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Snowballs a la Zoe Recipe

For pastry cream:

2 C. milk

3/4 C. sugar, divided

Seeds from 1 vanilla bean

1/4 C. unsweetened coconut flakes

1/4 C. coconut milk

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

3 T. cornstarch

2 T. butter

1 pinch salt

For devil's-food cupcakes:

1 2/3 C. cake flour

1/3 C. unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra for pan

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/2 C. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for pan

1 1/2 C. firmly packed dark brown sugar

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla extract

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

1/2 C. strong fresh-brewed coffee

1/2 C. dark rum, divided

For marshmallow:

2 1/2 T. unflavored gelatin powder -- 3 ( 1/4-oz.) packets

1 C. cold water, divided

2 C. sugar

3/4 C. light corn syrup

1/4 t. salt

1 T. vanilla extract

1/4 C. ( 1/2 stick) butter

1/4 C. cornstarch

1/4 C. white crème de cacao

1 C. finely shredded sweetened coconut

To make pastry cream: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean seeds and coconut flakes to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Return pan to low heat and add coconut milk. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch. Stir milk mixture into egg mixture 1/4 cup at a time until egg mixture is hot to the touch. Pour egg mixture back into pan, return to stove, bring to a rapid boil over medium heat, whisking continuously for no less than 3 minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and salt. Strain (but don't push) through a wire-mesh strainer into a shallow container and cover with plastic wrap. Set container in an ice bath until cold. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make devil's food cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cupcake pans and coat with cocoa powder. In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream together butter and brown sugar until light in color and texture. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Beat in melted chocolate, coffee and 1/4 cup rum. Gradually stir in flour mixture. Pour batter into cupcake tins and bake until tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely. Wrap and freeze until ready to use.

To make marshmallow: In bowl of an electric mixer with whip attachment, stir together gelatin powder and 1/2 cup water and let stand 1/2 hour. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, corn syrup, remaining 1/2 cup water and salt. Cover and bring to a boil and cook until candy thermometer reaches 240 degrees. Remove from heat, and gradually add to gelatin mixture while beating slowly. Once hot mixture is fully incorporated, add vanilla and beat on high for 15 minutes.

To assemble snowballs: While marshmallow mixture is beating in mixer, prepare large (2 3/4-by 1 5/8-inch) dome molds by greasing each mold with 1 teaspoon butter and then dusting each with 1 teaspoon cornstarch. Remove cupcakes from freezer, unwrap, cut off tops. Discard tops and and brush cupcakes with remaining 1/4 cup rum. Working quickly, while marshmallow is still warm, fill a pastry bag (with no tip attached) with marshmallow and pipe marshmallow into prepared mold domes, filling to top. Quickly press still-frozen cupcakes into marshmallow, trimming to fit if necessary, making sure not to press in too deep. Using a sharp knife, scrape off marshmallow overflow. Cover and allow to set up for 3 to 4 hours. (Francois recommends piping the extra marshmallow in small pieces onto wax paper and using it to garnish hot chocolate.)

Once marshmallow has set, fill a clean pastry bag (fitted with a round tip) with pastry cream and gently squeeze just a teaspoon or two of pastry cream into each cupcake (there will be plenty of leftover pastry cream to enjoy). Be careful not to use too much pastry cream or it will break apart cupcakes. Refrigerate molds for at least one hour. Gently unmold snowballs. Using a clean pastry brush, brush outside of snowballs with white creme de cacao, then sprinkle with shredded coconut. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.

Serves 12.
 This version of the Hostess snowball -- each is a cloud of marshmallow, pastry cream and coconut surrounding a devil's food cupcake -- is from Zoë Francois, an instructor at Cooks of Crocus Hill cooking school in Edina and St. Paul. Note: Dome molds, which will give the rounded-top shape, are available at cooking specialty stores. Muffin tins can be used, though the top will be squared off. Coconut milk -- not to be confused with cream of coconut -- is available canned in most Asian markets and supermarkets. White crème de cacao, a chocolate-flavor liqueur, is available in most liquor stores.


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