Isn’t it lovely to see everything getting greener?
All around there are signs of Spring in full flow, from the leapy lambs to the buds on the trees. And here we are at Eastertide again.
I can’t be unique in not really understanding Easter at all.
Whenever someone tries to explain it to me I just glaze over and smile sweetly, like when someone’s explaining tax codes, quadratic equations or how to play chess.
It seems to glide about between months with ease, and we all have to go along with it. All very odd.
Being non-observant, I’m afraid that for me, Easter just means an extra day or so off work and the arrival into the house of the occasional chocolate egg.
Easter eggs, once the standard post-Christmas joke (“I see they’re selling them in February now!” etc.), have now become politically charged, with accusations, as far as I can see completely erroneous, that they’re now called ‘chocolate eggs’ so as not to upset other religions.
Every one I’ve seen has said ‘Easter Egg’ on the box, and conversely there are examples of those with ‘Chocolate Egg’ written on the box going back as far as the 1970s. More non-news and pointless aggression, in my opinion.
So, let’s just make some lovely Easter eggs, shall we? I’d seen a photo of these eggs somewhere in a magazine or online, and guessed at how I’d set about making them.
It turns out they are actually quite easy, and definitely worth a go. It’s probably a good recipe for the kids to help with, as it’s all terribly exciting as the eggs come together. No doubt you parents out there will be desperate, as the holiday draws on, for something to do with the offspring, especially on a rainy day.
Well, here’s your recipe, and you’re welcome. Surrounding the home-made marshmallow is a crisp shell of dark chocolate, which can then be decorated with any amount of Easter-y bling, from the elegant stripes of contrasting chocolate as pictured, all the way to edible glitter and such.
It’s great to make marshmallow from scratch, as you get a much tastier, less artificial result. It’s denser and nicely chewy.
If you’re wondering where the odd name comes from – it’s the name of a wetland plant after all – it stems from the 1800s, when the sap from the root of the mallow plant would be whipped into sugary pastes in order to cure minor ailments.
The setting properties of the mallow sap were found to be most appealing, and when gelatine came along it soon replaced mallow sap as the gelling agent, but the sweet treats persisted.
These days we enjoy marshmallows in many ways, from the luxury of a few melting into a gooey cream on top of one’s midwinter hot chocolate to the simple, unalloyed pleasure of the single plump marshmallow toasted over an open fire until charred and crispy.
We put them in cakes, in chocolate (Rocky Road) and we can even make a terrific bouncy buttercream by melting them and combining with whipped butter and icing sugar.
Here we’re making a slightly wetter version, and pouring it into flour, with egg-shaped indentations, to set into a loose egg shape, before dipping in melted chocolate and piping some appealing stripes.
If bitter chocolate’s going to be a bit much for the kids, swap it for milk chocolate and use a little of the dark as your piping contrast. It’ll work just as well.
For the marshmallow:
9 sheets leaf gelatine
450g caster sugar
1 tbsp liquid glucose
2 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large bags plain flour
500g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
150g milk chocolate for piping
150g white chocolate for piping
A little oil, sunflower or similar flavourless oil (optional)
Small piping bags
One medium (8cm) chocolate egg or egg-shaped mould (or a real egg)
To start, fill two large, deep baking dishes or trays with plain flour, shaking to get an even layer. Using a plastic Easter egg, or a real egg, or a chocolate egg, press lightly into the flour to make evenly-spaced neat indentations about 1-2 inches apart. You should have about 12 indentations per tray. They may need re-pressing if there’s slippage.
Now to make the marshmallow; soak the gelatine in 140ml cold water, making sure it becomes completely soft. Put the sugar, glucose and water into a heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil and cook for about 12-15 minutes until the mixture reaches 127ºC or the hard-ball stage on a sugar thermometer. When the syrup is up to temperature, remove from the heat and carefully slide in the softened gelatine sheets along with the water. In the bowl of a mixer, set the egg whites whisking, and when they reach a firm peak, start pouring in the syrup slowly. The egg white should inflate and become thick and glossy. Add the vanilla extract and continue whisking for about 5 minutes, until the mixture just holds a soft peak. For regular marshmallows, you’d need to keep whisking until the mixture is stiff and cooled, but here we need it to be a little more pliable. Carefully scoop spoonfuls of the marshmallow mixture into the indentations in the flour, letting it fill the dips and pile on top about half the volume again. It should sit in place without falling. If it flows a little, continue to whisk the mixture for a few more minutes to cool down. Once all the holes are filled, let them sit for 10-15 minutes.
Once slightly set, gently lift an edge of the marshmallow with a fork or palette knife, and carefully flip it over so it is now upside down in the flour, being careful not to press at all. Let the marshmallows just sit and set up for an hour or so.
Next, take each marshmallow egg and rub it on a piece of kitchen roll to remove as much of the flour as possible. Tip the trays of unused flour back into the bags for future use. Melt two-thirds of the dark chocolate in a bowl set over barely simmering water and remove from the heat.
Stir in the remaining third of the chocolate, mixing until smooth, then allow it to cool a little. This helps give the chocolate a nice sheen. One by one, dip a marshmallow egg into the chocolate using a fork or fondue fork, covering the egg completely. Lift the egg up and tap off the excess chocolate, then set it down, most-domed side uppermost, on the baking parchment. Repeat with the remaining eggs. When the eggs are set, gently warm the milk chocolate and spoon into a small piping bag. Gently pipe stripes of chocolate across the eggs, or decorate as you wish. Allow the chocolate to set, then repeat the same process with the white chocolate. You may need to loosen the white chocolate with a spoonful of flavourless oil in order for it to pipe smoothly. Allow the eggs to set up fully before transferring to an airtight tub for storage.