Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I like to think of myself as a curious person. Curious as in 'filled with curiousity' rather than, you know, an odd duck. I lead with this information to explain why I would bother making something that retails for about two bucks a bag at the local supermarket. When I told David I wanted to try making marshmallows that was the first thing he said: "You can buy them for 2 bucks at Loblaws. Why bother?". Why indeed?

I can't really explain why, but every so often an idea pops into my head and I decide 'I should try that.'. Or rather, I must try that. (I can get sort of obsessive about some things.) So I do. I have to, you see. Sometimes my experiments result in long term commitments, like when I decided I had to borrow my brother's 'Crowded House' CD in 1991 and have a listen. (Distant Sun is, to this day, my favourite song.) About a week or two ago 'I should make marshmallows' popped into my head. Rather than rationalise or wonder why, I just decided to do.

Marshmallows aren't difficult. They don't require a lot of fancy ingredients. The recipe I choose to use requires a stand mixer, which certainly seemed to make the whole egg-white-beating stage of the recipe go smoothly. (Until I added the sugar syrup - then things turned sticky. But in a good way.) After having wonderful luck with his chocolate sauce recipe I returned to the blog of David Lebovitz for this marshmallow recipe. The recipe instructions end with the following statement:

"There’s really just three steps to whipping up a batch of marshmallows; Make a syrup, whip the egg whites, then pour the syrup and gelatin into the whites while whipping. Once that’s done, you can cut or snip them into any size or shape. What are you waiting for?"

Honestly, he had me earlier on in his post, at "...pillowy softness.." and "...tender sweetness...". But on top of that he made things sound - and look - so easy. And let me tell you, this recipe totally delivered.  The hardest part was separating the eggs. Here's how it works:

2 envelopes (17g) powdered gelatin
(I used two envelopes worth of Knox gelatine from a 28g box of four envelopes)
1/2 cup (125ml) + 1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
1 cup (200g) sugar
1/3 cup (100g) light corn syrup
4 large egg whites (1/2 cup, 110g), at room temperature
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Marshmallow Mix
One part corn starch (or potato starch), one part powdered sugar (about 1 cup, 140g, each)

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the 1/2 cup (125ml) of cold water to dissolve and soften.

2. In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, mix the sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup (80ml) of water. Place over medium-to-high heat. (Note that you will use this saucepan twice, to make the syrup and melt the gelatin, eliminating the need to wash it between uses).

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, pour in the egg whites and beat on low speed until frothy. Add the pinch of salt.

4. When the syrup reaches about 210ºF (99ºC), increase the speed of the mixer to high and beat the whites until they are thick and fluffy.

5. When the syrup reaches 245ºF (118ºC), slowly pour the hot syrup into the whites, pouring so that the syrup does not fall on the whisk since some of the syrup will splatter and stick to the sides of the bowl.
(I was afraid I would misjudge frothy, thick and fluffy (as above in 3. and 4.) but I followed the temp directions to the letter and all was well. Whew.)

6. Scrape the gelatin and water into the pan that you used for the syrup and swirl it to dissolve. (There should still be residual heat left in the pan from making the syrup in it to dissolve it). (Indeed there was.)

Pour the liquified gelatin slowly into the whites as they are whipping. Add the vanilla extract and continue to whip for 5 minutes, until the mixture is feels completely cool when you touch the outside of the bowl. (I kept mine whipping for about 7 minutes, as the bowl still felt warm to me after 5 minutes.)

Here's how things looked at this stage:

I will admit to dipping my finger in the bowl for a quick taste test at this point. I was actually kind of shocked by the result of my whipping and boiling and pouring and whipping. Marshmallow! Sweet, sticky, with just a hint of vanilla. I was a bit giddy at this point and made the boys try it too just to reassure myself that I wasn't imagining things. They were skeptical but had to agree - it was marshmallow, and darn good marshmallow too.

7. Dust a baking sheet evenly and completely with a generous layer of the marshmallow mixture. (I use a sifter to do this.) (So did I. Worked great but I suspect I made my layer too generous as I needed to make more marshmallow mix to finish the recipe!) Make sure there are absolutely no bare spots.

8. Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer on the pan. (I knew this step would be trouble. I'll just say it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.) Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, uncovered. (I didn't have time on my side here. My marshmallows sat for exactly four hours. Later on they seemed a bit wet - I bet letting them sit overnight would have solved that problem.)

9. Put about 1 cup (140g) of the marshmallow mixture into a large bowl. (I used kitchen scissors and a knife to cut my marshmallows into squares. Squares for s'more making.) Shake the marshmallows vigorously in a wire strainer to remove the excess powder. Alternatively, you can dust a baking sheet and put scoops of the marshmallow on it, and let them cool.

Storage: The marshmallows can be made up to one week in advance, and stored in an airtight container.

Which looks something like this:

It's true. Making marshmallows isn't hard at all. And now that I've done it I can see me revisiting this post in the Winter to make homemade marshmallows for our steaming cups of hot chocolate. But this is July - we're steaming in a different way. Let's not think about Winter quite yet.

There can really only be one reason for making marshmallows in July and that would be for s'mores. Indeed, my very first batch of marshmallows were destined for s'more greatness. And great they were. More on that in a later post when the subject will be cottage food!

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