book, “The Flying Brownie: 100 Terrific Homemade Food Gifts for Friends and Loved Ones Far Away” (Harvard Common Press, $17.95), which is packed with recipes specifically created for their ability to withstand shipping. No more homemade cookies reduced to crumbles after a journey through the postal system.

1 1/2 cups sugar

2/3 cup evaporated milk

2 Tbsp. salted butter

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

2 cups miniature marshmallows (you can use homemade peppermint marshmallows)

1 1/2 cups semisweet or dark chocolate chips

1 tsp. peppermint extract

1/4 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving extra for overhang.

In a heavy bottomed two-quart saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.

When mixture reaches 234 degrees Fahrenheit, remove from heat and stir in marshmallows, chocolate chips and peppermint extract. Stir until marshmallows and chocolate chips have melted.

Pour mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle crushed candy over the fudge and allow to cool at room temperature until set, approximately 2 hours.

Remove fudge from pan by grasping the foil or parchment paper overhang and pulling the block of candy out. Peel away foil or paper and cut into 1-inch squares.

— Adapted by Melissa Martinez from “The Flying Brownie: 100 Terrific Homemade Food Gifts for Friends and Loved Ones Far Away” by Shirley Fan (Harvard Common Press, $17.95)

Three-Layer Peppermint Bark

1 1/2 (11 oz.) bags white chocolate chips

30 red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies, coarsely crushed

7 oz. (about 1/2 bag) bittersweet chocolate chips

6 Tbsp. heavy cream

3/4 tsp. peppermint extract

Line a 13-by-9 inch baking sheet with foil.

Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl, and set it over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Remove the chocolate from the heat. Pour 2/3 cup of it onto the rectangle on the foil. Using an icing spatula spread the chocolate to fill the baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the crushed peppermints. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.

Combine the bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in a heavy medium saucepan. Warm over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is just melted and smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator and pour the bittersweet chocolate mixture over the white chocolate rectangle. Using an icing spatula, spread the bittersweet chocolate in an even layer. Refrigerate until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

Rewarm the remaining white chocolate over barely simmering water. Working quickly, pour the white chocolate over the firm bittersweet layer, using an icing spatula to spread it to cover. Sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.

Carefully lift the foil from the baking sheet onto a large cutting board. Trim away any ragged edges of the rectangle. Cut the bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections, and then cut each section diagonally into 2 triangles.

Pack into an airtight container, with sheets of wax or parchment paper between layers of bark to prevent them from sticking to one another. Store in the refrigerator.

— Adapted by Melissa Martinez from a recipe on Orangette, orangette.blogspot.com

The sights, smells and bells of the holiday season are familiar: homes lit up, freshly cut Christmas trees, steamy apple cider, nostalgic seasonal tunes, and oftentimes sugary, minty canes striped white and red.

Candy canes have a long, storied history with Christmas. Many legends and myths surround the holiday treat, few of which have any verifiable details. One thing is for sure — they are plentiful this time of year and have helped institute peppermint as a traditional holiday flavor.

Whether you’re brainstorming a gift, something to serve at a party or simply want to scratch the holiday baking itch, peppermint treats are a surefire way to satisfy the desire to spend some festive time in the kitchen.

Homemade marshmallows might seem like more trouble than they are worth, but they offer an entirely different, softer texture and a more naturally sweet flavor, even though they share some of the ingredients (gelatin, sugar, cornstarch) as their store-bought counterparts. They are a versatile treat as well and can be flavored with different extracts depending on the season or personal preferences. Flavored with peppermint, they are delicious toppers for steamy cups of hot chocolate.

Another great use for homemade marshmallows is melting them into a batch of peppermint fantasy fudge. Cook up a syrup of sugar, butter and evaporated milk, then melt in homemade or store-bought marshmallows and chocolate before sprinkling the top with crushed candy canes, and you get a decadent chocolate treat to share.

During the holiday season, you can buy your peppermint candies pre-crushed for baking purposes at grocery stores. If you can’t find peppermint pieces, it’s easy enough to crush candies using the bottom edge of a heavy jar or an unopened 15-ounce can.

The bounty of alternatively colored and flavored candy canes available means that you can make visually interesting candies, barks and brownies just by sprinkling crushed up canes in just about any color you like.

One of the more familiar uses for peppermint around the holidays is in peppermint bark. Bark can be as simple as one layer of white chocolate melted down and sprinkled with crushed candy canes, but a layered version makes for an even lovelier gift or party treat.

In between two layers of white chocolate and peppermint pieces, the middle layer is made of dark chocolate softened up with the addition of cream and peppermint extract. Let the bark sit out for about 10 minutes before serving to accentuate the texture difference in between layers.

If you choose to package peppermint treats as holiday gifts, remember to use parchment or wax paper in between layers to prevent the desserts from sticking to one another.

Peppermint sticking to your teeth, however, is part of the fun.

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