The Truth about Marshmallows

What’s worse than forgetting marshmallows on a camping trip, or for a barbecue, or that roaring bonfire? Depending on your circle of friends, you just might want to do a double check before leaving home.  And, how good would s’mores  be without a few ooey-gooey toasted marshmallows?  Yes indeed.  Kids, summer barbecues, and cookouts all require marshmallows.

Marshmallow 2For as much ritual and fanfare that marshmallows tend to receive, there’s really not much to them.  They are pretty basic.  Take a little granulated sugar, some egg whites and gelatin, add a couple other pantry staples and you’ve pretty much got the makings for a heap of better-than-store-bought marshmallows.

Have you ever wondered what keeps marshmallows from sticking together?  Turns outs it is probably a just a mixture of confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch (and probably some other preservatives).

Marshmallows can be made without egg whites, but I’ve found that the egg whites provide fluffier and more stable results than those relying only on gelatin.  I prefer David Lebovitz’s clever version that is based on the Italian meringue principle.  Streaming boiling hot syrup into beaten egg whites further stabilizes them and also makes them safe to eat without further cooking.

If you are interested in making a batch, the biggest effort will be in figuring out your candy thermometer and keeping an eye open for the syrup to reach the firm-ball stage, around 245 degrees F.  At that point, when a bit of it is dropped into cold water it will form a firm but malleable ball when held between your fingers.  Caramels are also cooked to this stage.

marshmallow creamWhile this is happening you will have beaten your egg whites into a thick and billowy mass.  The syrup is streamed in, and then the dissolved gelatin is added, plus a bit of flavoring.  It is all whipped for about ten minutes — enough time to beat the gelatin and egg whites into an expansive fluff.  The final “cream” is spread out and left to firm up before it is cut, shaped, and dusted with the coating mix.

marshmallow 1Practice a little sugar and egg alchemy of your own, and you too, will hold one of the magical secrets of happy camping.

Homemade Marshmallows   

Adapted from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 2 envelopes powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • 4 large egg whites (1/2 cup), room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For marshmallow dusting mix:  one part confectioners’ sugar and one part cornstarch (about 1 cup each)

Directions

  1. Sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch dusting mixture.  Butter a rimmed 8×10″ pan and sift a generous layer of the mixture onto it, leaving no bare spots.  Set aside the remainder in a wide bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water to soften and dissolve.
  3. In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup and 1/3 cup water and set over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the egg whites to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  On low speed, beat the eggs until frothy and add a pinch of salt.
  5. When the syrup reaches about 210 degrees F, increase the speed of the mixer to high and beat the whites until they are thick and fluffy.
  6. When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, with mixer running on high speed, slowly pour the hot syrup onto the side of the bowl into the whites.  Note:  if the whites become thick and fluffy before the syrup is ready, stop the mixer and wait for the syrup to reach 245 degrees.  .
  7. Scrape the dissolved gelatin and water into the still hot syrup pan and swirl it to liquidize.  Pour this slowly onto the side of the bowl into the whites while they are whipping. Add the vanilla extract and continue to whip for 10 minutes, until the mixture is completely cool when the outside of the bowl is touched.
  8. Use a spatula to spread the marshmallow “cream” into a layer in the pan. Dust the top lightly with the dusting mixture.  Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, uncovered. (It can also be piped or scoped on the sheet instead).
  9. To cut the marshmallows, use a pizza cutter or scissors (sprayed with cooking oil) into long strips or any shape desired.  Place a few cut pieces at a time into the dusting mixture and sift more over them to coat completely.  Shake the marshmallows vigorously in a wire strainer to remove any excess.
  10.  The marshmallows can be made up to one week in advance, and stored in an airtight container.

Yield:  25-50 marshmallows

Variations are endless

Flavor with peppermint extract, orange or other flavoring and tint with complementary food dyes.  Dust with colored sugar, dip in toasted coconut or melted chocolate.  Package in gift bags with personalized bags of cocoa mix.

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