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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving, Day 19 - Homemade Marshmallows

Complete with Myspace Angle and all
Happy Saturday, Kansas City! I have to bang this out quickly, since I work at 9am today. 

There's frost on my window this morning, and it reminded me of the (very seldom) cold mornings in Tucson. I know that I keep going on and on about Tucson, reminding you all that I'm "not one of your own", but I would like to continue believing that the Midwesterners are known for hospitality, and really are some of the nicest, friendliest people in America. Certain displays and behaviors I've witnessed here have made me believe that this bipolar weather has made a whole of Kansas City to be unfriendly and miserable and God-awful, but(fortunately) the friends I have made here have proven otherwise. So, in reality, it's just like everywhere else! Some people are miserable and some people are friendly. The friends I have made here are warm and welcoming and hospitable, more than happy to usher in the new, which brings me to my point.

What fights winter/fall weather like hot chocolate? Not a lot.

Thanksgivings at home would usually begin with cooking breakfast together, stuffing our faces, then going over to Grandma's house to help cook and set up. My dad and I would make pancakes, sometimes in the shape of saguaro cacti, and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade together. He wouldn't want to watch it(his thing was football), but he would turn it on for me. Pancakes are a big part of families being together, I think, but the family that you make(your friends) is just as important. If you're hosting an Orphan's Thanksgiving, like me, be hospitable. Make hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows as a breakfast offering for those coming over to help you cook.

With breakfast, Dad would have coffee and I would have hot chocolate. Nothing would sooth a cold morning away quite like hot chocolate would, and it brings back fond memories, indeed. We preferred the Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix with the mini marshmallows, but Dad knew how much I loved marshmallows so he would always have the Jet Puffs at the ready.

This was my dessert, all finished! Not bad for a 1st year
culinary/savory student!
Fast forward to Culinary School and my Baking & Pastry Midterm is coming up. We worked in groups, and each group would reproduce a dessert from our textbook as best we could, following technique and skill, but form and presentation were entirely up to us. The dessert was a brownie, and it had to include mandarin sorbet, ganache, marshmallow, and a chocolate decoration in some form. My love affair with marshmallows had only increased in intensity during my college years, especially since I was so broke that I practically lived off of them. Kansas City was expensive for me at the time, but housing was exponentially cheaper here than it was when I lived in Los Angeles, so that was helpful. The thought that I could make them at home, on my own, without having to buy them was almost too exciting to bear.

The point of this whole introductory spiel into marshmallows is to let you know that if they mean this much to me, they might mean this much to  somebody else, and making some at home for your kids, your family, your friends might be that extra thing that sticks with them. The Jet Puffs stuck with me for years, without my Dad ever knowing how important they were to me. Maybe someone who is coming to your Thanksgiving dinner in a few weeks will be touched by this? You could have them for breakfast, or save them for your after dinner/after pie coffee. It's all about making memories and sharing things together, right? The best marshmallow recipe I've come across is from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. I've adapted the method just ever-so-slightly to work for home cooks. Enjoy!

Vanilla Marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup each powdered sugar & cornstarch
  • 2 tsp powdered gelatin
  • 4 lg egg whites
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp light corn syrup
Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment paper and/or plastic wrap. Sift half of the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture generously in the pan and set the rest aside for later. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup of cool water and about 1/2 tsp vanilla extract to allow to “bloom”. Blooming takes three or four minutes, and once it’s bloomed, blast it in the microwave for 15 seconds. Set aside.

Place your egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add another 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, if you really like the flavor. Add in a pinch of salt at this point, too. Combine 1 cup of the sugar, the corn syrup, and water into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring only once to dissolve the sugar, then continue to simmer for another 5 minutes, until your syrup reaches about 250 degrees F.

When this temperature is reached, turn on your mixer to medium speed. You’d like to have your whites at medium peaks when the syrup reaches somewhere between the 281 – 284 degrees F. When the egg whites start getting foamy, add in the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Once everything is at the right stage and your sugar is at the right temperature, slowly-slowly-slowly(and carefully, please) pour in the hot sugar mixture in a thin stream to your egg whites, pouring between the side of the bowl and the moving whisk.

Once everything’s in, pour in the gelatin mixture and increase the speed to medium-high, and continue to mix for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick, glossy,  and warm, but not quite hot.

Spray a spatula with nonstick spray if you have it, or simply butter the sides of it with super-soft butter. Pour out and spread the marshmallow evenly as you can into your prepared pan. Take a piece of parchment paper or wax paper and spray it with pan spray or butter generously. Lay it gently on top of your marshmallow mixture and press to create a uniformly smooth top. I usually like to let mine set for at least an hour before trying to handle, but you can let yours hang out over night at room temperature. You don’t have to worry too much, because the sugar has cooked your eggs, and this is basically a candy now.

In the morning(or in an hour), flip out your marshmallow onto a parchment-lined cutting board. Sprinkle the top of your peeled marshmallow with more cornstarch-powdered sugar if you need to. Fresh marshmallows can be difficult to deal with, so spray your knife with nonstick spray as you cut cubes. You can alternatively put the marshmallow mixture in a piping bag and pipe out little drop shapes and leave to set over night. This is all about the look and which looks you ultimately prefer. I personally prefer rectangles and squares, because they really give a distinct look, and when you plop them into piping hot chocolate, they seem to melt more evenly.
I snagged this picture from UseRealButter.com, another food blogger I love!

 If you make ambrosia or sweet potato pie for your Thanksgiving feast, you can make them ahead of time and use them in your recipe as your topping. If you have brownies, too, you can plop them squarely on top of them to serve them as a dessert. These can keep for quite a while in the fridge, but they probably won’t last too long.

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