My friend Tariq Hanna is a very bad influence. Despite the fact he maintains a reputable position in society as the executive pastry chef at Sucre, he has nevertheless been a partner in some of my more egregious crimes against cuisine. A while back, while exploring the dark art of the deep-fried muffuletta, we took it too far in an attempt to deep-fry Easter peeps (not recommended – they dissolve into a weird yellow foam). But the bigger risk in having such friends is that they know about sourcing certain ingredients about which the less that is known, the better.
Specifically, it was from Tariq that I recently learned that those crunchy little cereal marshmallows can be purchased in bulk from the website "Cereal Marshmallows" 95-pound sacks. For me, the bulk marshmallow thing is kind of a big deal. Who among us has not wasted hours of our childhood eating around the boring oat puffs in Lucky Charms, sometimes flicking them aside so as to leave a bowl filled with nothing but numbingly sweet milk and brightly colored marshmallow slurry? The ability to buy these en masse ensures that we no longer need to pick the useless cardboard-colored flotsam out of our morning bowl of goodness. Now we can tap straight into the mainline. The truly hardcore can even avoid the milk altogether and just snack out of the bag by the fistful. Not that I would do anything like that. But if one were so inclined, one could.
Sometimes, these ingredients can be far more dangerous than innocent marshmallows. Take Pop Rocks. We all know about these little retro treats that fizz on the tongue. Harmless, right? Well, Tariq once slid me a 1-kilo bulk bag of Pop Rocks (generic name: “Pastry Rocks”). This was exciting enough. But the reason for the gift was that the itty-bitty Pastry Rocks had along the way fused into one single two-plus-pound pastry boulder, rendering it useless to him professionally but irresistible to me. Like a World War II mine whose high explosive has become unstable with age, this lump sits on my bookshelf at work, commanding respect. I am in awe of it, and in fear also, because if this sucker ever falls to the floor I fear it will detonate like an anti-tank mine and take out half the building.
If you find this kind of thing alluring, the Internet is a great resource, blurring boundaries and bringing offbeat and professional-grade sweets within easy reach of the amateur or home cook. Chef Rubber is one good site, where pastry products and molecular gastronomy tools collide in one potentially catastrophic bazaar. A 25-liter dewer for holding liquid nitrogen can be yours for just $875 (the dipper is just $85 extra). I’m not sure if they sell the nitrogen with it, but either way it doesn’t matter because there is no way my wife would allow that in the house. I already have a propensity for harming myself with ordinary knives and garden-variety blenders, so the risk inherent in rolling chemistry-lab grade equipment into the kitchen means I just have to dream. So while there are few things I would like more than to have my home kitchen look like Walter White’s meth lab on Breaking Bad, I know I might have to let that one go.
So check out those sites and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. There are plenty more for those who are interested. And in case you are wondering about how to deep fry muffulettas, our research showed that the best approach is to use the mini-muffs (hors d’oeuvres size), press them slightly flat with the palm of your hand, and then dip them into a tempura-style batter. When they are golden brown, the cheese on the inside will have just started to melt. You can even try wrapping them in prosciutto before battering them. Yum.