Saturday, May 12, 2012

American Food: Marshmallows

I've been cooking and baking for a long time.  At this point, I know what a pinch of salt looks like, the science behind a good cookie dough, and what consistency a cake batter should have.  I know when to flip a pancake to get that perfect golden color, how to tell if a watermelon is ripe, how to bake a loaf of bread, and that grilled cheese sandwiches are never done when you think they are.

I know a lot.  I am so grateful to all the people who taught me to cook.  Grateful, too, for the time and space I've had to experiment.  I'm quite simply blessed.

But there's still stuff I DON'T know.  How to work with sugar is one of them.  It's incredibly frustrating, to be honest.  Sugar has a mind of its own and is devilishly sticky.  For bowl-scraping-don't-waste-a-drop people like me, it's especially aggravating.
After a long and unsuccessful search, I decided to make some marshmallows.  They don't really exist here (except, uhm, in mouse-shapes?) and we're cooking out again tomorrow.  S'mores are one of the hallmarks of American cookouts.  I needed to introduce them to the Fatherland ;)  Continue reading to see HOW.

I found that marshmallow recipes fall into four categories. Vegan (gelatin-free and made with 01239204 different powders and ingredients that I can't pronounce), Corn-Syrup based (no thanks!  Also not available here...), Agave/Honey (sounds pricey and MUCH too sweet, because liquid sweeteners are much sweeter than dry ones), and Plain Sugar (no real cons, other than, well, all the sugar).  So I settled on a plain sugar one.  I ended up using this recipe, but the sugar-only variation.  Why mess with a good thing, you know?

Well the process was not at all smooth sailing.  I learned that mixing sugar constantly when trying to make a simple syrup is a no go.  This resulted from that little oopsie:

It turns out that when you mix the sugar and water the whole time, air bubbles push the crystals apart and keep it from staying creamy.  *facepalm* Second time worked out just fine getting to the soft-ball stage (even without a candy thermometer).  Second problem: the gelatin smelled AWFUL.  Like wet dog.  And it only got worse when I mixed the sugar mixture in (really, really bad).  As it cooled, however, the smell abated.  So far, so good.  I should mention that at this point, everything was covered in sugar.  Like the whole kitchen. Very happy that no one was there to witness it!  Cleanup was ah, uhm, er, a.  Well.  Moving on.

In the end, they turned out great.  They may not have perfect fluffy marshmallow consistency, but they TASTE like marshmallows, and we'll be testing them out later to see if they melt and caramelize just right.  Stay tuned ;)


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