I love marshmallow chicks as much as the next closet sugar fan, but the ingredient list leaves much to be desired. From artificial dyes, which currently require a special warning label if sold in the European Union, to corn syrup, carnauba wax and the preservative potassium sorbate, a usual marshmallow chick’s anatomy is sadly comprised of little more than empty calories and ugly chemicals.
To be honest, if I’m going to binge on the sweet taste of Easter nostalgia, I’d rather be sure my sugar is paired with something a little more substantial.
It was time to turn my chicks free range.
Making an all-natural marshmallow chick doesn’t take much. The basic recipe is mostly sugar with a little flavor such as vanilla extract and gelatin to bind it and give it that lovely, fluffy marshmallow texture. The challenge is coming up with a natural shade, but that takes less time than you might think. There are a number of natural dye alternatives out there and most actually add to the flavor of the marshmallow treat rather than detract from it. The only exception, possibly, is blue, which is best achieved by boiling red cabbage and balancing the shade with baking powder. But don’t let that deter you from giving it a try! You never know what wild combination will create an impossibly awesome treat.
I like to give my chicks a gourmet makeover. Chocolate-hazelnut marshmallow chicks rolled in finely grated dark chocolate? Yes, please! Or what about a lighter lemon zest chick coated in fresh strawberry sugar? Or pineapple with coconut flakes? Or a rum chick sprinkled with brown sugar for the adults? The possibilities are scrumptious.
Here’s how to get started:
Basic Marshmallow Chick Recipe
1 pack gelatin
2/3 cup granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or other flavor extract
1/2 cup ice cold water, divided
- Add gelatin to 1/4 cup ice water in stand mixer and let sit while preparing syrup.
- Mix 1/3 cup water, sugar and salt and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Once dissolved, allow mixture to heat to 240 F without stirring, using a digital thermometer to alert you to when the temperature is reached. Once at 240 F, remove from heat immediately. (Watch the video for what to do if you don’t have a thermometer.) Step 2.5: For chocolate chicks, blend 3 Tablespoons unsweetened Dutch cocoa with 1 Tablespoon water to make a paste and add to the gelatin/water mix in the bowl. Additionally, add 3 Tablespoons extra sugar to the syrup mixture before heating.
- Put whisk attachment on stand mixer and blend gelatin mixture on low. Slowly add the hot syrup, pouring it down the side of the bowl. Once all the syrup is incorporated, turn the mixer on high and let it run for 15 minutes.
- While the mixer is running, go ahead and blend a cup of regular sugar with your all-natural dye, or prepare your other chick coating. Place a thin, even layer of the coating on a baking sheet with slightly raised sides (also called a jelly roll pan). This will be your artist’s station once the fluff is ready.
- About a minute before the mixer is done, add the vanilla or other extract.
- When the marshmallow is done mixing, lightly oil your hands, as well as the inside of a pastry bag and a large spoon, and spoon the mix into the bag. It will still be sticky, but the oil will help keep the mass from becoming unmanageable.
- Pipe chicks onto your coated baking sheet, making the round base first and pulling up and away from you with the pastry bag to form the tail. Separately pipe the head, making a smaller round ball and pulling up and toward you to make the beak.
Natural Sugar Colors
Now is your chance to let your true inner culinary artist shine! There are so many fun options for finishing sugars that it’s hard to pick just one … or ten. Check out this article on how to make your own organic food dye, or try a few of these alternative coatings for some ultra creative mix-and-matching:
Lavender sugar: Yes, lavender! Not only do the flecks of little purple flowers look simply lovely in a sugar coating, the scent and sweetly floral, almost wood-green taste of lavender seems to scream “spring time!” To make lavender sugar, finely chop 2 teaspoons of culinary grade lavender flowers, or give them a whirl in a food processor for about 15 seconds. Then add one cup sugar and either mix well or process for another 10 seconds or so, or until the lavender is fully incorporated. Any extra sugar will keep well in an airtight container.
Watermelon sugar: This one is a nod to one of my favorite alternative authors of the 1960s, Richard Brautigan. To make watermelon sugar, mash about a cup of sweet, ripe watermelon (seeds removed) and boil it down to a thick syrup. Strain and add a few drops at a time to sugar until your ideal flavor, and soft pink color, is achieved. You can also use this recipe for other fruits such as strawberries, raspberries or mango.
Other coating ideas:
- Sweetened or unsweetened cocoa powder
- Coconut flakes or toasted coconut flakes
- Toasted pecans, finely ground but not to the butter stage
- Lemon, lime or orange zest (about 1 citrus’s worth to 1 cup sugar)
- Graham cracker crumbs, finely ground
- Oreo cookie crumbs, finely ground
- Vanilla wafer crumbs, finely ground (with banana marshmallow chicks! Yum!)
- Brown sugar
- Powdered sugar
- Cinnamon sugar
- Melted chocolate shell or drizzle (melt about 8 oz. of good quality chocolate chips in a double boiler and dip your chicks in using a wooden skewer. Paint chocolate on with a pastry brush and cool on a wire rack or parchment paper)
- Butterscotch, peanut butter (using peanut butter chips) or white chocolate shell (see directions for melted chocolate above)
- Painted Chicks: Or, instead of coating your chicks, you can always try your hand at some chic(k) art! Using your organic food dyes, just grab a clean paintbrush and a “naked” chick and work some magic.
Who knew that making your own, all natural marshmallow chicks could not only be so simple, but could also be a super sweet indulgence to your inner culinary mastermind? And coming up with combinations is not just an adults-only activity. By making several sugars and toppings beforehand, you can form your chicks on a lightly sugared plate and give them to your kids to decorate for some entertaining Easter day excitement. Happy chick making!
Kristin Hackler writes about family, home and DIY topics for eBay, where you can find everything you need (for example) to make your own gourmet marshmallow creatures. Follow Kristin at eBay, on Google+ and on her blog, Cardboard and Cloth.