Friday, March 28, 2014

Something for the Kids... or the Resident Chocoholic
What’s cooking? Moon Pies

You know, sometimes you just need some chocolate. I’d been feeling that way for at least two weeks, and normally, I’d have been in the kitchen making something to satisfy that craving long before now. But once you make something, there it is. And then someone has to eat it. Which wouldn’t be a problem – after all, I did say I needed some chocolate – but you do generally end up with more than is really a healthy portion, unless you’re hosting dinner guests or the local Boy Scout troop.

I have had just enough other stuff going on in my life that company wasn’t a possibility; but some neighborhood friends were having a small party, so I offered to take dessert. And then as I looked around for what to make, I spotted an article in Garden & Gun that completely sucked me in. (Side note: The Kitchen Goddess is anything but a gun advocate. I often imagine how dangerous it would have been for my family if I’d ever had a gun in the house. But Garden & Gun is more about food and flowers than firearms – I can alliterate with the best of them – and a lot about Southern living. So I subscribe.)

The story featured a chef, David Guas, now in Arlington but originally from New Orleans, who makes his own moon pies at Mardi Gras time. Apparently, moon pies – graham cracker cookie sandwiches with marshmallow filling, and dipped in chocolate (!) – are a big deal for Mardi Gras, and historically a big Southern treat with RC Cola. So I’ll start with a confession: I was born and raised in the South by Southern women, and I have never had a moon pie, and I never really liked RC Cola. Or Dr. Pepper, for that matter. Heresy, I know – must be my Yankee father.

But these moon pies looked soooo yummy. They also looked a bit like a project, and as you all know, I love a project, especially if it takes place in the kitchen.

It turns out that they really are yummy, in a sort of messy way. Great kid fare. And if the guests at the party I took them to are any gauge, also great man fare. It’s only the ladies who are focusing on their weight and don’t like to get chocolate on their hands who shy away from this dessert. They should loosen up.

But first, a few notes on the process and my suggestions, which are reflected in the recipe that follows:

Step 1 – The graham cookies, which I decided to make a bit thinner than Chef showed. His were ¼-inch thick, but when I rolled the dough out to that thickness, it looked like slabs of sidewalk. So I rolled mine slightly thinner, and would roll them even thinner – like ⅛-inch thick – next time. Don’t get me wrong – they tasted great, very graham-y, better texture and more flavorful than graham crackers. I just think I’d prefer a more equal marshmallow/cookie ratio per bite.

Step 2 – The marshmallow filling. I’d never made marshmallows, but it seemed easy enough, and it was fun. The toughest part is waiting until the candy thermometer moves from 220º to 240º, which always seems like forever. Chef Guas recommends starting to whip the egg whites when the syrup reaches 200º, but if you have a KitchenAid or other stand mixer – which I definitely recommend, and not only for this recipe – you can start when it hits 220º. I also extended the whipping time by about 2 minutes after the syrup went in, because they hadn’t set up as firmly as I’d hoped at the end of 10 minutes. Twelve minutes seemed about right. This part of the recipe will be laborious in the extreme if you don’t have a good stand mixer.

Step 3 – Assembling the sandwiches. Well,... I noticed that the weight of the cookies seemed to be smooshing down the filling, so I decided to pile the filling on some of the cookies and let it chill a few minutes before adding the tops. Big mistake. It turns out that the chill sets the filling so firmly that you can’t get the top cookie to stay down. I had a few moments of hilarity while I tried putting the tops on those and setting a sheet pan on top to force them down, but they bounced back like Jack-in-the-Boxes (Jacks-in-the-Box?). Eek!! When I stirred the marshmallow around by hand for just a minute or two longer in the mixing bowl, it firmed up and worked fine.

Step 4 – Dipping. Chef Guas suggested using two forks in a sort of Emergency Room paddle formation to dip the sandwiches into the chocolate. Ha ha ha ha ha. It works, but don’t dip and then say to yourself, “I’ll just twist it around the other way to make sure the chocolate coats it.” Because that’s when you’ll drop it back into the chocolate and enjoy a little bit of cursing. So if the kids are going to be around while you do this part, just watch your language. It doesn’t hurt to drop them back into the melted chocolate – it just adds to the time. And I’ll try tongs next time.

Yes, there will be a next time. I don’t want to scare anyone off from doing this recipe. Actually, once you get the cookies done, you might have a great time with the kids or grandkids putting together the rest of it. And the Kitchen Goddess has already suffered through all the mistakes for you. Make it an after-school affair or a weekend project. Have fun!

Mardi Gras Moon Pies

Adapted from Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington, VA, from Garden & Gun magazine

Makes 18-20.

