Tag Archives: Marshmallow

Gingerbread Valley Life Sciences Building

19 Dec

This Christmas season, I haven’t had as much time to do all the baking or cooking that I would have liked. I was planning on making a towering cake, mixing a festive cocktail, trying my hand at decorating sugar cookies with royal icing, and assembling large batches of other treats to give out as gifts, etc. Sadly, with the MCAT looming, I’ve had a hard time justifying time spent on things other than studying (even blogging makes me feel guilty)! That’s what I felt so lucky that I did get the chance to spend some time with my boyfriend and his sister constructing this awesome gingerbread house!

I know my readers mostly consist of my friends from college… So does this structure remind you of anything? I’ll give you a closer look…

Why yes, bravo! This is indeed a small model of Valley Life Sciences Building, fashioned in gingerbread. This building is where I spent most of my days–either in class, lab, office hours, or the Biosciences library (perfect spot for studying). Even the pre-med chapter of American Medical Student Association met in this building for our evening meetings! My boyfriend was a different major, so his department was in another building, but he was still here very often even when fulfilling all his pre-req’s.

Both of us being recent graduates, and missing our alma mater and all the wonderful people we don’t get to see anymore, this tribute to VLSB in gingerbread form seemed quite fitting. What do you think–should I email a photo of our masterpiece to Chancellor Birgeneau? Or are we just waaaaay to nerdy for our own good?! Comment below and state your opinion!

This is how we started the project! The first step was making the dough. With a few modifications, I used a gingerbread recipe from King Arthur Flour, a trusted resource for aspiring bakers like me!
First, heat the butter and milk until just melted. Then whisk in the molasses, brown sugar, and egg.

While you’re waiting for the butter to melt into the milk, whisk together some of the flour, salt, baking soda, and the spices.

Next, you want to pour the liquid mixture into the bowl, and using a STRONG electric mixer, add in the bowl of dry ingredients. The dough becomes really thick, so I am really grateful that I got to bake the gingerbread at my boyfriend’s place, which has a Kitchenaid.

Continue adding the additional flour until you reach a play-doh like consistency. Once all the flour is just incorporated, turn out the dough onto plastic wrap and form it into a disk. Wrap the disk up and let it rest in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Once you’ve patiently waited an hour, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Based on our rough estimate of the ratios of VLSB, and how many square inches of dough we had, we went for a building that measured 12×6 inches (golden rectangle)! After you’ve done some similar planning, cut out the shapes of the walls, roof, and other architectural adornments. :) We had 38 separate pieces of gingerbread of all different shapes and sizes to match the basic outline of VLSB!

Pop those in a 350 degree oven, and wait 15 minutes! These cookies don’t spread much, so it’s OK to place them close together on the baking sheet. Additionally, the larger pieces baked to the same hardness as the smaller pieces, so don’t worry about varied baking times. :)

Gingerbread for Gingerbread House
Makes about 450 square inches, rolled out to 1/8 inch thickness

3/4 stick. Unsalted Butter (6 tbsp)
3/4 c. Milk
1 c. Brown sugar
1/2 c. Molasses
1 Egg
5 c. Flour
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp Ground ginger
1 tsp. Nutmeg
1/2 tsp. Salt

  1. Melt butter and sugar together
  2. Add molasses, sugar, and egg
  3. Transfer to bowl of mixer and incorporate 1 c. flour, spices, salt, and baking soda.
  4. Gradually add the rest of the flour until just incorporated
  5. Turn out dough and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  6. Roll out to 1/8 inch thickness, and bake on 350 for about 15 minutes.

While the gingerbread is cooling, whip up a batch of easy-peasy royal icing. This icing is the perfect consistency for constructing a gingerbread house because it is quite sticky and dries relatively quickly. That means you don’t have to be concerned about your building collapsing, as long as you’ve held the pieces in place for maybe 20 seconds, and the walls have another structure to attach to other than the ground. Make sense? For example, there would be a reduced risk of a vertical wall falling down if it also had an an adjacent wall that it was glued to. Free-standing vertical walls? Meeeh, not so much.

I don’t have photos of making the icing or the process of erecting Ginger VLSB (my new name for our magnum opus), but it’s pretty simple!

Royal Icing for Gingerbread House
makes just enough for one Ginger VLSB, plus maybe 1/2 c. extra (so accurate, my measurements)

3 Egg whites
1/2 tsp. Cream of tartar, or other egg white stabilizer (white vinegar, lemon juice, meringue powder)

1 lb (about 4 cups) Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

  1. With the egg whites in a bowl (we used the Kitchenaid), whip with an electric mixer until frothy, like bubble bath.
  2. Add the cream of tartar (or your alternative), and mix a little more.
  3. Slowly add in the powdered sugar. We went about 1/2 cup at a time. Finito! If you’re not using the frosting right away, make sure it is well covered and air-tight (tupperware, or in a closed piping bag). This frosting dries out really quickly!

Now you’re ready to start construction! We lined a tray with foil, piped frosting on the the edges of the gingerbread pieces, and after sticking all 38 pieces together, ended up with this! For decorations, we used thin black licorice ropes to emphasize some of the different long, dark windows of VLSB, as well as for the overhangs and doors. Mini marshmallows cut in half were used for the big white steps, and white Life-Savers were used for further adornment. It didn’t turn out as big or detailed as I wanted it to be (I went slightly OCD and wanted to be able to pipe the Egyptian hieroglyphs, columns, and other bas-relief sculptures, but that just didn’t work out, hehe).

For our first time making a gingerbread house completely from scratch (no graham crackers on milk cartons), I’d say we did a pretty bang-up job! Austin and Emily, you rock! This project would have been a complete mess without you!

