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Cover: Founding Flavors

Recipes with Vanilla

17Mar 13

Stracciatella Marshmallows

It is true that one can find creative inspiration everywhere but I never expected Peeps to serve as my muse for the creation of Stracciatella Marshmallows.  You read correctly…Peeps…those little marshmallow candies that bombard every grocery store and pharmacy aisle in America about this time of year.  As we become hypnotized by their bright yellow and pink colors, we start to tell ourselves “who cares that they are not truly representative of what a Spring chicken or bunny should look like and why bother contemplating why these sugary treats never seem to melt regardless of how long they are in the microwave.”  For those that think I might be exaggerating, might I point out that only a few weeks ago when our politicians were debating the fiscal future of our country with budget cuts, the Washington Post was announcing calls for participants to join the Seventh Annual Peeps Diorama Contest.  And, it was this particular announcement that reminded me about how absolutely delicious and entertaining marshmallows are in the world of desserts.

So, I started searching for homemade marshmallow recipes and realized that most stick to the same generic vanilla flavored marshmallows with occasional deviations to something a little more unique like peppermint.  But for something so simple to make, there really are endless opportunities to get creative, not only with flavors but also with how you opt to shape your marshmallows.  Below is an easy recipe for Stracciatella Marshmallows that combines a vanilla base layer with shaved milk chocolate and finally topped-off with a chocolate flavored layer of marshmallow that is shaped using a Linzer cookie cutter.


Gelatine: 2 packets
Water, cold: ⅔ cup
Light corn syrup:  ⅔ cup
Salt:  ⅛ teaspoon
Sugar: 1 cup
Vanilla powder: 1 tablespoon
Cocoa powder: 2 tablespoons
Shaved milk chocolate: ½ cup

1. Place ⅓ cup of cold water and gelatine in a standing mixer bowl and whisk on low.

2. Place ⅓ cup of cold water, light corn syrup, salt, and sugar in a saucepan and heat until the mixture reaches 240°F, which should take 8-10 minutes.










3. Once the mixture reaches 240°F, pour it into the standing mixer and whisk on high for 8 minutes.








4. Add in the vanilla powder to the mixture and whisk for another 30 seconds.

5. Pour half of the mixture onto a pan covered with aluminum foil.

6. Use a spatula that has been greased with oil to evenly spread the vanilla marshmallow layer.







7. Sprinkle chocolate savings over the vanilla layer.







8. Now, add in cocoa powder to the remaining mixture and whisk for 30 seconds.

9. Cover the pan with the chocolate layer of marshmallow using the spatula to spread it evenly.







10. Top off with chocolate shavings and powdered sugar.







11. Allow the pan to rest overnight.

12. Use a Linzer cookie cutter to shape the marshmallows.  Apply additional powdered sugar if the marshmallow becomes too sticky.

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02Dec 12

Canela-Apple Cookies

The holidays are my favorite time of year.  Not just because everyone seems to be a little friendlier or because of the endless decorations and music, but because it brings me back home.  Sometimes physically and other times mentally.  This past week it was the latter that brought back memories of my grandmother’s holiday baking.  Growing up, my grandparent’s house was always well stocked with all sorts of goodies but the most coveted treats were her perfectly pressed cinnamon and sugar cookies.  The second she’d place them out, one-by-one we’d suddenly appear in the kitchen, as if by coincidence.  As I started thinking about these cookies, I also remembered several of her other desserts, including apple filled empanadas.  And, that’s how I got inspired to combine a bit of the two and create the Canela-Apple Cookie.   It has an outer cookie layer that resembles the flavors in her cinnamon and sugar cookies, is lined with a touch of homemade caramel, and then filled with spiced baked apples.


Cinnamon and sugar cookies
All-purpose flour: 2 cups
Baking soda: ¼ teaspoon
Butter, unsalted: 6 ounces or 12 tablespoons
Cinnamon: 1 teaspoon
Egg, whisked: 1
Vanilla extract: 1 teaspoon

Homemade caramel
Alcohol of your choice: 1 teaspoon (I used Curacao triple sec but other excellent options include brandy and bourbon.)
Butter, unsalted: 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons
Cream of tartar: 1/8 teaspoon
Heavy cream: 2 tablespoons
Sugar: 1 cup

Spiced apple filling
Alcohol of your choice: 2 tablespoons (I used Curacao triple sec but other excellent options include brandy and bourbon.)
Apples, gala: 2
Cinnamon: 1 teaspoon
Nutmeg: ½ teaspoon
Sugar: ¼ cup

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine all of the cookie ingredients in a bowl and mix.

