Apr 22, 2014

Baking for Child's Play

I have finally almost recovered from PAX East. While a three day convention of gamer geeks is always one level of exhausting, this year I decided to take an extra step to get involved with the Cookie Brigade.  The cookie brigade is a group of, essentially, guerrilla fundraisers for Child's Play. Child's Play is a charity that provides toys, games, and books to children's wards in hospitals.  Essentially it's gamers coming together to fight the stereotype that video games are a force of evil, and do an awful lot of good in the process.  Child's Play also just happened to be founded by the same guys who run PAX. I know it's somewhat circuitous, but it makes sense in the end, right?

Volunteers will bake an insane number of cookies, candies, and other types of baked goods.  Some people will bake thousands of cookies for this three day weekend, and there's even an achievement of the dozen dozen dozen. Yup, that is 1,728 cookies baked by one person, for one three day weekend. Then, other volunteers (and sometimes some of the same ones) will give out all of these treats for free, while being exceptionally grateful for all the donations to child's play that we receive.  Every cent goes directly to the charity.

I actually took a couple of days off of work before PAX just to have more time to bake. There were some oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies, rice krispy squares, raspberry meringue kisses, and some other bake sale-esque standards, but I thought I would share some of the lesser known things that I made:

Kirby Marshmallows

If you ever played video games in the 90's, you will probably recognize Kirby.  The marshmallow to the left is somewhat simplistic, but hey, so is the design of the character.

Marshmallows are fairly easy to make, in the realm of candy, and I've found that there are two different types.  Those that contain egg whites, and those that don't.  It isn't a question of being vegetarian, as they still contain gelatin.  So unless you choose to use a purely plant based gelatin, they will not and cannot be vegan.

Other than the egg whites, the recipe is basically the same.  Sugar, corn syrup, water, gelatin, vanilla, and then a "marshmallow mix" of powdered sugar and corn starch.  If you have tried any of my gummy candy, the basic ingredients aren't that different. 

Alton Brown has a reasonably good marshmallow recipe that does not contain egg whites.  I've tried the recipe, and it's not bad.  I don't, however, think that the result creates quite as light and fluffy an end product as what I could get in a store.  So as much as they look cool, and I could impress people by saying that I've made marshmallows, or go ahead and make all sorts of interesting flavors, they don't make it all the way to "oh my god" good.

If I want to get to that level, I have to turn to David Lebovitz. His is my go to recipe. Instead of weighing out my gelatin (as it's between 2-3 envelopes of standard gelatin), I will usually just use the 3 whole packets. I've done it both ways, and there is enough flexibility in the execution that they turn out great.  If I'm feeling lazy, or if I don't have an immediate use for the egg yolks, I will just use meringue powder/dried egg whites. 

Now the question, why egg whites?  If you've ever made a meringue or an angel food cake, you can probably guess.  Thinking about food science, what is an egg white and what does it do? If you said that it is a source of protein, and adds structure to whatever it is in, you get a gold star.  When baking, protein creates the scaffolding to provide form and structure.  This is the reason why bread (which uses a high protein flour) is chewier and can support larger air bubbles than a cake, which uses a low protein flour.  Another way to consider it is to think of bubble wrap.  Bubble wrap is a strong structure that will trap air inside.  In this case, the egg whites (along with the gelatin) is the 'plastic' from the bubble wrap that will hold the air.  If the plastic is weak, the bubbles will break, and the air escapes, leading to a dense, flat marshmallow.  If the plastic is too strong, however, there would be a lot of air, but it would be way too chewy.  Because of the huge amount of air that are in store bought marshmallows, I want to be able to maximize the air inside.  The egg whites help me do that. 

Because I wanted Kirby his traditional pink, I added a few drops of red food coloring until the mixture was the right color, and poured it out to set in cake pans.  Once the marshmallows set, a cookie cutter and some cake decorating gel brought his cheerful face to life.

Chichi Dango Mochi

Tri-Colored Chichi dango mochi
This is a type of rice cake that I came to learn about from people who grew up in Hawaii.  It not only has a coconut flavor to it, but also happens to be both gluten free and vegan, just by accident.  While friends of mine consider anything that's not at least 2-3 color mochi substandard (as it is traditional in Hawaii to do 2 or 3 colors) it is equally as tasty if it is just plain white.  The recipe I use is a blend of a few other recipes I've found, so I will put it here.  But virtually any chichi dango recipe will be pretty much the same.

1 Box (1 lb.) of  Mochiko 
1 12 ounce can of Coconut Milk
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
Kinako (optional)
Food coloring (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a bowl, combine the Mochiko, sugar, and baking powder.
  3. In another bowl, combine the coconut milk, water, and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl.
  5. If making single colored mochi, pour into a greased 9x11 inch pan, cover tightly with tinfoil, and bake for 60 minutes, or until the top appears fully set.  Let it cool fully in the pan.  Slice into small squares (1-2 inches) and eat.  If desired, roll pieces in Kinako before eating or storing.

    If making tri-colored mochi, separate batter into 3 equal parts.  Add food coloring to achieve desired colors.  Grease a 9x11 cake pan, and pour the first part in the bottom.  Cover tightly with tinfoil, and bake for 10 minutes, or until the cake has set (there are no puddles on the top).  Pour the second color on top, re-cover with aluminum foil, and return to the oven for 20 minutes, or until the layer has set.  Finally, add the third layer, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until the final layer has set.  Let it cool fully in the pan.  Slice into small squares, roll in kinako if desired, and eat.  

Peanut Butter Fudge

I previously did a post on my peanut butter cookie fudge here, but even the basic peanut butter fudge is so good that it bears repeating. While the peanut butter cookie fudge is quite good, the original recipe is just about perfect, and can be found on the Marshmallow Fluff Page.  I tend to use a candy thermometer when I make it, but it is not necessary.  The ingredients are all very basic, with the only potential difficulty being marshmallow fluff.  Outside of New England I've heard it can be a little harder to find.  On occasion I've substituted regular marshmallows for it if I was running short.

There are also variations to try if you're being adventurous.
  • The peanut butter cookie fudge linked above
  • After pouring out into the pan to cool, mixing in swirls of Nutella, or other peanut butter friendly spreads
  • After pouring out into the pan to cool, add a thin layer of chocolate to the top.
This fudge is fun because it is relatively easy to mold (for the larger silicone molds).  I did one batch as the portal companion cubes.  However, I have found that the molds tend to dry out the edges of the fudge, so there is a give and take there.  The molds make the pieces adorable, but the quality is a touch higher with just the squares.  I did have an idea during the craziness of baking, but I haven't had the opportunity to try it out yet. If it works, it will warrant its own post, so you'll just have to check back.

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