Sometimes great ideas can come from the strangest places. Who would have imagined that spending my birthday, in the rain, making S’mores with people I didn’t know, could have been so much fun and such creative inspiration. In November my good friend, and partner in many culinary adventures, Jen, treated me to a luxurious night at a resort. As bad luck would have it, it was pissing rain all night, which may have stopped the average souls from sharing a bottle of wine by the beach. Jen and I bundled up, grabbed blankets, umbrellas and sat in the rain by the fire. Apparently this scene was odd enough to attract the attention of a lovely, adventure seeking couple (Sue and Anton), who pulled up a soaking wet bench and joined us. The only thing missing in this rather bizzarre setting were sticks with marshmallows. Not for long! Sue disappeared and came back with a “S’more kit.” It seemed perfectly right at the moment to be drinking a lovely bottle of red wine and singeing marshmallows in the fire, while balancing an umbrella. They were perfection, albeit too sweet and not as good as I remember them from childhood. The concept of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers and toasted puffs of whipped sugar is brilliant, but once you hit 40, one’s taste-buds crave a little more complexity and less unadorned SWEET.
This moment deserved remembering and the S’more begged to be reinvented. This small bite of homemade cinnamon graham cookies, chocolate ganache and toasted almond meringue is my take on the classic. But, I added a hidden treasure. Under the cloud of meringue lies coconut and a candied pecan. The texture and richness of the nut are just what the S’more was always missing for me. I suggest you bring them to a superbowl party, but leave a few at home to snack on later.
Homemade Graham Cracker Cookies:
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
¼ cup honey
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
Cinnamon-sugar (1/4 cup sugar mixed with ½ teaspoon cinnamon) for the top
Milk Chocolate Ganache:
6 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
30 pecan halves
3 tablespoons maple syrup
½ cup egg whites (about 5 large)
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
To prepare the Graham crackers:
Preheat oven to 350°F
Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper
In a stand mixer fitted with a Beater Blade paddle, cream together the butter and sugar, until the butter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the molasses and honey, mix for another minute. In a small bowl, combine the flours and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and mix on low speed until just combined. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes or overnight.
Once the dough is firm, roll it out on a well-floured surface until it is 1/16-inch thick. Use a 1 to 1 ½ -inch Ateco 5357 11 Piece Plain Round Cutter Set to cut out the circles. Place them on the prepared cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes or just until golden.
Allow to cool completely. These cookies can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container.
Prepare the milk chocolate ganache:
In a small pot warm the cream over low heat, just until it starts to simmer around the edges. Add the chopped chocolate and swirl the pot to make sure the chocolate is submerged. Let sit for one minute and then gently stir until smooth. Pour into a small bowl and cool to room temperature. Can be made the day ahead.
Prepare the candied pecans:
In a small bowl, mix together the nuts, syrup and salt. Place the nuts on a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or lightly greased. Bake at 350°F for about 10 minutes, or until the nuts are nicely toasted and the syrup is slightly caramelized. Set aside and cool. Can be made the day ahead.
Once the ganache is set up, spread 1 teaspoon on 24 of the cookies.
Place about 1 teaspoon of the coconut on each chocolate covered cookie.
Using a small pastry bag (see video on making a paper pastry bag) or spoon, drop ¼ teaspoon of the ganache over the coconut.
Press one of the candied pecans onto the ganache.
To prepare the meringue:
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the egg whites, sugar and salt. It will be very thick and grainy.
Put the bowl over a double boiler and stir it with a rubber spatula until the sugar is completely melted. Brush the sides down with the spatula to make sure all the sugar is melted.
Feel the egg mixture between your fingers to check for graininess. Once it is completely smooth, put the bowl on the mixer and beat with the whip attachment on medium high speed.
Whip until it is light, fluffy, glossy and the bowl feels just about room temperature. Once the eggs are whipped add the almond extract and whip for a few more seconds.
It should look like soft serve ice cream.
Use a Blow Torch to toast the meringues. (If you want to do this under a broiler, you need to work quickly so the ganache won’t melt.) Serve immediately or refrigerate, uncovered for a few hours.
The inspiration. (Sue and Anton)
Thank you Jen for another wonderful adventure in the rain! Thanks to Sue and Anton for inspiring this dessert, which garnered rave reviews from the party I brought them to. My favorite of which went something like this…”These are %$#@ing amazing!”