12.02.2010

a time-honored necessity


I have a book in my kitchen, one of those spiral-bound blank books with a firm cardboard cover. Mine is inlaid with cork, and is decorated with botanical illustrations of cotton plants. The pages are wavy from moisture, and there is structural damage where some of the cork got ripped off. It is bulging, as it contains as many loose pieces of paper, folded and stuffed into it, as bound pages. It is one of my first collections of recipes, taken from magazines and books and friends, and is more than ten years old. (Which probably doesn't sound all that old, but considering that it's as long as I've been out of college, it feels like a long time to me.)

It's an interesting culinary-themed trip down memory lane to read through it, to see what types of food I was drawn to a decade ago. It is also interesting to realize how few of the recipes I ever made. Coriander Mushrooms, Highland Oat Squares, Mushroom Pâté, Tomato-Miso Soup - all untested. Can you tell I was a reader of Vegetarian Times back then? I wasn't even a vegetarian, but I think my post-college craving for healthy foods pushed me towards that publication. That and Cooking Light - I'm sure a lot of those never-tried recipes also came from Cooking Light. There are notes in the margins where I suggest ways to convert the recipes to gluten-free, but nothing to indicate that I ever took my own suggestions.

There's also not much to definitively say where all these recipes came from - most are handwritten onto the pages, and I was 100% consistent in failing to note where I found each recipe. So much for giving credit where credit is due! A scant few, the ones I have actually come back to over and over again through the years, I can remember the origins of. The pâte brisée and pumpkin pie come from Martha Stewart. The guacamole is Ina Garten's version. Bobbie Mills' Cinnamon Cake, which I don't remember making, obviously comes from Bobbie Mills. And although I have no idea who he/she is, a quick Google search reveals that the recipe was published in the September 1996 edition of Gourmet. It's heartening to know I was reading Gourmet back when I was still a teenager, but I do wish I'd had the foresight to save those copies.


Anyway, you probably care very little about my Gourmet-nostalgia, and even less about Mushroom Pâté, not that I can blame you. It's hard to focus on such things when I keep shoving big photos of fluffy, fresh marshmallows in front of you. But you see, everything you just read (or quickly skimmed, or skipped over completely, as the case may be,) really is relevant, if only marginally. Because contained in that overflowing and mostly-ignored culinary relic is a recipe I can't live without.

Homemade marshmallows.

I don't remember how much time passed between my writing down the recipe and actually daring to make it. I do know it seemed simultaneously straightforward and scarily complicated, which is exactly the type of recipe I like to take on. But kitchen essentials like baking pans and candy thermometers and mixers weren't present in my immediate post-college life, so I imagine this recipe had to wait around a bit while I got my act together.

But once I did, I never looked back. And I've never looked at store-bought marshmallows the same way again. Why eat a stale, stiff, dull-flavored sponge when you know how to make gloriously fluffy, satiny, fragrant sugar pillows? Because really, that's what these marshmallows are. So I make them whenever I can - for s'mores over the campfire, for floating in mugs of rich hot chocolate, for topping our Thanksgiving roasted sweet potatoes, for eating out of hand for no special reason at all. They never go out of style, they always get rave reviews, and the more I make them the less complicated they seem. In fact, they don't seem scary at all anymore, now that I know to keep my fingers away from the hot sugar syrup. That plus the fact that I take comfort in knowing any mess made during the making process is easily erased with hot water during the cleaning process. In fact, I used to make giant batches of marshmallows when I worked at the local bakery, and aside from the additional time needed to cut them all, I can safely say that quadrupling the recipe doesn't complicate things one bit. Assuming, of course, that you have a 20-quart mixer at your disposal!



This most recent batch, as you've probably guessed, was for Thanksgiving. I hadn't meant to make them. I had given myself a prep list that was WAY too long, and I figured my family would just have to live without homemade marshmallows for one Thanksgiving. Until I got notes like this: "No pressure Tara BUT  . . . we LOVE your homemade marshmallows," and this: "store bought marshmallows are just fine (though yours really are amazing, Tara.)" Honestly, how could I not make them after that? And that's what's so great about this recipe. It turns out a product that people will ask for year after year, a candy-type confection that seems impressive but really can be done the night before Thanksgiving in the last 30 minutes before you go to bed. (And a lot of that time is just waiting-and-watching-the-thermometer time. Easy to do when you're tired.)

