Ah, sweet summer! Summer brings to mind many foods for lunch and dinner - hot dogs, hamburgers, pulled pork barbecue. There are even a few stereotypical summer desserts that cool the body and relax the mind: popsicles, icebox cakes, root beer floats. But amongst the desserts, there is a clear summer king - the S'more. Rare amongst summer food, the S'more starts with chocolate, a food to whom the summer heat and light are inimical. Traditionally, slabs of cheap chocolate get topped with some puffy, burned, oversweet marshmallows, then pressed between bland graham crackers. Taken separately, each component might be underwhelming. But when combined and roasted over a fire, they are the very spirit of the summer barbecue.
The now-melted chocolate is pure fluid flavor. The graham crackers are made crispy and complex by the forge of the campfire. The marshmallows transform from amorphous ugly ducklings into silky, graceful swans; rivers of sugary goodness that permeate every last flavor receptor in your tongue.
Yes please, I would like some more. Er, "s'more."
Even with all that, though, don't you wonder... can't we do more? Can't the traditional S'more be... pushed? What if I want a S'more in my office at work? I have a fair amount of goodwill built up around the office, but that would evaporate rapidly if I started a fire on my desk.
So, here's the plan:
Acceptable store-bought graham crackers will be replaced with homemade honey pecan graham crackers.
A fudgey chocolate brownie will fill in for the molten chocolate.
The whole thing* will be coated in marshmallow, which will be toasted.
Then, for good measure, we'll cover them in chocolate. Couldn't hurt, right?
Voila! A delicious truffle-like S'more that you can take anywhere. No fire required! A picnic at your desk! World peace, within your grasp!**
So join me, friends. Join me in my quest to improve the perfect summer dessert.
*or not, depending on how much work you want to do.
**wake up, you've fallen asleep at your desk!
Step 1: Sweet Supplies, Tasty Tools
First: You'll need a scale! When baking a bunch of separate components for a single dish, measuring ingredients by mass and not by volume will not only streamline your process, but also ensure precision and repeatability.
For the graham crackers, you will need: flour, brown sugar, honey, butter, pecans, milk, baking soda, and salt. You'll also need a food processor or pastry blender and a rolling pin.
For the brownies, we shall require: sugar, flour, butter, chocolate chips, eggs, salt, baking powder, and vanilla extract. You'll also need a mixer, some foil, and a pan to cook your brownies in.
For the marshmallows, gather together: sugar, corn syrup, honey, gelatin, and vanilla extract. You'll also need a mixer.
Finally, make sure you have some chocolate chips to coat the treats once they are done.
Step 2: Graham Crackers: Preparation
The recipe I am basing these graham crackers on comes from Pastries from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton. This recipe was forwarded to me by a friend of mine, and used volumetric measurements. For convenience, I weighed everything I used, and have included both measurements here.
I've decided to add pecans to the crackers for two reasons - first, because this recipe doesn't use real graham flour. The characteristic almost-nutty flavor and texture of graham crackers comes from the use of a coarse, whole-grain flour. Finely ground pecans (or other favorite nut) will give the crackers both flavor and texture.
Second, because pecans are delicious.
Gather together your ingredients:
93 grams of butter (7 tbsp)
70 grams of pecans, ground (read more below)
300 grams flour (2 cups)
200 grams brown sugar (1 cup, packed)
7 grams baking soda (1 tsp)
2 grams kosher salt (3/4 tsp)
115 grams honey (1/3 cup)
62 grams whole milk (5 tbsp)
vanilla extract (about 1 tsp)
First, cut the butter into small cubes and freeze it (for at least 10 minutes).
While the butter is freezing, prepare your pecans. Mine were whole, in-shell nuts, so I had to shell them. You'll need 70 grams of pecans (about 55 nuts total), which you should finely grind using a spice grinder or blender: 70 grams of nuts came out to be just under half a cup, packed. For extra nutty goodness, toast the pecans before grinding them.
Combine the ground nuts with the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
Make sure they are well-mixed.
Finally, mix the wet ingredients (honey, milk, vanilla extract) together in a small bowl. Now we're ready to make the crackers!
Step 3: Graham Crackers: Fabrication
Remove the butter from the freezer. Now that the butter is well-chilled, add it to the dry ingredients. If you have a food processor, process it until it resembles clumpy, moist sand.
If you have a pastry blender, pastry blend it until it resembles clumpy, moist sand.
Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and process/blend until the mixture just comes together. It should be wet and very sticky. Pour (or, more accurately, scoop) the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and do your best to shape it into a rectangle about one inch thick. It really helps to lay a second piece of plastic wrap atop the first for this step. If you choose to touch the dough with bare hands, make sure they are adequately floured first.
Let the graham cracker doughtangle sit in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight (I left mine overnight).
Turn the chilled dough out onto a floured surface. Flour the top side of the dough as well (it's sticky!)
Roll the dough out into a thin rectangle. Trim it into any shape you find desirable (I made mine round), transfer them to a parchment-covered baking sheet, and prick the pre-crackers all over with a fork. Pop the baking sheet into the fridge for half an hour, and pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
If you have a lot of little excess pieces, roll them into a ball and use said ball to make more crackers. Or eat it. Or leave it alone for a moment and let your cat eat it. These are all good options.
Once the half-hour cooling time is up, bake the crackers for about fifteen to twenty minutes, until the edges are a little brown and the centers are a little soft. If your oven cooks unevenly (like mine), rotate the pan halfway through.
Allow the cookies to cool completely on a rack, then punch out a bunch of round pieces using a cookie cutter. Save these for later.
I have the utmost confidence in your ability to dispose of the excess cookie fragments.
On to the brownies!
Step 4: Brownies: Preparation
These brownies are the BEST. They are from America's Test Kitchen, and they are chocolatey, fudgy, and delicious, without being too dense. I am a fudgey brownie man, but there's no reason why you couldn't make your favorite cakey brownie instead.
I chose fugey brownies for one main reason - texture. I figured a richer, denser brownie would be closer to the "native" texture of a S'more.
Combine the following in a bowl; mix well.
140 grams flour (1 1/4 cups). Low-protein cake flour is best for this (and for all brownies). I use White Lily flour, which is common here in the southeast US. If you live elsewhere, King Arthur sells a similar low-gluten flour suitable for cakebakery.
3 grams salt (1/2 teaspoon)
4 grams baking powder (3/4 teaspoon)
Next, put these into a bowl together (preferably microwave-safe). We'll get to them in the next step.
170 grams bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate chips (about a cup)
170 grams unsalted butter (12 tablespoons - 1 1/2 sticks)
Finally, measure out the rest of the ingredients separately.
430 grams sugar (2 1/4 cups)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
And now, we bake!
Step 5: Brownies: Fabrication
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Prepare a pan to recieve your brownies (I used an 8 x 8 square pan, which was a tiny bit on the small side). The most effective way to prepare the pan is to cover the inside \with foil, rub butter all over the foil, then coat the butter layer with flour. This will guarantee a clean pan and a problem-free release.
Place the butter and the chocolate chips together into a bowl, and heat to melt them together. You can do this in a double boiler on the stovetop, or in the microwave. If you choose to use a microwave, remember to not heat the mixture for more than 45 seconds at a stretch, and stir between heatings to avoid scorching the chocolate.
Once the mixture is completely smooth, gradually whisk in the sugar. At this stage, your mixture will look quite ugly - that's OK. You kitchen will also smell like butter and chocolate, which is also OK.
Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next.Whisk in the vanilla after the egg.
Finally, fold in the flour mixture in three equal portions. Make sure that the batter is smooth and homogeneous.
Pour the batter into your pan! This makes too much batter for an 8 x 8 inch pan, so I also had some ramekins set aside to hold the excess.
Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes. Test for doneness by poking a wooden toothpick or skewer into the center of the brownie - it is perfectly done when your pokin' stick has a few moist crumbs still stuck to it.
Let the brownies cool completely on a rack before doing anything with them.
Once the brownies are cool, lift them out by their foil sheath. Punch out round segments with your cookie cutter, and then cut those segments in half. Stack the brownie segments atop the graham crackers.
If you're worried about the brownies adhering themselves to the crackers, you can have a small bowl of melted chocolate nearby, and dab a bit on the crackers before stacking.
Eat the excess scraps. Keep your eye on the ramekins, or someone might eat the brownies inside before you have a chance to get to them.
Step 6: Marshmallow Layer: Preparation
There's nothing fancy about the marshmallow coating. Just your average, run of the mill, completely delicious homemade marshmallow.
I should state right now that there are two different methods I used to apply a marshmallow surface. One is frustrating, one is not. Your choice should be made based on how much you like to be sticky.
The more frustrating option is to whip your marshmallows until light and fluffy, but not so much that the mixture starts to cool and thicken. While still relatively thin, pour the whole kit and kaboodle over the stacked cracker and brownie, and allow the marshmallow to drip off. This will provide a thin and uniform coating. The downside, of course, is that the marshmallow will set*, and you'll have to scrape the individual treats off with a hot knife.
