Thursday, February 25, 2010

Totally Perfect Vanilla Marshmallows

In a glorious, orderly manner that is all too unfamiliar in my day-to-day life with a lively toddler, this post involving my favorite marshmallow recipe has organically appeared on my to-do list, right after the most fan-flippin'-tastic hot fudge and some really outstanding homemade graham crackers. If you decide to put them all together and make what would certainly be the world's most orgasmic s'mores, I simply cannot be held responsible for what might occur.

I sort of can't believe that I haven't shared a marshmallow recipe with you before, as I'm pretty much in love with homemade marshmallows of all sorts. They have an ethereal quality, and tasting one gives you that feeling that I'd mentioned in my last post, the sense that maybe you've never actually had a real marshmallow in the first place. They're really something. And always so impressive--people always seem to say something like, "You made marshmallows?! How do you even make marshmallows?!" And I'm torn between feeling bizarrely dorky and completely awesome.

Case in point: A couple years back, I had a project that I was working on, and as a thank-you gift to the team, a made a whole mess of marshmallows. The catch was I had fly to my destination, and didn't want the marshmallows to get smooshed in my luggage, so carried them on. As I passed through security, naturally I was stopped and questioned about the contents of my Tupperware. As I informed the burly TSA agent that they were homemade marshmallows, I got some odd looks from several agents at once. A nervous flurry of questions filled my mind--Did I miss the news? Are they not allowing food through security this week? Do marshmallows count as gels? Oh, sweet Jesus, please don't make me toss my lovely sweet pillows from heaven! I was sure I was screwed.

But instead of scolding me for not knowing the rules, one of the agents said, "What? That's crazy! You can't make marshmallows!" Relieved, I said, in a very Pollyanna tone, "Oh yes, sir, oh, yes you can!", and I even offered him a sample. He enthusiastically waved me through the x-ray machine (did you know TSA agents can smile?), and murmured to his coworkers about my culinary prowess. True story.

Now, I've tried lots of marshmallow recipes. The most popular ones you'll find online and on most blogs are most likely Martha's or Thomas Keller's (the ones that wowed the TSA were a hybrid of these two recipes). Most recipes are basically just sugar, corn syrup, water and gelatin, but they vary in their proportions of each ingredient. There's also ones like Dorie Greenspan's that involve egg whites, and they are delightfully fluffy and great for eating straight up, but not the best for shelf life or applications where you might want to warm them, like in hot cocoa or s'mores, as they dissolve rather quickly. Needless to say, finding my personal marshmallow nirvana has been a long time coming.

I'd decided a while ago that a key element of my perfect marshmallows would involve gelatin sheets instead of supermarket powdered gelatin. This way, you can use a good amount of gelatin to get the firmer set on the finished candy that makes them sturdy and versatile without the unappetizing "Hi, meet your new friend COLLAGEN!" smell and flavor that can come from using a lot of powdered gelatin. Also, different packets of gelatin can have an unnerving discrepancy of powder in them, even when using the same brand, and sheets are more consistent. You can buy the sheets online cheaply from a number of places, and they're usually found at kitchen stores and specialty markets, too. Highly recommended.

So I'm happy to say that my search for the perfect homemade marshmallow has ended with the gem of a recipe in the Baked cookbook. Sweetly scented with vanilla, springy but yielding, irresistible. After yet another manna-producing recipe from this book, I'm thinking of rewriting the lyrics to "You Made Me Love You" to include the Baked boys. And then maybe I'll make a video of me singing it, wearing nothing but a vest made of marshmallows and post it on YouTube in the hopes that it will go viral and then they'll invite me to visit the bakery and let me sous chef for the day. I've got big dreams, people. Big dreams.

Perfect Vanilla Marshmallows
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

This recipe calls for gelatin sheets, and I strongly recommend them for best results, but you can use unflavored powdered gelatin instead. Great resources for converting the gelatin amounts from sheets to powder in recipes can be found here and here.

The original recipe doubles these amounts and spreads the marshmallow into a 9x13-inch pan. But since I don't have an army in my midst demanding homemade marshmallows, I halved it and it worked out great, so I'm offering that version here. I find a pizza cutter is the best tool for easy marshmallow cutting.

Makes 2-3 dozen marshmallows (depending on how you cut them)

6 sheets gelatin
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus more for dusting

Grease an 8x8-inch pan with shortening, using a paper towel to rub it lightly and evenly onto the bottom, sides and edges of the pan. Set aside.

Put the gelatin sheets into a medium microwave-safe bowl and fill it with very cold water to cover by several inches, adding a few ice cubes to keep it cold. While they soak for about 10 minutes, move on to the rest of the recipe.

Place the sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup and 1/4 cup water in a medium saucepan and stir gently. Clip a candy thermometer onto the pan, and place it over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, checking it occasionally--you are looking for it to eventually hit a temperature of 235-240 degrees (soft ball stage).

Meanwhile, pour the remaining 1/4 cup corn syrup into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. By this point, the gelatin sheets should be very soft--drain them well and give them a quick wringing out, and place them back in the microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high until the gelatin is completely melted, about 30 seconds. Turn the mixer on low, and very slowly pour the melted gelatin into the corn syrup. Keep the mixer running while you check the sugar syrup.

Once the syrup reaches 235-240 degrees, pull it from the heat. Carefully transfer the syrup to a large, heatproof measuring cup or a similar vessel with a spout for easy pouring. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the gelatin mixture. When all the syrup has been added, crank the speed up to medium-high and let it go for about 6 to 7 minutes--the candy will turn white and fluffy during this time. Add the vanilla and salt and increase the speed to its highest setting for 1 more minute.

Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula spritzed with a bit of cooking spray to nudge it into the corners and smooth the top. Sift confectioners' sugar evenly and generously over the top. Let sit for about 6 hours.

Use a knife to loosen the marshmallow from the edges of the pan and invert it onto a confectioners' sugar-dusted work surface. Dust the marshmallow slab with more confectioner's sugar and cut into whatever size pieces you wish (a pizza cutter works great here). Dip the sticky edges of the marshmallows in more confectioners' sugar, patting off the excess. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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