So once again, our sweet potatoes were crowned with marshmallow glory, and I can't believe I even considered not letting it happen. I know that the whole sweet potato-marshmallow dish gets a bad rap, but I'm convinced it's because no one else is using homemade cinnamon marshmallows. Roast a sweet potato until it's soft, split open the top, lay a homemade marshmallow over it and stick it under the broiler until it caramelizes - I'm telling you, it's impossible to turn one down.

And after you do that, you'll have lots of marshmallows leftover. Which is great, because the weather is getting colder by the day and we're all feeling festive and cheery, and there's nothing better to come inside to after chopping down your Christmas tree or stringing lights around your shrubs or simply clearing away the last of Fall's leaves before the snow flies than a cup of hot chocolate topped with real marshmallows, ones that don't immediately dissolve when they meet the heat of your mug. Trust me. Your family will love you for it.



Homemade Cinnamon Marshmallows
yields A LOT - 5 to 8 dozen, depending on the size of the pan

Canola oil, for greasing pan
About 1+ cup confectioner's sugar (I never measure, I just make sure I have a good-sized quantity on hand)
1/2 cup cold water
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115ºF)
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
2 large egg whites (the whites won't be cooked - use reconstituted powdered egg whites if salmonella is a problem in your area)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Special equipment: candy or digital thermometer

Oil bottom and sides of an 18x13-inch pan (for thin marshmallows) or 9x13-inch pan (for thicker marshmallows) and dust with confectioner's sugar.

Put cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle gelatin over to soften. Set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, hot water and salt, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring, increase heat to medium, and boil mixture until a candy or digital thermometer reads 240ºF (soft-ball stage), about 10-12 minutes. Immediately remove pan from heat and pour mixture into bowl of gelatin, stirring until all the gelatin has dissolved.

Using the whisk attachment, whip mixture on high speed until thick, white, and triple in volume, about 6 minutes.

While the sugar mixture is whipping, use a hand-held electric mixer to whip the egg whites in a large bowl until they just hold stiff peaks.

Whisk the beaten whites, vanilla and cinnamon into the sugar mixture until just combined. Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan, using a spatula to spread it out evenly. Sift confectioner's sugar evenly over the top, to completely coat the marshmallow. Chill, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day.

To remove marshmallows, run a knife or small offset spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen, then invert pan onto a cutting board. Lift up a corner of the pan and use the offset spatula (or your fingers) to further pull the marshmallow away from the pan, until it releases onto the cutting board. Dust the surface with confectioner's sugar, as the marshmallow will now be quite sticky. Use a large knife to cut the marshmallow into whatever size and shape you desire. Squares are traditional, but I've been known to grease cookie cutters and make duck-shaped marshmallows for Easter, and hearts for Valentine's Day. Toss the cut marshmallows around in a bowl of confectioner's sugar to coat the sides, then use a fine mesh strainer to shake the excess sugar off.

Marshmallows keep, at room temperature in an airtight container, for up to 1 week.

*Note: for plain marshmallows, simply leave out the cinnamon. Or replace the vanilla with another extract (almond or mint are good) for flavored marshmallows. And if you're a food coloring-type of person, by all means add a little color to your confections!

14 comments:

  1. You know, I once tried to make vegetarian marshmallows (using agar agar) and it failed miserably the marshmallows were way too limp and overly sweet. PLUS is was SUCH a pain in the butt having to clean my kitchenaid mixer bowl of all the stickiness. I swore never to do that again.

    I actually wanted to source out marshmallow root and do it the old school traditional way, but I couldn't find it. Hmmm. I wonder if I should try tracking them down again. I'm just curious about how different they taste if you make them the old school traditional way.

    But I do LOVE homemade marshmallows. I use store bought ones for my sweet potato cheesecake topping and while I was doing it, I thought to myself, I bet you this would be EVEN BETTER if I made it was home made marshmallows.

    But I didn't. However YOU make it sound like it's gloriously easy to do. I must investigate myself...as soon as I get some packages of gelatin...

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  2. Mr. Jackhonky - I would LOVE to get my hands on some marshmallow root! Let me know if you ever find a source for it - it would be such fun to see how marshmallows originally tasted!

