Behind the recipe scene for homemade marshmallows
Innocent first time recipe followers may not know that reading between the lines of the recipes is often crucial. For example, recipes for homemade marshmallows are easy enough to come by these days with myriad recipe books and even the Internet. And the recipe doesn’t seem that complicated, especially when viewed being created on TV.
The things you may not have on hand are the corn syrup and four envelopes of unflavored gelatin, but that’s easily remedied. And you do have to have a candy thermometer, a double boiler and a mixer. Sure, you can just buy a bag of ready-made marshmallows, but how much better would it be to serve homemade marshmallows with hot chocolate? What the recipes don’t tell you is about the other things you will need if you don’t do everything right. I rolled up my sleeves and plunged in. Well, I take that back. I should have rolled up my sleeves. I can now tell you that to your list of things needed, add a wide metal scraper like what you might find in a man’s toolbox, a flat-ended screw driver, a mallet, an abrasive sponge, oven cleaner, a razor blade, a real good cleanser and some rubber gloves. Stainless steel cookware and two or three plastic garbage bags will also come in handy, as well as everything necessary to do a load of wash and lots of time and elbow grease. Add a pad of paper, a good book or some other project you enjoy doing that can take up quite a bit of time. When served, have lots of wet naps on hand. When you get all the ingredients into the pan, turn it on high heat as per instructions. It also says the candy thermometer should reach 230 to 240 degrees before the concoction is ready to be poured into the mixer.
Here’s what they don’t mention in the recipe: For it to reach that temperature takes forever, in my recent adventure. So I decided to go do something else in another room, vowing to be vigilant, but deducting this will give it some time and not waste mine. When I got back to check the water, everything was fine: nothing had changed, so I left again to continue my other project. Soon I smelled something burning, so I raced back into the kitchen to find the ingredients boiling over and running down the pan, under the burner and front of the stove. I sprung to action, gently blowing out the flame that was burning the charred runoff down the pan side then removed it, the burner and the whole top of the stove for access under the burner. The mixture had hardened onto the now blackened pan and everything it had touched on its way under the burner. Now it was time for my metal scraper to be scooted along the wide, flat surface under the burner where gobs of sticky mixture could be removed. I wiped the blade off by applying it to the inside side of the garbage bag, which I now had brought as close to the stove as possible. It was a gooey mess—biggest one I had ever made by far, and it made long strings like the cheese on pizza. Now I had it on my clothes, the floor and a scatter rug or two as well as everything else in its path. And the garbage bag was such a mess inside and out, I needed to put that bag inside another fresh one, take it outside immediately and start with another fresh one for my household garbage. Next, I had to clean everything else that got messed up. I was able to get some of the harder deposits by placing the screwdriver to their edge and hitting the end of the screwdriver handle with a mallet.
There was also the matter of the blackened pans, which I decided might succumb to oven cleaner, and finally even a razor blade for the extra stubborn spots. Why did I recommend stainless steel pots? Because that’s the only hope you have of ever getting them near clean and restored. I considered it a triumphant moment when I actually got enough off to see the words ‘stainless steel’ imprinted on the bottom of the pan. Of course I still had the gas jets I had to remove from the stove to clean, which are also best dealt with by the use of oven cleaner, though I had to accept that I may not ever get them completely clean. When I was satisfied that I had gotten them as clean as possible, I replaced them over the gas jets of the stove. I did have to restart the pilot light on that side of my gas stove. However, though I found that even with the pilot light now in tact, those two right-sided burners refused to start since. But that’s okay. I still had the two on the other side.
Against my better judgment and as hard as it is to believe, I was determined to try again. I still had plenty of corn syrup and sugar, so why not? By golly, my guests were going to have homemade marshmallows. Of course I had to make another trip to the store for more gelatin, since I already used my four envelopes. I decided on getting the king-size box of 32 this time. So far, I’d spent at least three hours on this project; most of it in the cleaning. Now back home, I started the water boiling again in the bottom pan of the double-boiler, then added the cool water to the top pan as directed, followed by the gelatin. Whoops. The gelatin immediately congealed into big lumps. No problem. I would use the blender to make it smooth. It didn’t work. I took it out of the blender and found that the lumps were all clinging beneath the blades of the blender jar.
Now the blender was another big cleaning project. I planned to deal with that later, but for the moment, back to the business of making marshmallows. After all, I had acquired all those envelopes from the super duper box of gelatin supply I bought. This time, I realized that there is a reason the recipe mentions to use cool water. Once I added all the ingredients to the second batch, I brought my writing pad as my decided-upon project while I could vigilantly sit by the stove and patrol my concoction closely. I jumped up frequently to check, add more water to the bottom pan and stir. I sat there well over an hour and kept checking the candy thermometer, but it never reached the right temperature for the ‘soft ball’ stage. I thought maybe there was something wrong with my brand new candy thermometer. I mean it seems that something can only reach a certain maximum temperature after an hour and a half, after which it can’t possibly get any hotter. So I just took it off the burner anyway and performed the next step, which was to pour it into the mixer, (not blender) and which I was to turn on high speed. I soon discovered that it’s best to cover the mixer with a towel, lest I redecorate my kitchen walls and ceiling; (another fine mess.) Finally it blended into a white, fluffy mass, just like the recipe says.
Satisfied, I poured it into the pan to chill and set for 6-8 hours before cutting into the cubes Martha Stewart suggests. Of course the project I’d started at 7:00 A.M. should have turned out just in time for my 7:00 P.M. company. Of course if I’m determined to serve the marshmallows fresh the same day, I’ll have to call everyone and tell them not to show up until about 2:00 a.m. the next morning. With the concoction now sitting in the refrigerator, I now can finish the clean up. I still had the blender to deal with, the towels I messed up, my clothes and whatever else I got on the floor and counters. One glimpse in the mirror, which I hadn’t done all day but should have done much sooner, revealed I needed to get some of the now hardened mixture out of my hair too. I had checked on the cost of a service call for the burners that still failed to function since the first attempt was aborted: $79.00. Then there’s the deluxe box of gelatin and all those cleaning supplies, to say nothing of the all-day project time-wise, so I calculate about $100.00 per batch if I decide I still need the service call for the stove. This isn’t counting the $14.00 candy thermometer. But I must say that the pan of mixture appeared well-set the next morning when I turned the whole batch over onto a powdered sugar surface as directed and cubed it with a greased knife. Ha! I thought. I hadn’t needed to worry about waiting for the mixture to reach that temperature after all. But about two minutes after the cubes sat in the container in which I had placed them, they all sort of sagged and started to blend back together into one giant blob. I took the plate of the most in tact cubes to my workplace with some hot chocolate mix. I should also have taken a spoon for my co-workers to get their portion off the plate, bearing what now sat there like a giant white Frisbee and I don’t know when it lost its fluff.
Later, a fellow office worker just leaving the break room said it best when I announced that there were some homemade marshmallows in there on the table. He said, “Oh, is that what that is back there?” It looked so easy when Martha Stewart did it. I suggested they spoon a big dollop from the plate into their hot chocolate, just as I had also served them to my home guests and that worked well enough, though that wasn’t what I envisioned in my original intent. (This is where the wet naps come in.)
Manufactured marshmallows: About $1.00 per bag. Serving homemade marshmallows to friends: priceless.