Friday, February 11, 2011

Some Simple Valentines Day Treats

I love Valentines Day. Always have. Even when I was single and didn't have anyone buying me flowers or taking me out to fancy restaurants. I just think that celebrating love in any of its forms is a good thing. Plus Valentines Day is a true chocoholic's dream, which is why I'm surprised that only one of the recipes below contains chocolate (and even then it's a humble rolo), but I guess that's because most of these treats were made with other people in mind. I think my own sweet tooth will be satisfied when I make my favorite chocolate covered strawberries this weekend.

Homemade Marshmallows (Gourmet, December 1998 via

I mentioned these little guys in my previous post. Although I've never been too big on marshmallows, I have to say that I much prefer these to the store-bought version. They are light, fluffy, and perfectly sweet. Plus they were really fun to make, at least if your idea of fun is watching a sticky mess of gelatin and sugar syrup whip up into white fluffy deliciousness right before your very eyes. I cut these out with a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to make them festive, but if you really wanted to up the V-Day factor you could add a small amount of red food coloring to the marshmallow batter to make them pink. Oh, and I should probably tell you that these were fantastic dipped in chocolate (but really, what isn't?)

about 1 cup powdered sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115°F.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites*
1 teaspoon vanilla

1) Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some powdered sugar.
2) In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.
3) In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F., about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.
4) With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer.
5) In a large bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined.
6) Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners― sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day.
7) Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallow into roughly 1-inch cubes.
8) Sift remaining confectioners' sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat.

Marshmallows keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 week.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I know that red velvet cake is probably the most overdone Valentines Day dessert out there but I can never resist it so I made these cupcakes for a friend's birthday this weekend. Well, I actually intended to make these whoopie pies but then the laziness factor kicked in so I considered making whoopie pies from cake mix instead but eventually ended up just baking a quick batch of cupcakes. Yes, I did stray from my "always bake from scratch" ethos on this one but I figure that most red velvet recipes call for about a full bottle of red food coloring anyway so using a cake mix isn't that big of a deal. I do, however, insist on homemade frosting. Frosting from a can is a sad, sad thing.

1 Red Velvet cake mix (Duncan Hines brand is best)
1 small box instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup water.

1) Using either a stand or hand-held electric mixer, mix all ingredients on medium speed for 3 minutes.
2) Spoon into paper-lined muffin tins (fill about 2/3 full) and bake at 350 for about twenty minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Frost with one of the following (I much prefer the cream cheese version- I only made the vanilla cause the birthday girl preferred it.)

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2-4 cups sifted powdered sugar (depending on how sweet and thick you want the frosting to be- taste as you go)
2 tsp. vanilla

1) Beat butter and cream cheese together
2) Add sugar and vanilla and beat until of spreading consistency.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 stick butter, softened
4 cups sifted powdered sugar (depending on how sweet and thick you want the frosting to be- taste as you go)
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup milk

1) Cream butter, then add the sugar and beat for a minute or two.
2) Beat in milk and vanilla. Add more milk if necessary to achieve desired spreading consistency.

Pretzel/Rolo/Peanut Butter bites

I wasn't sure what to call these things. I considered "homemade Take 5", since their ingredients are essentially the same as the candy bar, but that didn't really fit. Neither does the term "pretzel turtle", which is what these are called should you choose to put a pecan in the middle instead of the M&M. Honestly, given their perfect blend of sweetness and salt I would say they should be called PMS lifesavers. But I don't think I'll refer to them by that name when I hand these out to co-workers on Monday.

Checkerboard pretzels
Rolos, unwrapped
Peanut butter M&Ms

1) Place pretzels on a baking sheet and put one unwrapped rolo on top.
2) Bake at 300 degrees for about 4 minutes, or until Rolo is fairly melted.
3) Remove from oven and let cool for 1 minute, then place M&M on top.
4) Let sit for about an hour, or until chocolate hardens.

If you're looking for a more sophisticated Valentines Day treat, might I suggest these cupcakes? And these molten chocolate babycakes would be a perfect ending to a romantic dinner for two.

Hope all of you have a happy Valentine's Day!

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