Hot Chocolate from scratch, & Homemade Marshmallows

This is the perfect treat for cold autumn evenings. Although making the marshmallows requires a little time, making the hot chocolate is really quick and easy, so there’s no excuse to go back to the horrible powdery stuff! I got the recipe for marshmallows from a lovely book called the Sally Cookbook, a collection of recipes for little girls, which a friend found in the charity shop. It dates from 1971, and it’s packed with smashing bonbon recipes (so look out for more) as well as a scattering of good old-fashioned sexism!!

Ingredients: for the hot chocolate (serves 1)
Enough milk to fill your favourite mug
About 30g dark chocolate
Optional: one vanilla pod, or a couple of drops of vanilla essence
Optional: additional flavourings, like a little orange zest or peppermint essence
Ingredients: for the marshmallows (makes 30-40, depending on the size, but they keep reasonably well in the fridge)
8oz caster sugar
½ pint hot water
2 packets (about 1oz) of powdered gelatine – I used the Dr Oetker brand, and I noticed that the same company also provides a vegetarian alternative, if you wish
½ tsp cream of tartar – usually available in the baking section
1 tsp vanilla essence
Optional: a few drops of pink food colouring (I think pink marshmallows look nicer with the hot chocolate)
Vegetable oil & icing sugar, to prepare the finished product

If you’re going to make both, then you need to start the marshmallows a couple of hours in advance. Mix the sugar, cream of tartar, gelatine and hot water in a saucepan, then stir gently over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved. Pour the liquid into a bowl and put it on one side to cool – this will probably take about 30-45 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when a slight skin starts to form on the top, or when a fork dipped into the mixture comes out with little blobs on the end of the tines, where the drips have solidified. When you get to this stage, add the vanilla essence and a few drops of pink food colouring (if using), and then use an electric mixer to beat the mixture hard for about ten minutes, or until it’s really thick, gloopy and completely opaque.

Oil a square brownie tin (use vegetable oil rather than olive oil, as there won’t be any taste transfer) and then dust thickly with icing sugar, using a sieve to avoid lumps. Pour the marshmallow mix into the tin, making sure it spreads right into to the corners in an even layer. Don’t be tempted to scrape the bowl out though, as you’ll probably get a few little lumps of jelly stuck to the sides of the bowl and you don’t really want those in your marshmallows (although if any do get in, they won’t do you any harm). Pop the tin in the fridge for about 45 minutes, to set the marshmallows.

When you’re ready to complete the final stage, you need to dip the bottom of the tin into hot water for a few moments, to loosen it up, then hold a chopping board tightly over the top and flip the whole thing over. The marshmallow should come out in one piece, but if it’s sticking, don’t worry, just dip it in the water again for a few more seconds (although not too long – you don’t want to melt it). I’ve mentioned before that it’s a good idea to keep one (plastic) chopping board separate for making sweet recipes, as you might find you get the taste of onions or garlic coming off the board you normally use for savoury things! When the marshmallow is out, pop it back in the fridge for just a few minutes to firm up, as the contact with the hot water may have made it a bit sticky on the bottom. When it’s completely solid again, slice off a section, cut into small cubes, and roll in icing sugar, before popping back in the fridge while you make the hot chocolate. It’s best to cut and dust the marshmallows as you need them, as it’s a very sticky job!

To make the hot chocolate: measure out the milk you need using your mug, then pour into a small saucepan and put on a medium heat. Stir every now and then as it heats up – again, you might want to use either a plastic utensil or a wooden spoon which you keep especially for baking, to avoid lingering savoury flavours. When the first tendrils of steam start to rise from the warm milk, add the vanilla pod and the chocolate, broken up into chunks. By the way, although vanilla pods can be expensive, it’s worth knowing that you can actually reuse them – just wipe afterwards with a clean cloth, then let the pod dry before storing it in an airtight jar. In my experience, you can get three or so uses out of them before the flavour fades too much. Keep stirring the milk gently as the chocolate melts, and taste every now and then to see if the mixture is warm enough for your liking.
Once it’s ready, serve up a generous mugful and top with a couple of fluffy marshmallows – bliss.