For the cookies:

6 ounces unsalted butter
¼ cup brown sugar (light or dark)
¼ cup dark molasses
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups graham cracker crumbs, ground fine (put them in a ziplock bag and wale away on them with a rolling pin)
¾  teaspoon kosher salt
½  teaspoon baking powder
½  teaspoon baking soda
¼  teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons whole milk, plus one teaspoon

Using a stand mixer fitted with a flat beater (or paddle, as it might be called), combine butter, brown sugar, molasses and vanilla until smooth.

In a separate bowl, using a fork, stir together the dry ingredients, being sure to mix well the flour and graham crumbs.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar, and mix on low speed while dribbling in the milk. It should be a fairly stiff dough, but even so, you may need to add another teaspoon of milk if the dough isn’t coming together.

Press dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least one hour. Kitchen Goddess note: I left my dough to chill for several hours, and it was rock-hard when I took it out. A few minutes on the kitchen counter softened it up enough to work.

Preheat the oven to 325º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the dough to a ⅛-inch thickness (thicker if you feel like it) and stamp out rounds with a 2½-inch cutter. (The Kitchen Goddess gathers together the scraps and re-rolls for a second batch. She can’t stand to throw away good dough.) Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes, long enough to get them medium-crisp. Transfer the cookies to baking racks to cool.

For the marshmallow:

4 teaspoons powdered gelatin
½ cup cold water, plus ¼ cup water at room temperature
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons honey (clover or wildflower)
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites

Special equipment: candy thermometer.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and reserve. Put the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk and set aside. (Egg whites whip better at room temperature.)

In a small saucepan, combine the room-temperature water, corn syrup, honey and sugar over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer, and continue to simmer until it reaches 240º on a candy thermometer.

When the temperature of the syrup mixture reaches 220º, begin to whip the egg whites on high until they hold firm peaks but are not stiff. If they reach this stage before the syrup reaches 240º, stop the mixer until the syrup is ready.

Once the sugar syrup reaches 240º, remove it from the heat, and whisk in the gelatin. Now, while the egg whites are whipping on high, carefully drizzle the hot syrup down the inside of the bowl into the egg whites. Continue whipping for an additional 10-12 minutes, until the mixture stiffens and becomes opaque.

Notice the little indentation where I scooped a bit out with a spoon to test. This is just ready.

Assembling the sandwiches:

Spray a large spoon (like a tablespoon) with nonstick cooking spray. Turn over half the cookies, and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of marshmallow onto each. Let the marshmallow set for a minute, then gently lay the remaining cookies on top of the marshmallow, pressing down gently to get the marshmallow to spread to the edge. Chill the sandwiches in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

For the chocolate coating:

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (60–70% cacao)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or canola oil

While the cookie sandwiches are chilling, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water. Stir the chocolate until it melts, then remove the bowl from the heat and let it cool slightly. When the chocolate has cooled slightly but is still warm, whisk the oil into it in a slow stream. Cool the chocolate to room temperature before dipping the cookie sandwiches.

Don't forget to spray the rack with cooking spray.

Coat a wire rack with cooking spray, and set it in a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Kitchen Goddess note: That cooking spray is critical, as you will otherwise find your moon pies sticking to the rack. I know this. Using a couple of forks or a pair of tongs, gently dip the chilled sandwiches into the chocolate and set onto the rack to rest. Move the pan to a cool place – not the fridge – to let the coating harden for at least a couple of hours.

Moon Pies can be kept in an airtight container, layered between sheets of parchment, at room temperature, for 4-5 days.

Kitchen Goddess Bonus  – The Kitchen Goddess had so much marshmallow filling left over that she couldn’t bring herself to throw it out. So she made marshmallows, which were also fun.

You will need:
• an appropriate-sized metal pan
• ¼ cup corn starch
• ¼ cup powdered sugar

Cover the pan with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. Mix the powdered sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl, and sprinkle a generous dusting of the mix over the entire pan.

Pour the marshmallow filling into the pan, and use a spatula to spread it evenly. The Kitchen Goddess also drizzled the leftover chocolate coating (Waste not, want not!) over the marshmallow.
Let the marshmallow set at room temperature for several hours or overnight.

The foil is another thing the Kitchen Goddess forgot. And was sorry.
Dust a work surface generously with more of the sugar/starch, then lift the marshmallow block from the pan using the foil, and flip it over onto the work surface. Peel off the foil, and dust the top of the marshmallow block with more of the sugar/starch.

Spray a large chef’s knife with cooking spray and cut the block into squares of whatever size you like. Dredge the cut sides of the marshmallows in the remaining sugar/starch. The marshmallows can be stored up to a week in an airtight container. You may have to re-dip them in sugar/starch if they get sticky.


  1. I NEVER thought I would see an enticing Moon Pie!
    I should never say never...

    Eileen in Atlanta