Thursday, December 31, 2009

Puffs of Heaven

My love affair with the simple marshmallow started way back when I was 18 and working in my first real job. It was so long ago, that now as I try to remember the name, I can't. I was a waitress and there was a French chef, well, now I can't even remember if he really was French, but it makes for a good story. It was a cold wintery day and he made all the girls (lucky us!) hot chocolate from scratch with pillows of fresh marshmallow on top. It didn't even have time to set up, it was still all gooey and sticky and melted oh-so-perfectly when you stirred it in. Wow, it's been a long time, but that was a really great day.

My family also goes camping every year in Victoria over the Easter long weekend, and have you ever seen a campsite without marshmallows to toast over the fire? I love campfire marshmallows two ways - the first is to hold the marshmallow (on a long stick, of course) over the flames and let the outside burn to a crisp, nice and black and cirspy, and then eat it in one mouthful. The outside is piping hot and the middle still feels like a normal marhsmallow, slightly warmed. The other way is to hold the marshmallow over the coals and let the whole thing heat through and the outside is perfectly caramelized. You have to be careful though, this way needs care and attention so that the gooey goodness just doesn't fall plop into the fire. Those marshmallows become pretty slippery when they are warm. Also, if there are lots of people toasting marshmallows and not so many marshmallows. you want to go for option #1 because it's quicker, and you will get more of them!

I was in the UK a couple of years ago wandering through the food halls at Harrods and wouldn't you believe it - a whole section devoted to gourmet marshmallows. Of course, I bought some strawberry flavoured and shaped ones, which until they were devoured over two nights and I arrived home to see the credit card statement, I paid about $25 for a 1/4 lb bag. But they were well worth it to me (not so much to my husband).

My most recent marshmallow purchase was in Florida in October where I found a bag of limited edition "swirlmallows". Yum. Chocolate and vanilla swirls in one bite. Who could resist?

I love marshmallows folded through ice cream, floating on top of hot chocolate, in rice crispie squares. I love them chocolate covered. I like the mini ones, the big ones, the gourmet ones, the funny shaped ones. I love them all. And now I know I can make them myself!

only adapted a tiny tiny bit from the Joy of Baking
Makes 1 pan 13"x9"x2"

1 cup (250ml) cold water, divided
3 x 1/4oz (21g) envelopes unflavoured gelatine
2 cups (400g) white sugar
1 cup (240ml) light corn syrup (but you can use dark if you like)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
lots and lots of icing sugar (about 4 cups)

Very lightly grease the pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment. I sprayed too much oil onto the bottom of my pan and it somehow came through the parchment and left yellow-ish spots on the botoms of my marshmallows. I assume the only reason for the greasing is to make the parchment stick to the pan.

Then sift 3 tablespoons icing sugar over the bottom of the pan (on the parchment). Trust me, this will help you get those marshmallows out.

Place 1/2 cup cold water into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Sprinkle the gelatine over the water and leave to dissolve for 15 minutes.
This is where I went a little off the path - I have only worked in a very limited capacity with powdered gelatine and each time I have dissolved it in warm water, so I put my whole mixer bowl with the gelatine and the water over a saucepan of simmering water and dissolved it that way. On reflection, the heat from the sugar mixture would probably dissolve the gelatine when it is added, so it is entirely up to you which path you take.

Meanwhile, place the sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining 1/2 cup water in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the sigar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Cover the saucepan with a lid and let boil for about three minutes to allow any sugar crystals to dissolve from sides of the saucepan (I really like this trick - it should work with other candy making adventures too).

Remove lid and cook until temperature reaches 240F. I used my digital probe thermometer. You could use any thermometer, but you want to take it to the soft ball stage, if you know how to test with a glass of cold water.

So now attach your mixing bowl back onto your stand mixer (if you used my heating method) and with the mixer running at low speed, slowly pour the hot syrup into the gelatine mixture in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Gradually increase the speed to high and beat until mixture has tripled in volume and is very thick and stiff, takes about 8 - 10 minutes. Add vanilla and continue beating to incorporate.
The pink marshmallows you see in my photo, I made two batches of marshmallows and the second batch I added red gel paste food colour when the marshmallows were about a minute away from adding the vanilla. You could add any colour or flavour here*.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan and spread with a damp offset or rubber spatula. And, as the original recipe says, it is really sticky so just smooth it out as best you can. Dust the top with another 3 tablespoons sifted icing sugar and leave to set up overnight, or at least for 12 hours.

To remove the marshmallows from the pan, I turned mine out onto a very well icing sugar dusted piece of parchment paper (here's a big NO to scraping and scrubbing that off my counter tops). Peel off the parchment as best you can, and then the easiest way to cut them is to use a pizza wheel. I know, sounds wierd, but I tried a chefs knife, a stainless pastry scraper and the pizza wheel and it honestly worked like a charm. I also used scissors, but they got really gummy really quickly. They still worked though. Use lots of icing sugar to dust the cut edges, and there you have it - fresh home made marshmallows.

The original recipe says you can store them for up to two weeks in an airtight container at room temperature, but really, who are they kidding....there's none left after today :)

*I think pink coloured, rose water flavoured marshmallows would be delicious. Or use orange colour and orange blossom water...decadent!

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