Making the classic s'mores snack involves nothing more than layering a toasted marshmallow and a piece of milk chocolate between two graham cracker squares. It's a sticky snack beloved by kids and adults alike, and it's usually associated with camping -- or at least an evening sitting around an outdoor fire pit.
But s'mores clean up nicely; they can easily go from outdoor bonfire to Sunday brunch. The simplest way to turn s'mores into something a little more special is to upgrade the ingredients; and since there are only three main ingredients, swapping just one at a time (or more, for the bold) can elevate this campfire treat into a dessert you'd welcome at a dinner party -- or at least a party where shoes are required. Let's start from the outside and work out way in, starting with the cookies.
Graham Cracker Exchange
Graham crackers really aren't crackers; they're cookies, and while the classic treat is made with them, other cookies (biscuits work, too!) could easily take their place.
Substituting biscuits (you decide if they should be chocolate-dipped or not), Biscoff cookies or shortbread cookies (original, tea-spiked or flavored with almond, lemon or lavender) for graham crackers won't profoundly change the flavor profile of the s'mores, but it will upgrade the sandwich cookie from lunchbox to ladies who lunch.
For something with a little more kick, add a little warm spice flavor by using gingersnaps instead of graham crackers, or try peanut butter cookies (salted or unsalted) to satisfy any chocolate-peanut butter craving.
Adding simple slices of banana, strawberries, or whatever your favorite fruit may be to classic s'mores gives the snack a fresh, summertime flavor that makes the original three ingredients shine. And for a deeper, bolder flavor, take things one step further: Grill your fruit before building your s'mores.
Stone fruit, such as peaches, or other fruits such as pineapple and bananas work well on the grill; just cut the fruit in half (in the case of large fruits like pineapple, cut into slabs -- with small fruits such as strawberries, use skewers), brush each piece with a little vegetable oil (to prevent the fruit from sticking), and cook on the grill over (direct) medium heat until soft and golden.
More Than Just Milk Chocolate
A square of milk chocolate may be traditional for campfire s'mores, but to dress things up a bit, experiment with the intensity of chocolate you use. Try swapping the classic milk chocolate squares for dark chocolate to bring a bit of bitterness to all that sugary sweetness, or add a nutty flavor with a chocolate-almond or chocolate-hazelnut spread. Fans of a salty-sweet combination will want to try chocolate with a touch of sea salt. And despite protests from chocolate lovers, also experiment with practicing chocolate restraint: Use only a drizzle of chocolate sauce, or add or substitute flavors that aren't chocolate, such as using salted caramel, Biscoff cookie butter, or a salted peanut butter and chocolate combination.
S'mores in Disguise
S'mores don't have to be saved for casual fire-side snacking; in fact, they can be dressed up and taken from the classic hand-held campfire snack to a more adult dessert just by rethinking how you put together the three stars of the show.
Wake up to brunch with cinnamon crepes filled with chocolate sauce and homemade marshmallow cream, or bake chocolate crème brulee topped with marshmallow meringue and a dusting of graham cracker crumbs. Make s'mores-inspired ice cream sandwiches for summertime snacking, or s'mores-style cupcakes topped with toasted marshmallow frosting and a sprinkle of crushed graham crackers for any celebration where toasting marshmallows over a flame just won't work. Also consider replacing the traditional marshmallow with a soft, meltable cheese such as Brie or your favorite soft goat cheese; just add grilled fruit and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.
And for those looking for adults-only s'mores, forget about eating your desserts and serve a s'mores cocktail instead; Mix together one part chocolate liqueur, one part marshmallow-flavored (or vanilla-flavored) vodka, and two parts cream or half-and-half. Pour into a martini glass rimmed with homemade marshmallow cream or chocolate syrup, cocoa powder, or finely crushed graham crackers.
Make Your Own Marshmallows
Plan ahead, because marshmallow-making takes two days -- don't worry; most of that time is waiting, not working. First, soften the gelatin and make the sugary syrup.
Sprinkle 2.5 tablespoons of unflavored gelatin into half a cup of cold water (this is important because cold water dissolves gelatin best) in a mixer bowl and leave it alone while it softens. Remember: One packet of powdered gelatin is about 2.5 teaspoons, and there are 7.5 teaspoons in 2.5 tablespoons, so you'll need 3 packets in this gelatin-to-water ratio (always best to measure, though).
While the gelatin dissolves, make your syrup -- although this is mostly just sugar, this is where the flavor (and color) happens. Combine half a cup of water with sugar (1 cup corn syrup and 1.5 cups of granulated sugar) and a pinch of salt (just a quarter teaspoon) in a medium (2-quart) saucepan. Stir the mixture over low-to-medium heat until the sugar dissolves; then boil, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit (115.6 Celsius) on a candy thermometer.
When it comes up to the correct temperature, remove the syrup from the heat and slowly pour it into the gelatin, beating the mixture on low speed as you pour. Once you've added all the syrup, beat the mixture on high until it thickens, which should take about 15 to 30 minutes (it will also grow as much as triple in volume, so use a big bowl).
To make flavorful marshmallows, add a teaspoon of flavor extract such as vanilla or peppermint, or root beer, lemon oil, or espresso to the batter before pouring it out into a baking dish. To make colorful marshmallows, add a few drops of food coloring to the batter, again before pouring it into a baking dish (or skip the dyes and add seedless fruit jam to the syrup mixture before combining it with the gelatin). When adding flavoring or coloring to the gelatin mixture, add them in the final 60 seconds of high-speed beating to be sure it's well incorporated.
Pour the mixture into a lightly-oiled 9 by 13-inch (22.9 by 33-centimeter) pan. Make thinner or thicker marshmallows by using a larger or smaller pan, and make things more interesting by sprinkling toasted coconut, melted chocolate, or powdered sugar into the pan before adding the batter.
Cover loosely -- this is the when the wait begins. Allow the marshmallows to set at room temperature overnight (the gelatin really needs at least 8 hours to set properly, if you can wait). Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board, cut with a sharp knife (a pizza cutter will make this quick work), and store leftovers for about 2 to 3 weeks in an airtight container.
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Author's Note: 5 Recipes for Gourmet S'mores
Growing up I liked marshmallows, but really only when they appeared with other things: S'mores, maybe a marshmallow swirl in some chocolate ice cream, or maybe in the occasional Fluffernutter sandwich (don't laugh; try one grilled). One bite of a homemade marshmallow, though, and I knew what all the fuss was about. On my latest To Do list: Finally learn how to make vegan marshmallows -- which are just as sweet and just as sticky, but are gelatin-free.
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- Three Olives. "Recipes - S'mores." (June 21, 2013) http://www.threeolives.com/recipes/smores