Friday, October 28, 2011

Trick Or Treat At Ina’s House Plus The Delicacies Of Gelatin

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

Ooh, Ina is doing “Just Candy”. So why is there a winter squash soup in there? She’s doing marshmallows too! Great. But before I see the actual list of recipes, the tv guide thingie just says “marshmallows”. I admit I’m a bit worried. What if she’s not making her own? If she’s somehow using commercial marshmallows for something, I’ll be a wee bit disappointed. Oh, what a relief! Luckily, she is, in fact, making them from scratch.

Ina says she loves the “big puffy clouds of vanilla and sugar that just melt in your mouth”. She starts by adding 3 packages of gelatin (that’s A LOT) to ½ cup of cold water. She whisks it briskly and lets the mixture sit for 5 minutes.

It’s funny, I was always taught when dealing with gelatin to treat every single speck as gold. I would never use a whisk, because too much would be lost on the wires. I always have this mindset of “Oh, no, what if that one tiny bit of gelatin on the side of the bowl was the crucial one the mousse needed to REALLY set up properly.”

This is how I proceed - I fill a bowl with however much water I’m using. Then I sprinkle the gelatin into the water slowly and carefully, letting the granules land on a different section of water each time. (A wider bowl is better than a deeper one.)

Often, I don’t need to stir it at all, because the gelatin sinks under the top surface of the water and dissolves. If there are some crystals above water level, I’ll take a teaspoon and tap them gently until they’re under the water. The goal is to get as little gelatin on the spoon as possible. Also stirred gelatin has the tendency to lump, so that’s another reason to limit the stirring.

Okay, back to Ina whacking away at the gelatin with a whisk. Frankly, she’s using so much gelatin, that it probably won’t matter if she loses some on the whisk.

(Oh, sorry, one more gelatin thing. This is a hard and fast rule, no matter what your recipe says. I looked for exceptions and I really can’t find one. Always DISSOLVE your gelatin in cold water, let it sit and then MELT it over heat. Sometimes that means stirring it into a hot mixture and sometimes that means a quick turn in the microwave.)

Another aside – Gelatin is the ONLY thing I EVER cover with plastic wrap in the microwave. I want a tight, tight, TIGHT seal and it’s in for such a short time and it happens so rarely, that I figure it’s okay to make this my ONE plastic-wrap-in-the-microwave exception.

And when would I need to do this? Mostly when I’m making stabilized whipped cream. If you’re piping cream on a cake in the summer and it’s going to be out for a while or if you’re taking it somewhere, it’s a good idea to call in the reinforcements. You make stabilized whipped cream by adding a bit of dissolved and melted gelatin to your whipped cream.

Stabilized Whipped Cream - Dissolve a tablespoon of gelatin in ¼ cup of cold water for 5 minutes. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on High for 10 seconds. (Every microwave is different. My old microwave took 30 seconds. My new one takes 10 seconds. You’ll know it’s melted when the mixture is completely clear.)  Carefully remove plastic wrap (there’s a lot of steam) and let sit for a minute or two to cool.
Whip a cup of cream with a tablespoon or two of sugar and ½ teaspoon of vanilla until thick, but no peaks have appeared. With mixer running, add in 2 tablespoons of the melted and cooled gelatin. You won’t use the entire gelatin, but it’s easier to melt a slightly larger amount. (Beat in an additional tablespoon of gelatin if you’re traveling really far and/or it’s really hot out.)  Beat cream until stiff. Fill into piping bag and proceed with your recipe.
Next Ina tells us how she likes to give homemade marshmallows as gifts. For a sugar syrup, she pours 1½ cups sugar into a saucepan with 1 cup of light corn syrup, ¼ teaspoon salt (ick) and ½ cup water. She cooks it to 240°F on a candy thermometer.

Ina says marshmallows may be for children but if you’re letting kids make them, you should watch them carefully. WHAT?!!!@#$&%$!!! KIDS SHOULD NOT BE ANYWHERE NEAR THIS! In fact, I don’t think they should even be in the house! And I would keep all pets away too. Sugar syrup is sooo dangerous.

Also, I wish Ina had gone into the whole sugar syrup thing a lot more. Basically, you can stir it as often as you want (in fact, you should) BEFORE it comes to a boil. After that, only swirling is allowed. And just as each grain of gelatin is precious, as the sugar syrup is boiling away, you can use a pastry brush dipped into cold water to brush away any stray undissolved sugar granules on the inside of the pot. The sugar that gets left on the side and isn’t given a chance to dissolve will turn into nasty crystals, sometimes brown, and we want a smooth, clear, gorgeous syrup, not one with little bits that will show up in our marshmallows.

Ina gets the sugar syrup up the soft ball stage, 240°F. (It’s fun to drop some driplets into a glass of cold water and see that it really does make a soft ball.) Ina has her 3 tablespoons of dissolved gelatin in the mixer with a whisk attachment. She pours the sugar syrup into a glass “beaker” - heatproof, of course - to make it a bit safer when pouring it in. Ina turns on the mixer and slowly adds the sugar syrup. She starts slow and turns up the speed gradually. After she’s added all the syrup, she whips the mixture for 15 minutes. (BTW, Ina didn’t have to melt the gelatin in the microwave, because she was adding a hot – very hot – liquid to it, which melts it.)

In the meantime, we visit with Dylan Lauren (she’s the doyenne of the NY Candy scene. Actually, I’m not sure there even WAS a candy scene until she opened Dylan’s Candy Bar.) Dylan is in charge of organizing festive wrapping for Ina’s treats. She starts with a glittery, purple, spray-painted foam witch’s hat, which she’ll be using as a topiary type thing.  She glues candy corn to the base of the hat with hot glue. Isn’t that a waste of that gorgeous candy corn? That’s all for the moment. Back to Ina.