I think it still looks awesome even without the green sanding sugar I wanted to use for the banks of grass!

So there you have it, folks! Merry Christmas from two devoted biology nerds and one awesome younger sister! We hope you have a wonderful season, spent with your loved ones, and full of delicious treats and merry festivities. Maybe that includes making a gingerbread house of your own! Have you already constructed this year’s? Post a picture of your obra de arte, or tell me in the comments below what you did to make yours special. Or are you inspired to make one of your own? Share your ideas! Do you have other Christmas or holiday traditions you’d like to share? Let me know below as well–I’d love to hear about them. :)

Make your own Vanilla Marshmallows

29 Aug

Some marshmallows, sitting in some Van Houten chocolat chaud

Have you ever reached for a bag of store-bought marshmallows, popped one in your mouth, and wondered if there was a better, less artificial-tasting alternative? I don’t know about you, but I have on many an occasion! Let’s just say Jet-Puff’s aren’t my favorite unless that fake taste is masked by scorching them to a crisp and nestling them between graham crackers and chocolate.

So when my boyfriend had a few friends over for a Mexican-themed dinner (quite gourmet!–pix later!), I decided I would make a tiny contribution by bringing over some chili/cinnamon hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows.

I’m not going to lie, candy-making type endeavors have always intimidated me, and looking back on the past, it’s easy to see why… OK here’s a little story for your entertainment:

Background info: Being the intellectually encouraging person that she is, Mom made us ask questions every night before we went to bed.

Young Ann & Sister: Mommy, what happens when you cook sugar?
[These were the types of questions we liked to ask. Not “How does food turn into energy?” or “How is light a wave AND a particle?” Instead, we asked questions like the aforementioned, and “How are Barbies made?” etc. Can’t say we responded too well to her teaching techniques. Anyway, I digress…]

More Background info: Being the intellectually encouraging person that she is, Mom liked us to test out our questions and theories.

Mom: Well, why don’t we see what happens, girls?!
[All three run to kitchen, put pot on stove, put sugar in pot, put water in pot. Heat long time. Forget about the sugar.]
[As smoke begins to fill the apartment, Mom tackles the pot while Ann and Sister are forced to flee outside the door… and I was in my Belle costume. Neighbors proceeded to stare.]

… So there was this event. Then there was also the time in my frugal college days (which haven’t actually ended) when I “compromised” a lot of my recipes for want of kitchen tools, and I almost destroyed my roommate’s saucepan trying to make caramel topping. All in all, I had good reason to fear working with sugar and using candy-making methods.

However, in the past few months, I had recently obtained a candy thermometer, so there was no reason to run from the challenge! Then I started researching marshmallow-making techniques. It didn’t seem so bad at all, and truth be told, they’re actually pretty easy! A candy thermometer is not even required, and one could make these by just eyeballing the simple syrup that is heated to over boiling. Just make sure you are aware of the different stages to look for.

Assessing Syrup Stages
The first step is to drop a tiny bit of your syrup into cold water. Then evaluate using these guidelines:
1. Soft Ball/235-240 degrees F: Syrup will form soft ball that flattens in your hand.
2. Firm Ball/245-250: Syrup will form a malleable ball that maintains some of its shape.
3. Hard Ball/250-265: Syrup will form threads from your spoon as you drop, and will harden completely in the water. Malleable only when you apply a lot of force.
4. Soft Crack/270-290: Forms flexible threads in the water that break upon bending.
5. Hard Crack/300-310: Forms hard, brittle threads in the water.

On to the recipe!
*Note: If you use a candy thermometer, use a narrow pan so that the level of syrup will be higher and the thermometer can be more submerged to get a better reading.

Vanilla Marshmallows
1 c. powdered sugar
3 1/2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
1 c. cold water, divided
2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1 tbsp. vanilla

1. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 of the cold water, and let stand.
2. Heat the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and other 1/2 c. of water over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
3. After it dissolves, increase heat to medium, and boil the syrup to 240 degrees F, or Soft Ball stage, without stirring.
4. Meanwhile, whip the eggs whites to soft peaks.
5. When the syrup has reached the right temperature (about 12 minutes), remove from heat and mix in the gelatin.
6. Add vanilla to the egg whites, add the syrup to the egg whites and immediately start whipping them with your electric/stand mixer until it has mostly cooled and tripled in volume (this took me about 10 minutes with a handheld electric mixer… If you do the same, I give you permission to count this as your deltoid workout of the day).
7. To make a pastry bag with which to pipe your marshmallows, place a large plastic Ziploc bag in a tall glass, with the tip at the bottom and the zipper part open and cuffed around the edge of the glass. Transfer the marshmallow mixture to this bag. Seal it, twist the top, and cut off the tip.
8. Pipe the marshmallows onto a cookie sheet dusted generously with powdered sugar. Sift powdered sugar (also generously) over the top.
9. You can let these set for 1 hr/overnight, or place them in the fridge to speed up the process. You can also toss them around in a bowl with powdered sugar so they are fully coated and won’t stick to each other.

And there you have it–delicious homemade marshmallows that literally melt in your mouth from their pure, light, airy, goodness! They’re so small, reachable, and darn delicious that it’s easy to pop 10 in your mouth and still go back for more. Float them in your hot chocolate, skewer them and roast them on the fire, decorate a cake, make popcorn balls, or just eat them straight out of the tupperware. :) They should be kept in the fridge for no more than a couple days, but they go so quickly that I am sure you’ll have no problem with that! To me, the Jet-Puffs will never compare.


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