Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Let's Be Awesome

The garland is hung.  The lights are up.  I even have mini Christmas trees on display.  IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME, Y'ALL!  I can't even deal...

This year I've decided to make presents from scratch for friends and family, and today I practiced  a bit.  Practice makes perfect... or it weeds out the things you maybe shouldn't give to people.  In this case, however, it confirmed my good decision to make marshmallows.  Not only are they edible (thank goodness), but they're adorable and squishy and perfect!

Marshmallows work with the delicate but satisfying foe that is sugar.  Sugar needs to be watched, monitored, babied (but also left to its own devices for a bit).  Fickle and delicious, I began working with sugar in a way I hadn't before.  I had to figure out what the difference between soft crack and hard crack was.  I also had to figure out how to clean hardened sugar off of every kind of surface.

Not fun.

What is fun, however, is cutting the marshmallows up with scissors.  THAT IS THE MOST FUN.  It's super satisfying and right up there with slicing fresh mushrooms, smoothing melted chocolate over a cake, and biting into fresh meringues.  Oh my god... I spelled meringues right on the FIRST TRY.  that never happens.

But you get it.  You get how much I loved making these.  I'm off to sell them today to people who are probably expecting something baked and wonderful and warm.  But it's the holidays, and as always, I am changing my mind and challenging my skills with new approaches in the kitchen.  And this one paid off (although I did learn a few things along the way).  Here's what I gleaned:

1. Have all your ingredients ready.  And your pan lined and dusted.  Do this before anything else.  Sugar cooks gradually then quickly... and fumbling around for a prepped pan that you forgot sucks.  Cursing will follow.

2. Swirling food coloring into white marshmallows looks cool, but you will tear your foil in the process.  Take a deep breath and don't stress.  Things like this happen.

3. Add the hot sugar syrup slowwwwwwwwly. If you scorch that gelatin, it's no going back.  Game over.  Done-zo.

4. Powdered sugar is a much better dusting than corn starch.  This should have gone without saying, but I had to find out for myself.

5. Marshmallows are not just for hot chocolate.  Cori and I put them in our hot coffee this morning and it was a huge win.  WIN.

6. When cutting marshmallows, I found that wetting my kitchen sheers with water before every snip made my life easier.  I tried spraying the sheers with non-stick cooking spray, which was okay, but made my hands oily and left little bits of yellow oil on the marshmallows.  Unsightly and just plain gross.  No one needs that.

So... you're probably asking yourself, "Kasey... where are the tutorial pictures?  I want to see what gelatin looks like all puffed up!  SHOW ME THE MALLOW!!!"

Um... yeah.  About that... I didn't have time to take pictures.  BUT!  Since I'm planning on making these again (and in other exotic flavors), I promise you I will take those pictures and post more recipes for marshmallows.  I won't let you down.  That said, I was able to snap a couple of the finished products before I ran out the door...

The Betty Crocker Recipe, complete with peppermint, vanilla, and red stripes!

The Sugar Baby recipe, with mini chocolate chips pressed in for extra YUM.

It looks like you could just reach out and grab one, doesn't it??

Since this was my first foray into the making of 'mallows, I decided to use two different recipe to see which texture and density would become my favorite.  Unfortunately (or fortunately!), I liked both for different reasons.

The recipe from Sugar Baby used egg whites (though they were listed as optional, I used them as they are very french if made with egg white).  The addition of egg whites gives you a denser marshmallow, as well as a more rounded flavor.  Since they are optional, I believe you could add them to the second recipe without issue, and wouldn't be disappointed at all!  This marshmallow would be perfect for toasting and smashing between two graham crackers (since I already added the chocolate!).  It also lends itself to be easier to cut with a cookie cutter and given as a beautiful present.  It should be noted that marshmallows with egg whites have a shorter shelf life - 3 weeks in a sealed container - where as marshmallows sans egg whites can last for months... even years!

Speaking of the second recipe, let's chat about this one a bit.  This recipe called for more corn syrup - twice the amount! - than the first recipe.  To that end, I had a marshmallow perfect for melting in hot beverages, but loads sweeter.  And again, since this recipe did not contain any egg white, it will last forever (unless I eat them first...).

Whichever recipe you choose, the process is the same.  I've supplied both recipes I tested, and then the application that follows is used for both.  The only difference is when you add the salt - either when you add the egg whites or just straight in with the rest of the sugar mixture.

