The worst part about the whole deal is what I've been eating for dinner. In the last week, the closest I have come to cooking was boiling up a packet of ramen. Other dinners this week have included canned soup, frozen burritos, and a bowl full of salad greens. Fortunately, while my mom was visiting over Thanksgiving we cooked a few things, so on these recently rare occasions when I have a few extra minutes, I at least have something to share with you. Please bear with me as I make it through the rest of this school year... believe me, lately, I would much rather spend the time with you than continually trying to convince my students that the purpose of my class is to prepare them for life, not to simply give them another 'A' they haven't earned. But - I digress - this is a cooking blog for crying out loud!
So, let's cook! I am not a marshmallow fanatic, but I like them reasonably well in certain applications and occasionally as a snack. I always wanted to try making homemade marshmallows and I rather enjoyed the process. As far as the product goes, they really don't differ that much from the store bought. In fact, in a blind taste test, I'm not sure I'd be able to tell the difference. The good news is that with homemade marshmallows, you can play with flavorings, colorings, and shapes. How fun! Of course, I'm not going to talk about that today. Since it was my first go at the things and I needed a baseline from which to work in the future, I just made plain ones.
It starts with unflavored gelatin. This type of gelatin requires "blooming" before you use it. All that means is that you mix it with a little cold water to soften it up. Here it is in the bowl of my mixer looking funky.
The next step is to heat up a sugar syrup on the stove. It gets heated to the soft ball stage, or about 240 degrees F.
The hot syrup then gets poured slowly into the softened gelatin with the mixer on low. Be sure to use the whisk attachment. Once the syrup has all been added, the speed gets cranked up until a magical transformation occurs.
It turns a beautiful white, glossy color and expands significantly in volume. It only took about 7 minutes in the mixer to get a nice, thick marshmallow cream.
While the marshmallow is beating, prepare a couple of cookie sheets with parchment and then sprinkle with the cornstarch/powdered sugar mix. I used a little strainer to get an even distribution. Don't be stingy with the powder or you'll regret it later. You can never have too much, but believe me - you can definitely have too little.
Once the marshmallow cream can stand on itself like shown in this picture, turn the mixer off and remove the whisk.
Spoon the cream into a pastry bag either with the tip cut out or use a large, round tip. You could simply line a rectangular pan with the parchment and powder, but I like the whole marshmallow shape too much. Pipe the cream into rows on your sheet. I found it's best to make them on the small side unless you don't mind them having a slightly oval shape, as the large ones tend to flatten a bit under their own weight.
Refilling the bag can be a bit tricky. In the future, I might simply use a new disposable bag for each refill. It's a pretty sticky situation...
When you have finished piping out the rows, sprinkle them again very generously with the starch/sugar powder mixture. Let them sit out for a few hours to firm up.
There are two ways to go about separating the little buggers. I tried the scissor method first. It was fine, but the scissors tended to goop up more quickly that I have the patience for, so I ended up using the secondary method.
Ah... now this is more like it! The pizza cutter worked like a gem. Just be sure to use plenty, plenty, plenty of the powder to keep from ending up with a crazy, sticky mess!
Hey, look! It's a marshmallow! As I cut them up, I tossed them around in a bowl with more of the sugar to cover all sides. I then placed them in a colander to shake off the excess.
Be sure to store them in an airtight container. Because they are mostly sugar, if you keep them air tight, they will last for weeks... which is good, cause I'm not ditching them after just a few days with all this effort!
Oh, and let me tell you about the hot chocolate application. Here is where I might actually be able to tell a difference between store-bought and homemade. The homemade ones seemed to melt differently - and in a good way. Yup, they were worth the work after all!
Yield: about a half-gallon container of small marshmallows
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup ice cold water
1/2 cup water
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (or any other flavoring you choose)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
Place the gelatin and the 1/2 cup of cold water in the bottom of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk.
In a small saucepan, mix together the other 1/2 cup of water, granulated sugar, salt, and corn syrup. Outfit the pan with a candy thermometer. Turn on the heat to medium high and cook without stirring until the mixture reaches soft ball, or 240 degrees F. Remove from the heat.
Bring the pan of hot syrup over to the mixture and add slowly while mixing at low speed. Once you have added all the syrup, increase the speed to high. Mix on high until it gets thick, shiny, and white, and can stand up on itself (see picture above). This step took me about 7 minutes. Add the vanilla and whip just until well mixed. While mixing, prepare a couple of baking sheets with parchment and a liberal sprinkling of the cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture.
Spoon cream into a pastry bag with a round tip (or with the end cut out). Pipe into 1/2 - 3/4 inch logs on the prepared pans. This is a sticky procedure, so be prepared! When finished, sprinkle the top sides completely with the powdered mixture.
Set the tray aside for a few hours to firm up. Use a pizza cutter to cut into small marshmallows. Dip into a bowl with the starch/sugar powder mixture to completely coat all sides. Remove excess by shaking marshmallows briefly in a colander.
Store in an air tight container for at least a month.