(Written in 2011 but just as relevant in 2020)
Living in a backcountry lodge in Alaska can be hard work and long hours, no doubt. There are times when the vegetables arrive from Anchorage already frozen or not in very good shape right off the airplane. The phone goes out for periods of time and the mail comes irregularly. The house won’t stay warm unless we feed the fire.
But our not-so-typical lifestyle has many advantages. Living close to nature and the satisfaction of working on our own is a big part of it. Meeting interesting people from around the world and having adventures with them enriches our lives. But for me, one advantage of living at a lodge is that I live right above the kitchen so there isn’t much commute time. Another big advantage is that I have a pastry chef who works for me (amongst other lodge employees) — and every day she bakes.
The rhythm of our household changes from summer to winter. Now, in the wintertime, my husband Carl gets up early and lights the fires in the woodstoves. Then he makes the coffee. We still make our coffee by hand, pouring hot water through filters the old fashioned way. Carl waits to turn on the generator until it is closer to 7 a.m., so we spend the earliest morning hours without power. Carl and other early risers sit by the woodstove reading with their headlamps on or talking quietly about things, sipping coffee or hot chocolate. Even the sled dogs and the chickens are usually quiet in the early morning. I think this is everyone’s favorite part of the day.
Mandy, our pastry chef, starts the day making muffins or breakfast bread. Then she starts the dough for savory bread for lunch and dinner. And throughout the day, she makes cookies and desserts. Mandy leaves a plate of cookies and other snacks by the coffee pot in the kitchen for our crew. Someday, I’d like to take a time-lapse video of how many times in a day Carl swings by the cookie plate and nabs a chocolate chip cookie as he heads out the door.
In the winter, we often build a bonfire down by the frozen lake for our guests to sit around in the evening after dinner to watch the stars. Or sometimes, we take the sled dogs out down the trail to the meadow, guests riding in baskets, and have a bonfire there. We always pack up a thermos of hot chocolate and a big bag of Mandy’s famous homemade marshmallows.
Mandy keeps all of her recipes in a small black notebook near her work area. The recipe for her raspberry marshmallows looks something like this:
500g granulated sugar
20g powdered gelatin
76g egg whites
And that’s it. The “g” stands for grams. Professional bakers weigh out ingredients rather than measure by cups and spoons. It’s a more exact way to measure, but it can be confusing to adapt a professional recipe to the home kitchen.
Michael Ruhlman, a popular cookbook author, has written a book called “Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.” It offers simple, straightforward ratios for dough, stocks and other culinary basics. It’s a good way to jump into the world of weights — and, if Ruhlman has his way, all home cooks will have a scale in the kitchen and only cook by weight in the future.
For the moment, however, because we might not yet be ready for grams and scales, I’ve translated Mandy’s raspberry marshmallow recipe into the familiar cups and tablespoons. And I have added her hot chocolate recipe as well.
Even if you might not be able to take a dog team down the trail to a bonfire, homemade raspberry marshmallows and hot chocolate might be the perfect comfort gift for someone special to you.
Lightly grease and line (with either plastic wrap or aluminum foil) an 8-by-8-by-2-inch cake pan and dust the bottom liberally with powdered sugar. Place the raspberries into a mixer or food processor and puree them. They will begin to thaw out as you puree. (It’s good to have the puree cold.) Once the raspberries are pureed, push them through a sieve to remove any seeds. Discard the seeds. Combine the puree with the gelatin in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the granulated sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium and cook for about 12 minutes or until the syrup reaches 248 degrees Fahrenheit on a sugar thermometer. This is called the “firm ball” stage.
Remove the saucepan from the heat (carefully) and add the raspberry mixture to the syrup. Stir until the gelatin completely dissolves. Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, whisk in the egg whites and a pinch of salt until the whites are frothy. Gradually add in the raspberry mixture, whipping continuously on medium speed until the mixture has doubled in size. Slowly decrease the speed and then stop. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan. Use a lightly oiled spatula to spread and smooth the marshmallow evenly in the pan. Dust the top of the pan liberally with powdered sugar. Let the marshmallow mixture stand overnight to firm up and dry a bit.Using a sharp, serrated knife dusted with powdered sugar, cut the marshmallow into 2-inch squares and roll in more sugar to coat. Store the marshmallows in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature for up to two weeks.
Put about one-third of the milk with the chopped chocolates and salt into a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the remaining milk, heating until the mixture is warmed through and smooth. Serve in a pre-warmed mug. Makes 4 1-cup servings.