Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Candy - Marshmallows

Marshmallows are a Christmas favorite or really an anytime of the year favorite.

When Dame & I were little, we would spread peanut butter on marshmallows and then roll them in cocoa powder for a treat!

Marshmallows are considered a confection - a subset of candy - because of the high caloric value with little to no nutritional value. (so be it).

Marshmallows have a long and disputed history. Who would have thought a fluffy piece of sugar, gelatin & corn syrup that melts in hot cocoa and smothers sweet potatoes in America could be so controversial?
Well, there are two theories for the history of the marshmallow.
The first theory surmises that marshmallows were made from an extract of the root of the marshmallow plant - althaea officinalis - instead of gelatin. The root was mucilaginous - meaning mucous-ey and was used to soothe sore throats.
The more believable theory is that stems from the mallow from the marsh were peeled to reveal a white spongey interior. These were cooked with sugar and then dried to make a soft, chewy confection.

Some facts:
-Marshmallows have been extruded into the cylinder shape we know now since 1948.
-Americans eat 90,000,000 pounds of marshmallows per year!
-The idea of toasting a marshmallow over a flame (while camping) can be traced back to the 18th century!
-Gelatin used in marshmallow production is controversial itself! Vegetarians won't eat it because gelatin is derived from animal products. An alternative is agar or vegetable gums that are unsatisfactory substitutes.
-Kosher marshmallows use fish gelatin.
-Marshmallow fluff uses no gelatin and some other varieties use egg whites as opposed to gelatin.

Here is the method & recipe I used, without controversy.
Warning: Marshmallow making is not for the faint of heart. While it is relatively easy to do, it is messy, sticky and involves high temperatures. It also takes time!
I used a recipe from Alton Brown at the Food Network that I modified slightly.
3 packages gelatin
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch

Gelatin needs to soften or "bloom" before using. This is done through soaking it in liquid. I find that the gelatin flavor is detectable in both taste and odor, so I am very careful to dissolve it and then flavor over it... personal taste...

So, place gelatin in bowl of large mixer and add 1/2 cup water to soften. Set aside.
In a saucepan, combine remaining 1/2 cup water, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Put a lid on the the pan and heat over low - medium heat for 5 minutes. Do not stir, but allow the steam inside the pan to melt the sugar crystals. This mixture will start to bubble and boil. Let it cook until the thermometer reaches 242 degrees. Sometimes this can take as long as 9 - 10 minutes, sometimes it takes less time. USE the THERMOMETER!

Once it is the proper temperature, turn the mixer with the bloomin' gelatin on low or stir.
Slowly and carefully, pour a thin stream of the hot liquid into the gelatin and allow to combine for 1 - 2 minutes.
WARNING the mixture and now the bowl will be hotter than hell.... so be careful not to get burnt. It does not cool quickly - either. Be patient and smart here.
Once it is combined, you will smell the gelatin melting, gradually turn up the speed of the mixer and then give it time to transform, seemingly magically, into marshmallow.

As the mixture cools and as air is whipped into it, it becomes fluffy and marshmallow. But, do not be fooled, it will still be hot. It takes about 12 - 15 minutes to transform.
The last minute or two, add one tsp of vanilla, then whip again. Then add the remaining tsp of vanilla. The smell of the vanilla will be delightful.

Prepare your pan. In a small bowl, mix the powdered sugar & the cornstarch. Spray a 13 x 9 inch pan with cooking spray, line with parchment and spray again. Then dust a generous layer of the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture in the pan. Save the remaining powdered mixture for later.
Pour the cooled marshmallow into the prepared pan. With an oiled spatula, scrape the top of the mixture flat and dust with more powders. Save remaining powders.
Now, be patient. Allow mixture to set at least 4 hours or overnight. The marshmallow needs to firm up.
After this time remove marshmallow from pan and cut with an oiled knife, into pieces that you like. Roll exposed sides into the powdered mixture to keep them from sticking together.
I made these so that I could dip them in chocolate.

Yum.

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