Saturday, December 8, 2012

Homemade Marshmallows

I'm currently writing this post on the plane.

The good thing about writing blog posts on the plane is that you get a lot of time to think - the combination of being unable to sleep on planes and being confined in an economy class seat for 9 hours where the area space is made even smaller by the fact the person in front of you has absolutely no qualms about squashing your legs and lying practically 180 degrees is surprisingly stimulating for your brain.  

So, since I've got plenty of time, let's talk about marshmallows. 

Except let's talk about KitchenAid mixers first.  

Is there a mysterious benefactor out there who'd like to bestow on me a shiny new KitchenAid stand mixer for Christmas?  I will erect a life-size statue of you and display it prominently in my living room in gratitude.

But until that day comes, I have to force rely on the generosity of others to let me borrow theirs.  The beautiful blue mixer you see above belongs to my awesome friend Egg (no, not her real name), who continuously adds to my exponential list of TV shows to watch and puts up with my constant food rants.  Thanks for letting me play around with your KitchenAid!

I was allocated the agonizing task of deciding what to make.  I might have mentioned my incredible inability to make choices before, and considering my foodie bucket list of Things I Must Make At Least Once this was a challenge.  I wanted to choose something that I couldn't normally make without a stand mixer but, given our limited time span, could be made quickly - which put yeast breads out of the question.  I actually did a Google search (I can hear you laughing at me) on what people made first with stand mixers.  There were tons of choices, but there was one obvious answer that appeared a lot more than others, and that was homemade marshmallows.

There'd been a trend of making homemade marshmallows on blogs around, I think, the beginning of the year when marshmallows were popping up like fruit flies all over the blogosphere.  I'm a little late to the party, but better late than never, right?  So a few days ago Egg and I decided to try our hand at making them.

In retrospect, it's probably a bit presumptuous to say they were a breeze to make.  First of all, the candy thermometer was at least 20 degrees off and ridiculously unreliable.  It was one of those cheap dollar store thermometers that my mom had bought a while ago, mistakenly hoping she could use it for steak, but it was an absolute failure at detecting heat.  I took it along with me in hopes that it would somehow sense that it was actually being used for candy and behave, but it didn't.  The thermometer is needed to tell when the glucose-water-sugar mixture has reached soft ball stage.  The needle jumped past the required 115C and escalated towards 130C, even though from our test run before it was already meant to be 20 degrees behind.  The mixture was still clearly not at soft ball stage, though, and it took us over 10 minutes to get it to a point where our combined not-so-educated guess assumed the mixture was ready.

By about that point, I think neither of us were really expecting the marshmallows to turn out marshmallows at all.  I'm pretty sure that if I was doing it with a regular hand held mixer it would not have turned out well.  But the KitchenAid saved the day, beating the liquid glucose mixture into a thick, shiny white cloud.  I loved seeing the tiny black vanilla bean seeds speckled throughout the pure white.

Turning out the marshmallows onto the icing sugar presented another problem.  We'd forgotten to grease the other side of the baking paper, the side the marshmallow mixture was actually on, and the entire thing stuck like hell (which is why one side of the marshmallow looks like a bumpy road while the other is flat and smooth).  The candy gods must have been watching over us because even after pulling the paper off and stretching the marshmallow several inches longer, it sprang cheerfully back into shape.

It was easy from there.  Let icing sugar snow over the big marshmallow pillow (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, anyone?  I wish these existed.) and then cut into squares.  The marshmallows turned out light and springy, bouncing off each other in the bowl, reminding me of oddly shaped snowballs.  When we finally tasted, Egg said, in genuine astonishment, 'I didn't actually expect them to taste like marshmallows!' Who said success isn't sweet?

These do taste exactly like marshmallows, but so much better because of the vanilla bean seeds and the unimpeachable fact that it's homemade.  Knowing it's something made from your own hard labour (ha) always makes it more worthwhile.

As a final note, and since the plane is about to land, let me just say that these marshmallows toast up brilliantly.  No warm campfires in my house but a gas stove top is the next best thing.  Throw in some salted crackers and a bar of dark chocolate and you've got homemade s'mores with homemade marshmallows - what could be better?

Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows
Adapted from Donna Hay Magazine (December 2012 issue)

Note #1: we made x1.5 the original recipe which gave us about 60 marshmallows.  The recipe below is the one with the original quantities.  Also, we subbed in light corn syrup in place of the liquid glucose in the original recipe because I had a bottle to use up - I don't imagine there's much difference between the two.

Note #2: if you don't have a candy thermometer, of if yours is also a complete failure like mine, you can test to see if the mixture is at soft ball stage by dropping a small amount of the glucose mixture into a bowl of ice water.  If you can gather the mixture into a ball with your fingers, then it's ready.

1/2 cup warm water
2 tbsp powdered gelatin
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
2/3 cup liquid glucose or light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (alternatively, you can use 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

Grease a 9x13 inch pan with oil spray, line with baking paper and grease again (very important).  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour in the warm water and sprinkle over the powdered gelatin, stirring to combine.  Set aside.

Combine caster sugar, glucose and the extra 1/2 cup of water in a medium saucepan (if you're debating between two saucepans, always go with the larger one - we used a smaller one and it gave us more issues in simultaneously balancing the heat and preventing a burnt sugary mess to have to clean up after) and cook over low heat, stirring constantly.  When the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add a candy thermometer if you've got one at this point and let it cook (without stirring) for 5-7 minutes (ours took about 10), until the temperature reaches 115C or the soft ball stage (see Note #2 above).

Turn the stand mixer on high and slowly stream the hot syrup mixture into the bowl with the gelatin at a steady pace.  By the time you've finished pouring in the liquid, the mixture should already be starting to look white and shiny.  Add the vanilla seeds and beat on high for 5-7 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and fluffy.

Spoon the mixture into the greased pan and smooth the top with a spatula.  Spray an additional sheet of baking paper large enough to cover the top of the pan with oil and then place oil-side down on top of the marshmallow.  Put the pan in the fridge for 1-2 hours, or until set.

Meanwhile, sift together the icing sugar and cornstarch into a bowl.  Put about half of this mixture onto a clean surface (we used a big roasting tray to save on clean up).  Take the marshmallow out from the fridge, peel off the top layer, and unmold it straight into the icing sugar mixture (if you've greased it properly it should come out no problem).  Sieve the remaining icing sugar in the bowl over the top of the marshmallow, making sure you've covered all sides of the marshmallow completely with icing sugar.

Spray a sharp knife with oil and dust with the icing sugar mixture.  Cut the marshmallows into squares, tossing each square back into the icing sugar mixture to coat it even further.  You can store the marshmallows in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

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