    I did a little reading about vegan marshmallows last night, and it sounds like agar isn't the right product. There's a product called Genutine, which is a vegan gelatin, but it has carrageenan in it (interestingly, the only place carrageenan is produced in the US is in my town!), and I know some people worry about the health risks from carrageenan. I suppose as long as you aren't making marshmallows on a daily basis, it should be okay. I'd certainly hate to think great homemade marshmallows aren't available to vegans!

    When I lived in NYC, I tried all the handmade marshmallows I could find - City Bakery, Dean & Deluca, Williams-Sonoma, a little pastry shop in the Village - and none were as good as the recipe I've given. I think it's the egg whites (or rather, lack thereof in the commercial varieties). The salmonella issue is enough to scare most people away from adding egg whites to their marshmallows, but it really makes a HUGE difference in the texture. I just make sure I use eggs I'm confident in, and don't worry much past that. I've never tried them with powdered egg whites, but I can only assume the marshmallows would still be better with them than with no egg white product at all!

    Anyway, let me know if you venture into marshmallow-making again! :)

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  3. I Love, Love, Love the recipe. It is one of my goals for the holidays to make homemade marshmallows with my kids.

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  4. I just saw on a PBS show something about Marsh Hibiscus- the beautiful big flower that grows wild here in New Jersey- as also being known as "marshmallow". I was studying local botany about 5 years ago, and read in my book about marshmallow- still can't make the connection, but sounds like a new cottage industry...a void that must be filled!

    Yes, Tara, these photos are stunning! I love the rustic tea towel, the sugar chrytals and cinnamon dusted all around the bowl, the sticks of cinnamon and all that natural light. I am nocturnal and cook/bake late at night- my pics always have that stare of gloom about them. Like it was all meant for a halloween special.

    I will copy and try this recipe. Very excited about it!

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  5. This, your recipes rocks! The marshmellows look so adorable, pretty & tasty at the same time too!

    Beautiful pictures as walways!

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  6. hmhill_kymom - In my experience, kids get SUCH a kick out of making their own marshmallows! Just be careful during the sugar-boiling stage. And let them be as messy as they need to be, because you just need to arm them with some hot water to clean it all up afterward!

    Silky Sienna - I'm intrigued about Marsh Hibiscus - could it be a source for marshmallow root sap? VERY interesting!

    And I'm glad the photos look like they're bathed in lots of natural light. In reality, I was shooting in late afternoon with very little light, but a long exposure with a timer and tripod can do wonders in such situations. ;)

    Sophie - Thank you! "Pretty and tasty" is exactly what I was going for!

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  7. Thanks for the recipe Tara. I gave up eating marshmallows due to the gelatin. I'm very interested in making your ones using Genutine. I live in Australia & will see if I can source it this week. Love your photos - they are delicate & exquisite. Happy Solstice. with Love, Katie x

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  8. Katie - Thank you! From what I've read, the Genutine should work fine in my recipe. I assume it's something you can order online. I hope you make them! And happy Solstice to you, as well! :)

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  9. Oh! I love homemade marshmallows, but I have never thought to put cinnamon in them before! Genius.

    Your recipes look wonderful and I'm so glad I found your blog.

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  10. Isie - Thank you so much! It actually took me about 3 years of consistently making marshmallows before it occurred to me to put the cinnamon in. Other extracts yes, but somehow a spice was quite a leap. Strange. And I'm glad you found my blog as well! Welcome!

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  11. I've been making marshmallows for 5 years now as my gift to friends, family, co-workers, etc. I would never have thought about adding spices either. They do get easier and easier to make each year. I've never even considered eating sweet potatoes with marshmallows, but I will give it a whirl sometime with a homemade-cinnamon. I look forward to visiting 40 Paper this summer - we have family near Camden. I only wish I lived closer! You have an amazing blog, I'm glad Shauna shared the link today.

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  12. Gina - Thank you so much! Isn't it funny how we can make something really creative, like marshmallows, and then the creativity stops right there and it doesn't occur to us to play with flavors? I always laugh at myself when that happens. Please do visit us at 40 Paper this summer - we look forward to serving you!

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  13. I just found you! So happy I have. Love your stories, LOVE your photographs, and your recipes are my kind of "sugar love"! I will be back!

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  14. susan - Thank you so much! I'm so glad you found me, because now I've found you! I love the sentiments you express on your blog, and I LOVE your interior design style!

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