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Had I ever told you about the time I made marshmallows?

Posted by joeabbott on August 24, 2013

WP_20130713_003WP_20130713_006Suzy and I enjoy taking classes together and like to learn new stuff. When we took our first class at our local Eat Local shop, we learned how to make pasta, we took another class in July to learn how to make marshmallows. Why marshmallows? No idea but it sounded intriguing.

I’m neither a marshmallow aficionado nor a marshmallow fiend, but I will admit to being very curious about how to make a marshmallow. These confection staples have been around whatever place I’d call home for as long as I could remember: an ingredient in fruit salad, wedged between a square of chocolate and a graham cracker, sprinkled on hot chocolate, or simply popped into one’s mouth. It’s a versatile thing, the marshmallow, but how would I go about making one?

Didn’t know so I thought I’d find out.

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It turns out the marshmallows are fairly simple foods that have a trick or two to making, but even that isn’t above beginners. The basic ingredients are sugar (no surprise there), gelatin (again, in a pinch I could have teased that out), and flavoring. So, with a formula that’s the basis for many confections, it comes down to preparation and the processes one uses.

We started by special-treating our gelatin. Learning from an Eat Local class, they didn’t pull a grocery store box of Knox Gelatin from the shelf, but instead used organic, locally sourced product that wasn’t as processed and required a bit of “treatment” to, let’s say, limber it up. It amounted to gently stirring it into a small amount of water and letting it “bloom” or some other such word. Once the gelatin was ready we poured it directly into a pureed strawberry mixture. And while I use the word “mixture”, I believe the bowl was just pure strawberries. Organic and locally sourced, or course!

With that done, we took a copper pot full of granulated cane sugar, added only enough water to get it marginally soupy, and then put that baby to flame! There were a couple tricks Chef Tracy taught us: ensure the sides of the pan didn’t have sugar on them (they’d crystalize, fall into the mix, and start the entire batch to crystalizing), don’t stir the mixture (again, it would encourage crystallization), and watch that temperature! It seemed a fussy part of the making but the intent is to get the entire mixture up to temperature without it starting to form crystals … which would ruin the texture of your marshmallows.

P1030693WP_20130713_026WP_20130713_019With that done, the strawberry gelatin soup was transferred to an industrial mixer and we slowly poured in the just-right-temperature molten sugar. At this point we stood back and let the mixer earn its keep in the kitchen.

Over, say, a short 10 minutes we talked as the mixer was doing its thing. The process above was all done by Chef Tracy as she explained the steps, answered questions from the lot of us, and tolerated my nosier than normal picture-taking. We then started prepping batches of our own marshmallows, which would be a plain vanilla variety.

Before getting into the vanilla marshmallows we made, let’s finish up the strawberry marshmallows, first! Don’t worry … the remaining steps were few and short!

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After the bowl of whipped strawberry marshmallow mix had been fluffed, we prepared a couple of foil pans … enough so that each couple could get one to take home. To prep them we simply coated the inside of the pan with a light vegetable oil, making sure to get it completely covered. Then we spooned fluffy blobs of the marshmallow mix into the pan, smoothed the top, and dusted it over with a powder sugar-corn starch mixture. Add lid, set aside, and we were done!

Oh, we did have a bit of the mixture left, so we dropped dolloped spoonfuls into the powder sugar mix, rolled them about, and ate them from the pan!

WP_20130713_021As I’d said, deceptively simple. And it was now our turn.

WP_20130713_038The process for vanilla marshmallows was similar but our gelatin mixture was mostly water with a tablespoon of vanilla extract added; a “scraping” of vanilla beans themselves were added to the copper pot of sugar that was heated over the stove. To get the vanilla beans themselves, we took a long bean, slit it from one end to the other, and then used the knife to scrape out the tiny, sticky seeds from inside the pod, transferring them into our sugar. As a vanilla lover, I thought it a starkly poor amount of vanilla but I can’t argue the mixture suffered for that quantity.

Each couple then heated their sugar, added it to the gelatin, but rather than let the industrial mixer do its thing, we used a hand-mixer to whip up our batches of vanilla marshmallows. After that we transferred our warm and fluffy treats into a pan and we were done.

Chef Tracy sent each couple home with their pans of strawberry and vanilla marshmallows, a small container of the powdered sugar/corn starch mix, and instructions to let the marshmallows set for an hour or so before we sliced them into cubes, coated with the powder, and then enjoyed. Almost too easy.

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And how were they? While I’d like to break into superlatives, honesty requires that I say: about middling. They certainly weren’t bad, but our marshmallows were “damper” than store-bought marshmallows (my gold standard, as it’s the only thing I know) and were the sort of thing you’d hold gingerly between two fingers before carefully popping into your mouth and downing. The flavors were excellent and ultra-fresh, but again, it was that “less firm” texture that kept me from stating that from here on out, we’d only be a homemade marshmallow family. I’m sure we could tinker with the quantity of water, add more gelatin, or whip longer, but I’ll save those experiments for another day.

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In all, it was fun to see how marshmallows are made and to chalk up another outing with Suzy and time snacking on goodies. Thanks for dropping by!

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