August 2, 2011
We’ve had Marshmallow Days before. Two years ago, the kids and I used large fluffy marshmallows as paint stampers, we made robots with marshmallows, toothpicks, and icing, and we finished up by making rice cereal treats. We had so much fun, it is no wonder that they asked for it again! Still, we couldn’t just repeat what we had done before! So, how exactly were we going to top one of the best days of our Summer of Funner 2009?
…By Making Our Own
I’d seen them in gourmet shops and specialty stores, stacked in cellophane bags with gold and silver seals imprinted with the logos of independent confectioners, those perfect rectangles of pink, or green, or white – boutique marshmallows…whisky flavoured, or flecked with pistachios, or scented with vanilla direct from a tree in…well, wherever vanilla beans grow. Funny enough, I never felt the need to “splurge” for one of those 15 or 20 dollar bags of culinary wizardry. The expense and the presence of other tempting treats like pain au chocolat or the bostock from Patachou (see Emily Thomas’s review of Patachou, second picture down, for a closer look!) just led me away. Not that I wouldn’t have tried one or more had I been given the opportunity! Still, I figured that if people can make marshmallows at home and sell them to upscale boutiques, why couldn’t I find a way to make them with the kids? Sure, we’d likely leave the exotic flavours out of the mix, but we’ve got organic vanilla extract in the cupboard…close enough!
I let the kids help me do a bit of research about marshmallows and marshmallow recipes on the internet. We learned, for instance, that marshmallows were originally made with the sap of the root of the marshmallow plant instead of gelatin, hence the name. Then, we located some vegan and vegetarian options which substituted xanthan gum and soy protein isolate for the gelatin. Though we are animal friendly, we thought that we would stick to gelatin for our first round of candy-making.
Still, we had yet to decide on a recipe.The kids liked the idea of adding something “fresh from the farm” (we still have the Riverdale Farm on our minds!) to what was primarily a mix of sugar, water, and gelatin. So, when it came down to choosing a “receipt,” we decided to go with a favourite online resource, Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen, because her recipe for marshmallows requires the addition of stiffened egg whites. This might be a bit dangerous for some people’s tastes. [Check for the capital-g-Gorgeous homemade marshmallow (and graham cracker!) recipes from The Urban Baker if you are shy of using raw eggwhites!] But the kids really like to separate eggs and to use the mixer to beat egg whites into a delightful fluff. And, since we knew we’d be consuming most of our marshmallows the same day, we went ahead and chose Springy, Fluffy Marshmallows from the the Smitten Kitchen site.
We knew ahead of time that this was going to be a “sticky-sticky messy-messy” kind of task — i.e. that this kind of candy-making was totally up our alley! We aren’t total slatterns, though! Rather than beating our egg-whites toward the end of the cooking process (which would require a clean mixer-bowl and a clean, cold beater mid-mess), we decided to go ahead and separate our two eggs and beat them into stiff peaks ahead of time. We snuck these away into the refrigerator under some plastic wrap, washed our beaters and bowl, and prepared for the rest of the show!
The kids went ahead and greased a 9×13 glass dish and poured in a liberal amount of icing (powdered) sugar, rotating the pan until it was thoroughly coated.
Then, we put our 3.5 packets of unflavoured gelatin into the bowl of our mixer along with ½ cup cold water, letting it sit and set while we made the sticky sugar “potion” on the stove.
On the stovetop, I let the kids fill our thick-bottomed saucepan with another ½ cup of cold water, 2 cups of sugar, ½ cup of clear corn syrup, and a pinch of salt. And, I let them stir it with a wooden spoon over low heat until the sugar was dissolved. Then, I took over for the final 10 minutes or so as we brought the mixture to boil over medium heat (without stirring).
The kids helped me check our candy thermometer (we also had a back-up digital one on hand) as the mixture bubbled, thickened, and became clear.
When the “potion,” as they called it, reached 240⁰ F, we turned off the heat, and poured it into our mixing bowl on top of the set gelatin. Initially, the mixture “bubbled,” but then it settled down into a translucent, yellowish goo!
We mixed the gelatin and the sugar potion on low for a few moments, gradually turning it to high, so that none of the hot candy would spatter out of the bowl. Then, we let the mixer do the work for about 5 or 6 minutes! The clear goo transformed into marshmallow fluff before our eyes! It was amazing!
After the mixture had fluffed up to only an inch or so below the rim of our bowl, we added 1.5 tablespoons of organic vanilla extract. [Here, I suppose, is where you could add any number of different seasonings or colours: nuts, alcohols, extracts, herbs, salts…go figure! I’d like to try sea-salt, or lavender and mint!] We also spooned our stiffened eggwhites into the mix. We let these late additions fold in with the fluff for about 30 seconds at a medium speed.
Next, we used a spatula to guide the marshmallow fluff out of the mixing bowl and into our 9×13 pan. This wasn’t as sticky or as difficult to maneuver as we had imagined. Still, we took the advice from Deb not to fuss too much trying to get the last bits of marshmallow out of the bowl. The mixture seemed to spread to the edges of the pan by itself, too, which was a relief. Tobes finished it off by sifting 1/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar over the top of the plated fluff.
We placed the pan in our refrigerator and took a well-deserved lunch and television/xbox break!
A few hours later, just before we made our Marshmallow Structures (below), we removed the pan of homemade fluff from the fridge, loosened the edges of the rubbery form with a knife, and overturned the entire sheet onto a large cutting board.
I used a knife to cut the marshmallow into small squares. And, finally, we dredged the squares in about ½ cup of icing sugar poured into the empty marshmallow pan.
Eureka! We just needed some cellophane bags and few golden logo stickers and we were in business!