Ina finishes beating the marshmallow mixture. It looks like the smoothest, silkiest meringue ever. She beats in a tablespoon of vanilla. She sieves confectioner’s sugar all over the bottom of an 8” by 12” pan. (Oy, is this another extra large egg situation, where nobody has the size she calls for?) I have a 9 by 13 baking dish, so I guess I would use that and the marshmallows would end up being that little bit shallower.

Ina pours the “gooey” mixture into the pan and spreads it out evenly. She says this recipe will make 40 small ones or 20 really big marshmallows (or one each for her and Jeffrey). She dusts the top with A LOT of confectioner’s’ sugar so they’re easier to handle. She lets it sit out overnight, so they dry out a bit. That always makes me nervous to leave food out like that. Wouldn’t that attract ants even from neighboring counties? I would probably just hide it in the microwave overnight and hope that no critters stop by. 

As a thank you for Dylan showing her how to wrap candy for gifts, Ina is making her a pot of winter squash soup. She softens onions and adds diced butternut squash and canned pumpkin. She adds stock and seasoning and cooks it for 20 minutes.

Dylan is still at the store coming up with packaging ideas. She decoupages pieces of Halloween colored tissue paper onto a cookie tin. Then she adds sparkly stickers with Happy Halloween messages.

Ina makes croutons from some honey white bread. She cuts big cubes of bread from 2 slices. She melts butter in a pan and tosses the bread cubes until they evenly browned. Next, she purées the soup with a food mill. Ina stirs in half and half (or milk is okay). That’s it. She’ll pack the heated-up soup in a thermos for Dylan and send her home with the croutons too.

Ina makes her world-famous white chocolate bark. She says she’s going to show us a foolproof way to temper chocolate.  She starts by chopping three-quarters of a pound block of white chocolate. She puts it in a bowl and microwaves it on high for 30 seconds. It hasn’t melted, so she puts it back for another 30 seconds. It’s melted! Yay! Then she stirs in the rest of the chopped, unmelted chocolate to lower the temperature quickly.

She pours the whole thing onto a piece of parchment paper onto which she’s traced an 8 by 10 rectangle. (She likes weird measurements today) Now, this is interesting. I’m happy that she did this. Ina drew the rectangle on one side of the paper and then she very deliberately TURNED OVER THE PARCHMENT PAPER, so the chocolate wouldn’t touch the side with the pencil mark. You can still see the line through the paper.  Whenever I’m lining cake pans, I make sure to always turn over the paper. We don’t need graphite in our diets.

She pours the chocolate in the middle of the rectangle and then spreads it out to the edges. Next she sprinkles roasted salted pistachios (350°F for 8 minutes), ¼ cup dried cranberries and ¼ cup chopped dried apricots evenly over the entire chocolate rectangle. She lets it sit at room temperature for a few hours. (Another beacon for the unleashed animals in the house.)

Ina heats the soup up for Dylan and pours it into the thermos. Shouldn’t she serve it to her when she arrives after that long trip to Long Island, instead of waiting until she’s out the door going home?

Ina cuts the bark into 16 pieces. She runs a knife around the marshmallows and turns out the whole thing onto a cutting board. She cuts them into squares and stabs each one with a lollypop stick. She puts them into small clear bags and ties them with small pieces of green ribbon. I thought Dylan was wrapping them.

Dylan arrives and she stabs each marshmallow stick into the witch’s hat. Ina is impressed when Dylan packages two pieces of bark, back to back, so each pretty side faces out in the cello bag. Um, okay.

Dylan fills her Halloween decorated tin with orange “fill” (you know that shredded stuff you always want to get rid of) and places in the bark and some extra candy that she brought. Ina sends her on her way with a Barefoot Contessa bag with the soup and croutons. Frankly, I would have saved her the trip to East Hampton. And I’d have preferred a tour of her candy store to watching her put chocolate bark in a bag, but when Ina calls…

At least, we got to see those marshmallows. Just be sure to respect the gelatin and treat it with the reverence it deserves.


Sheila said...

She always makes it look so easy. Are marshmallows really that easy???

That soup looks yummy too! And I happen to have all the ingredients on my counter!

Sue said...

Hiya Sheila,
You know, I never think sugar syrup is that easy. If every crystal isn't dissolved before it starts to boil, you can get a gloppy mess. And I always begin to wonder about the soundness of my sugar thermometer when it seems to be taking a long time.

Definitely let me know if you make these marshmallows and how they turn out. And make sure Adam is in a different part of the house when you're boiling the sugar!

Emily said...

You should go to Dylan's and blog about it! I'd love to go there. I bet it's a candy paradise.

Mmm I love squash soup. I have a question: have you ever had delicata squash? I heard it tastes like sweet potatoes! I'm on the hunt for it....

Emily said...

I'm making your stabalized whipped cream!

Emily said...

P.S. It worked out well!

twinmomma said...

Yes! Marshmallows are this easy! I like the recipe over at smitten kitchen better than Ina's though. And you can add flavoring if you want, peppermint for hot cocoa or orange (they taste like orange creamsicles!), or coloring. My daughters love pink marshmallows!

My have squash to make soup out of is Red Kuri. So yummy!

Sue said...

Hi Twinmomma,

I love the idea of adding flavorings or color to the marshmallows. It would make a good thing even better!