The less frustrating option would be to pipe the marshmallow on top of the brownie. This has some aesthetic advantages, but then you can't really call the treats "marshmallow-covered," which means you get assessed -100 pastry street cred points.
Both batches follow the same basic recipe. This makes waaaaay too much marshmallow for the "piped" option, so make sure you have a vessel prepared to hold the overflow.
Measure the following directly into a medium-sized saucepan:
340 grams sugar
225 grams corn syrup
55 grams mild honey
85 grams water
Measure these out separately:
20 grams gelatin (three packets of the Knox unflavored, if you're using that)
115 grams water
10 grams vanilla extract
*enough to be hard to release from the rack, not so much that it isn't maddeningly sticky
Step 7: Marshmallow Layer: Application
First, get the gelatin hydrating. Combine the gelatin and 115 grams of water in the bowl of your mixer (or bowl you will be using to mix), and whisk the mixture on a low speed for about a minute or so. It will start to thicken quickly after that. Set it aside for now.
Heat the sugar-syrup-honey-water mixture over medium-high heat, monitoring the temperature with an instant-read thermometer. If you are using a stand mixer, start whisking the gelatin at medium speed when the mixture reaches 250 ºF/120 ºC. Continue to boil the mixture until it reaches a temperature of 252 ºF/122 ºC, and pour it straight into the gelatin. For those of you that prefer to go commando (no thermometer), that's just into the hard-ball stage.
Once all the syrup has been added, whisk on high speed until the marshmallow stops increasing in volume. Add the vanilla extract, continue whisking until well-combined.
At this point, you have to decide if you want to coat your treats, or pipe marshmallow onto them.
If you are coating the treats:
Check the consistency of the marshmallow by stopping the mixer, and lifting the whisk out of the still-fluid marshmallow. If the marshmallow flows fairly freely off of the whisk (the stream should quickly narrow to about the thickness of an average pinky), it is of the proper consistency to use as a coating. If you wait too long, the coating will be too thick, and the candies will be very difficult to remove from the rack.
Pour the marshmallow over the brownie-cracker stack. Now, you want to wait for a few hours (~2-3 should suffice) for the coating to stiffen and dry slightly.
If you are piping the marshmallow:
Continue to whisk until the marshmallow thickens to the point where it can almost hold a peak when the whisk is withdrawn. The flow off of the whisk at this point should be sluggish and thick. Fill a piping bag (affixed with the tip of your choice) with the marshmallow, and pipe tidy little lumps onto the tops of your brownie bits. You can see the result of too-thin marshmallow being piped in one of the pictures below. Don't have a piping bag? No problem! Fill up a quart-sized ziploc bag, seal, and snip off the tip.
Again, you want to wait a few hours for the marshmallow to set up and dry slightly.
Step 8: Finishing: Toasting and Coating
Toasting the marshmallows is an optional (but highly recommended) step. This will assure you MAXIMUM S'MORE REALISM.
Put the pan, rack, or what-have-you in the oven, about 3-6 inches from the top element. Turn the broiler on. Now watch the marshmallows like a hawk. Like a hawk with binoculars. The difference between a perfectly-toasted marshmallow and an amorphous mass of carbon is only a handful of seconds.
Allow the marshmallows to cool.
If you fully coated the candies, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Dip a knife or a bench scraper into the water, allow it to heat, wipe off the excess moisture, and use it to cut/scrape up each piece. Transfer them onto a clean cooling rack. Beware: they are sticky. If you touch the surface of the marshmallow, it will stick to your fingers like a leech would also stick to your fingers if it got a chance. Oiling your fingers helps a little (but only a little). So seriously - avoid touching the marshmallow if you can at all avoid it. Otherwise, you might accidentally keep dropping the candies marshmallow-side down on the floor, and you will inadvertently teach your one year old child several new words.
Once cool, melt and temper some chocolate. I needed a little more than two bags to coat all of the pieces I made.
Allow the chocolate coating to crystallize overnight.
Step 9: One More Thing...
Short on time? Don't have a stand mixer, a gram scale, and an instant-read thermometer handy? No problem! FLAVOR IS WITHIN YOUR GRASP.
Get some graham crackers (I like Honey Maid the best), whip up a batch of quick and delicious box brownies (Ghirardelli makes a brownie mix that is almost painfully tasty), and buy some marshmallows from the store.
Bake, core, and slice the brownies, stack them with cored graham crackers, and put a cut-in half marshmallow on top. Toast; coat with chocolate.
First Prize in the