Marshmallow Ingredients Recap:
1+ c icing sugar
3.5 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 c cold water
2 c white sugar
.5 c clear corn syrup
a pinch of salt
2 egg whites, beaten into stiff peaks
1.5 tbs vanilla
Having made marshmallow robots before, the kids wanted to try to make physical structures out of their marshmallows this year. So, we laid out bowls of store-bought marshmallows, both larges and minis, as well as a bevy of toothpicks and some longer wooden barbecue skewers. [I wouldn’t have trusted them with those skewers two years ago.]
Bea told me, initially, that she was going to build a replica of the CN Tower. But, as it turned out, she made a large cube shape with some daintier details at the base.
Tobes was planning on a Bakugan arena, but he settled on building a bridge with triangular supports at the two ends. I think that if he had attached his toothpicks more firmly into his mini-marshmallows, the bridge might have actually stood on its own. He added some of the longer skewers, instead, for support. He then upended his bridge and made it into a skyscraper!
The kids then moved onto double-duty outer-space vehicles. Tobes made a “spaceship that was also a robot.” And, Bea made a “spaceship that was also a pyramid.” To be quite honest, I’m not sure I could tell the difference between the two of them!
We finished up our architectural games with a taste test: The homemade marshmallows beat the store-bought mammoths hands down!
S’mores on the Grill
The whole point of making the marshmallows was to use them for s’mores! Since their papa was away on business for the night, I thought it might be fun to have a campout in the living room, staying up late and watching a few of our favourite movies. S’mores were sure to be a perfect addition! And, the kids had never made them before! Correction, I attempted to make them s’mores in the microwave, once, but they were half nuked and tasted horrible. Problem was, our fireplace will not be up to code until we rebuild the chimney or install a gas insert! And, we don’t exactly have a fire pit outside! So, I decided to improvise and use the gas grill!
I prepared the grill by removing one of the two grates as well as the the metal piece that covers one of the three burners. I ignited the exposed burner. And, then, I set up a set of chairs at a distance from the grill.
Next, I got out the super-long wooden dowels I had bought at the hardware store for some project ages ago and had never used. I also set out a plate of ingredients (graham crackers, chocolate squares, and of course, our homemade marshmallows), as well as a few glasses of milk, and some empty plates to fill with our finished delectables. Then, I helped the kids skewer three or four marshmallows on their sticks and filled a third one for myself.
When the grill was hot enough, I helped the kids slip into the chairs, and I let them hold their marshmallow skewers over the top of the flames. Here is where you have to really play it safe if you are planning on trying this at home! The kids required ample supervision or “over-supervision” on my part. But it worked out just fine!
Our home-made marshmallows, I thought, were much gooier than the store-bought ones I’ve used previously. They had a tendency to slide off of the side of the skewer. So, we had to be careful to move our skewers over to our plates when we thought a marshmallow was ready to “slip.” Still, we only lost one to the grill! We got into the swing of things in no time, browning our marshmallows nicely and placing them between our graham crackers and chocolate squares! They looked good! But how would they taste?
Funny enough, Tobes took one bite of his s’more and declared that it was “too gooey” and “too sticky” for his liking. He had fun making them, he said, but there was “no way” he was going to eat any more! Alternatively, he opted for a bit of plain chocolate. Bea, meanwhile, ate an entire s’more without a single word or sound, chocolate dribbling slowly down the left side of her chin! For her, at least, the grilled treats were paradise! We finished the night with our main-floor campout and a movie!
Marshmallows for S'mores
- 1+ Cup Icing Sugar
- 3.5 Envelopes Unflavoured Gelatin
- 1 Cup Cold Water
- 2 Cups White Sugar
- 1/2 C Clear Corn Syrup
- 2 Eggwhites
- 1 Pinch Salt
- 1.5 Tbs Vanilla
- Grease the bottom and sides of a 13x9x2-inch baking dish or tray and dust bottom and sides with icing sugar.
- In the bowl of a standing electric mixer or with a hand mixer in a bowl, beat the eggwhites until stiff peaks form and set aside.
- In the bowl of a standing electric mixer or a regular bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of cold water, and let stand until soft.
- In a heavy saucepan [mine was 3 quarts] cook the granulated sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 cup of cold water, and salt over very low heat, stirring [with a wooden spoon] until the sugar is completely dissolved.
- Turn the heat to medium and, without stirring, bring to a boil and insert a candy thermometer.
- After 10-12 Minutes, when the candy thermometer reaches 240°F, remove the pan from the heat.
- Pour the hot sugar mixture over the gelatin mixture and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
- Beat this combined mixture in the bowl of a standing mixer on high speed until it is white, extra-thick, and about three times its original volume. This took us about 10 minutes.
- Add the eggwhites you set aside and the vanilla into this mixture and stir until just combined.
- Pour as much of the mixture as you can into the prepared baking tray or pan.
- Sift 1/4 cup of the icing sugar evenly over the top.
- Chill the tray in the fridge without a cover until it is set, at least 4 hours, and not more than 24.
- Run a knife or icing spreader around edges of pan to loosen the marshmallow.
- Flip the tray or pan onto a large cutting board and use an icing spreader, butter knife, or your hands to free the marshmallow slab.
- Use a knife to trim the outside edges off of the marshmallow if desired.
- Cut the marshmallow into one or two-inch cubes, depending on taste.
- Toss the marshmallows into the remaining 1/2 cup or so of icing sugar until coated on all sides. You can do this in your baking tray or in a clean bowl.
- Shake the marshmallows off and store them in an air-tight container in a cool spot for upt ot a week. Or just use them immediately on your s'mores!