3. Flour your baking surface and roll out the dough into a thin layer.  If the dough starts to stick to the rolling pin, simply place a bit of flour on the surface of the dough.










4. Create your desired shape using a cookie cutter.  Since it is the holidays, I opted for a snowman.








5. Gently lift the cutout using an icing spatula or knife.

6. Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes.

7. Once out of the oven, let the cookies cool.

8. Then, mix sugar and cinnamon on a plate and gently dip the front side of the snowman in the mixture until it is fully coated.








9. Line up the snowmen in pairs because each Canela-Apple Cookie will require two cutouts.

10. Now, you’ll prepare the caramel by placing one cup of sugar in a saucepan over low heat.  Stir occasionally as you allow the sugar to melt.








11. Once the sugar has melted and has a light amber color, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.  The caramel mixture will bubble up a bit so keep stirring until your left with a caramel that has a smooth consistency.








12.  The caramel will start to harden so you’ll need to work cautiously and quickly as you use a spoon to drizzle caramel onto one snowman for each pair of cookies.








13. Now, it’s time for the apple filling.  Chop two gala apples into small squares and then combine the spiced apple filling ingredients into a saucepan and cook over medium heat.








14. Once apples are tender, use a potato masher to gently break the cooked apples apart.








15. Remove the saucepan from the heat.

16.  Use a spoon to place the apple filling over each caramel lined snowman and then gently press the remaining snowmen on top to create a cookie sandwich.








17. At this point, the caramel has hardened, which is why you’ll need to let the cookies sit for at least three hours so that the caramel melts into the apple filling mixture.  If you don’t have time to wait this long, you can skip the homemade caramel altogether and purchase a pre-made caramel spread.

18. Use a decorative platter to serve your cookies and enjoy!

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11Oct 12

Vanilla Extract on the Rocks, Please

As I started drafting this blog entry, I got distracted when I overheard a 60 Minutes report entitled The Flavorists: Tweaking tastes and creating cravings.  I encourage you to check out the news clip because it examines the food flavoring industry and its overall impact on obesity in society as food is enhanced with flavors designed to entice our taste buds.  The timing of the report was quite apropos given that I was writing about creating homemade vanilla flavoring.  My favorite part of the news clip is when reporter Morley Safer states that vanilla flavors can come ‘from a gland in a beavers backside.’  Yuck-a-luck!

And, while I’ll attempt to refrain from being hypocritical–because come on who doesn’t love munching and sipping on all sorts of store-bought snacks that are infused with these flavors–I do have to say that I couldn’t help patting myself on the back for making my own beaver gland-free vanilla extract where I knew that there were only two ingredients: alcohol and vanilla beans.  So, if you’d like to take a break from artificial flavors and so called natural flavorings, please read on.  Did I mention alcohol is involved?

This is perhaps the easiest recipe I’ve made in my baking journey thus far.  As noted above, the only ingredients are sliced vanilla beans and a good quality vodka.  I purchased my vanilla beans online and opted for the Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Beans.  I sliced the beans, which really look more like vanilla strands, and placed them inside of an airtight bottle (the vanilla beans only appear once you cut open the vanilla strand).  Next, I grabbed the vodka, which if I could describe the look of horror on my husband’s face when he saw me reach for the Belvedere vodka I would.  But, let’s just say he was not amused and neither was I after I compared its price tag with other vodkas.  While I have since convinced myself this was an ‘investment’ in my future pastry skills, I’d take note from the Making Vanilla website, which contains a lot of useful information and states that you really just need to make sure the vodka you are using contains 35%-40% alcohol.  Once the vodka and the vanilla beans are combined and tightly sealed, place the container in a dark, cool area for a minimum of a month but be sure to shake the bottle once or twice a week.  After at least a month has passed, pour the mixture through a strainer covered with either cheese cloth or two paper towels.  And voilà , you are left with vanilla extract that can be stored and used as a truly natural flavoring for your desserts.


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