Okay!  Let's have fun with sugar!

Recipes adapted from Sugar Baby and Betty Crocker

The Sugar Baby Recipe:

non-stick baking spray
powdered sugar (for dusting the pan and the cut marshmallows)
3 tablespoons (20 g) unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup (75 ml) cold water
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) corn syrup
1/2 cup (120 ml) hot water
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)

The Betty Crocker Recipe

non-stick baking spray
powdered sugar (for dusting the pan and the cut marshmallows)
2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hot water

The Instructions:

Prepare a straight-sided 9"x13" brownie pan with foil, making sure to go up and over the edges.  Spray with non-stick spray, and liberally dust with powdered sugar, getting up the sides as well.  This is the key to releasing the marshmallows once they've set, so don't skimp here!

In the bowl of a standing mixer, pour the gelatin over the cold water and let set while you prepare the sugar mixture.  Make sure your whisk attachment is already in place, as you will need that immediately once you start pouring the hot sugar into the gelatin.  Do this, and you'll avoid burning the hell out of your hand later on (potentially).

In the bottom of a heavy sauce pan (I used a glazed cast iron pot) over medium-low heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and hot water together (and salt, if you are making the version without egg whites).  Let heat until the sugar has dissolved into the liquid (but is still cloudy).  Raise the heat to medium-high and clip on a candy thermometer.  Without stirring at all, let the mixture come to a boil and continue to cook until 250 degrees F.

If Using Egg Whites:
While your sugar is heating, beat the egg whites with the salt until they hold a stiff peak.  I recognize that your stand mixer is currently in use with the gelatin, so you're going to have to do this in a glass bowl (or ceramic, or non-reactive metal bowl - not plastic!) with a wire whisk by hand.  I used my 1950s metal hand beater, but if you don't have one of these, you could use a whisk, or an electric hand mixer.  The reason I mention not using plastic is because any fat that touches egg whites will deflate those puppies with a quickness - plastic reacts the same way as plastic, kids.  Glass is your best bet. Set aside the egg whites.

Once the hot sugar mixture comes to temperature, bring it to the bowl of the standing mixer where the gelatin has been setting up.  With the mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the hot sugar down the side of the bowl.  Avoid splashing and scorching the gelatin...

Raise the mixture to high and beat until tripled in volume (about 8-10 minutes).  The mixture should be light, white, and super fluffy (and hella sticky).  At this point, you have options:

1. You could leave them plain and just mix in 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

2. Flavors:  Just as you would the vanilla, add in your favorite extract for a fun twist.  For the candy cane flavored ones I made, I added in 1 teaspoon each of vanilla extract and peppermint extract.  You could also mix in coconut, almond, cinnamon, lemon, Kahlua (heeeeeeey!), or anything to that end.  Make sure you don't add more than two teaspoons, as the addition of any liquid changes the chemical composition and your marshmallows will lose their density.

3. Colors:  I feel it's obvious that you can color your marshmallows any color you want.  Flavoring your 'mallows cinnamon?  Why not make them a beautiful pink color?  Adding lemon extract?  Why not make them a soft yellow?  The possibilities are endless.  Just make sure you get the color evenly mixed.  If you are making the candy cane marshmallows, don't add the color while the marshmallow cream is mixing.  Add just a few random drops of red to the top of the spread out marshmallow cream in the pan and drag a skewer or a butter knife through them to create a swirl pattern.

Okay... back to how to set a marshmallow:

Once your mixture has doubled, work quickly to pour the marshmallow cream into the prepared pan.  If you're making a plain marshmallow, you can stop here and let it set for 4 hours (or overnight).  If you want to make it fancier, you can cover the top immediately with whatever fun toppings you want (like chocolate chips, crush graham crackers, almond flakes, toasted coconut, bits of peppermint candies... you decide!).  Also, you can do the fun candy cane swirl, as described above.

Once the marshmallows have set, you can remove the marshmallow from the pan and cut with scissors (or a very sharp knife).  You can also cut it with cookie cutters to make adorable shapes... kinda' like Jello but waaaaaaay cooler.  Just make sure to wet your slicing/cutting device in between every cut.  Dredge each piece in powdered sugar before packaging.  Marshmallows need to be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

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