Baked Sunday Mornings: Whipping up a homemade marshmallow

[I]’ve never made a marshmallow. It seemed like one of those impossible kitchen possibilities, like spinning your own cotton candy or pulling taffy. But I have EATEN a homemade marshmallow, made by my confectionary/culinary/baking-maven friend, Elaine, and it was a heavenly thing, a world apart from the store-bought versions. It was cloudy soft, sweetly vanilla-laden.

Upon that tasting, I considered that it might be worth whatever wizardly bridge I must cross to make marshmallows. Turns out, it’s not beyond possibility, and in fact is relatively easy, if one has made candy, and has had some experience whipping things (in a mixer). The recipe for Vanilla Marshmallows from “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito (2008), like other marshmallow recipes I’ve pondered over the years, is a fairly simple process of chemistry and timing.

This recipe calls for sheets of gelatin. I’ve never used them (most recipes I’ve made calling for gelatin use the powdered kind), but purchased some from Amazon, as this is not an ingredient commonly found on grocery store shelves.

The sheets are like thick clear cellophane, stiff and hardly seeming edible. Still, I knew from watching them used on cooking shows that they did have a magic awaiting.

That magic comes from a soaking in very cold water, that softens the sheets and allows the gelatin to “bloom.”

Many confections call for the boiling of a combination of sugar, water and light corn syrup. For these marshmallows, this is done to the soft ball stage or 235 to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Simultaneously (and here is where the timing comes in), as the syrup works its way up to temperature, the soaked and wrung-out (getting rid of excess moisture) gelatin sheets (now a bit of a jellyfish-like goo) are transferred to a bowl set atop a pot of simmering water to melt. I’d recommend doing this when you start the sugar syrup process, as that comes to temperature fairly quickly.

The melted gelatin is added to 1/2 cup of corn syrup in your stand mixer bowl (and I’d strongly recommend a stand mixer for this project). After that has mixed, the sugar syrup at soft ball stage is slowly streamed in at a continued medium mixing speed.

Whipping the mixture at high speed for about five minutes, one can see the evolution of a marshmallow cream, as it develops a glossy whiteness and its volume builds.

Vanilla (I have some great homemade stuff), and salt are added toward the end the mixing. The whirling white brings up an aroma that definitely breathes, “Marshmallow!”

[B]eing an anxious kinda cook, I always get a little nervous when recipe directions instruct to work “quickly,” and in this case, “very quickly” at the point of turning the marshmallow cream out into the pan. I’m also a messy cook (if I can make a mess doing something, it usually happens), so in the process of pouring/scooping and spreading out the marshmallows, I managed to get myself caught in quite a sticky, stringy web (including getting marshmallow stuck on the IPhone I use to take photos). I’m sure the working “very quickly” improves one’s odds of less mess, as the marshmallows seem to set up rapidly. And knowing I lack the dexterity — and potentially a trick or two — of dealing with candy messes, even though I love to make candy, some of me and my kitchen ended up looking a little like the aftermath of the exterminated giant Stay Puff Marshmallow Man in “Ghostbusters.” Hee.

The good news is, since these marshmallows are highly meltable, cleaning up with some good old-fashioned hot water and elbow grease was a snap.

I gave my marshmallows an overnight resting/setting up time. The slab of mallow firmed up nicely, with a little soft springy give to the touch. The slab also came out very easily from the greased nonstick pan I used.

Even though the directions indicated cutting the marshmallows into squares with a sharp knife, I decided to try a small, scalloped cutter to see if I could cut some rounds. The cutter worked well, and I considered future possibilities — homemade peeps.

[I] cut squares, too, and I liked the clean shape. Here, I’ll admit, I could not help but sample marshmallows straightaway, popping them in my mouth as I cut. They were SO GOOD. Fairly firm, yet still softer than manufactured marshmallows, these are sweet little vanilla pillows. They got my head in the marshmallow clouds. I saw myself rolling them in coconut, dipping them in melted chocolate, changing up their flavors (orange zest and extract? Rosewater?), melting them aboard a chocolate laden graham cracker for a homemade s’more. So many possibilities!

But, first, a marshmallow tradition — with hot chocolate. It melted into something even better, if that’s possible, a dreamy, creamy vanilla blanket atop my dark sweet chocolate. What a treat! And on the coldest night of the year…

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