What is summer without marshmallows? Eaten on their own, roasted over a fire or cooked into S'mores, they say summer to me in so many ways. I also have fond memories of eating Rice Krispie squares in the winter months as well. It was probably the first thing I ever made on my own growing up. A small thing for sure, but every budding chef needs to start somewhere.
© Nick Moase Photo
Making marshmallows is not that difficult, but are the results really worth it?
However I had always wondered what a marshmallow was exactly. Was it made out of the marshmallow plant? No, though it was used for the flavouring similar to vanilla. A water, like rose water, was made out of the petals from the plant in Middle Eastern cultures and added to a meringue. Though it is where we get the name and the confectionary was pretty similar, the plant was no longer used.
I had heard all sorts of strange things about where marshmallows came from as well. My favourite was it was a byproduct of oil refining, scraped from the inside of smoke stacks. Very weird, but also very untrue.
The truth is much simpler than that: sugar and lots of it. As recipes go, it isn't that complex. Making marshmallows is pretty similar to making boiled icing, expect with a lot more gelatin added to the mix. Essentially you boil a sugar mixture of granulated sugar and corn syrup and whip it up with gelatin to form a foamy mixture.
This stage is a little strange, because it smells like a steak cooking. This is just from the gelatin when the hot syrup hits it. Regular gelatin comes from animals in the form of collagen and has no flavour. The smell was a little off putting though.
Next you whip up some egg whites into a meringue, and fold the two together. Pour into a corn starch dusted dish and chill. That's all there is to it really.
The big question though is, are they any good? Well, no.
The first strike against them is they make terrible Rice Krispie squares. Instead of nice, crisp squares they become like soggy cereal suspended in sweet gelatin.
My guess is this happens because of the water content. To boil the sugar you have to add water, of which some will remain. The corn syrup also adds liquid. So what happens I think is something akin leaving cereal in milk. It got soggy before the marshmallows could firm up again. They were terrible, so I fed them to my green bin.
The second strike is they tend to spread out too much when heated. A store bought marshmallow will swell in the microwave, but won't really lose its shape. Home made ones just melt. So much for home made S'mores
The third strike is a bit odd, but I found they were just too sweet. You normally think of the store bought items as being sweeter than home made, but that just wasn't true in this case.
I didn't try it over a fire, but at a guess I would say they would just melt instead of nicely toasting.
Perhaps the only thing going for them is I can pronounce the entire ingredient list, and know what each of them is. Store bought ones have all sorts of things to keep them shelf stable. And, it seems, to make sure they have the perfect consistency.
Maybe if I played with the recipe a bit I could figure out how to make them work better, but that wasn't really the point. I've always wondered how marshmallows were made, and now I have a pretty good idea. By knowing that process, I can appreciate my food a little more, even if it is just a humble marshmallow.