Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Emotional Rollercoster of Candy Making

For years, I have coveted the "homemade" marshmallows peddled each Christmas in the Williams-Sonoma catalog. But 12 dollars for 15 marshmallows? I'm sure they'd be the best marshmallows ever, but I'm too cheap to buy them. So I've been wanting for years to make my own, just to see what the difference between homemade and Mr. Staypuff is.

I finally broke down this week and made some.

To your left, you see three packets of plain, unflavored gelatine "blooming" in my stand mixer bowl. I have no idea what that means, as a quick Google search tells me gelatin bloom is a way of measuring strength. I am not measuring anything here, just soaking it in cold water. In this recipe, the gelatin will provide the structure and stability my marshmallows will need to hold their shape and not be a sticky, sugary mess.

That was the idea anyways.

In a heavy sauce pan, I started heating a mixture of sugar, water, salt and honey. Why honey? Because I forgot to buy corn syrup. It does change the flavor of the mix, I'm not sure if it changed how it behaved. I'm still doing my reading on this one.

This was heated on low heat, until the sugar was dissolved. Basically, you are using the heat to create a super saturated sugar soltion. We all remember that from high school chemistry, right?

This was by FAR the most annoying, and time consuming part of the recipe. My Joy of Cooking lead me to believe it would take about 20 minutes to take this from you see here, to boiling. No dice. It took a little over an hour. And of course, it boils when I'm not looking, so it boiled over and made a sticky, sugar mess on my stove. At this point, I began to swear off marshmallows in all theur forms and curse them as the devil's confection.

Eventually, I got it to boil, and then to something approximating the "firm ball stage". If you have not made candy before, then you have no idea what that is. I'm still not exactly sure what it is. However, I do know that sugar molecules rearrange themselves in strange, and wonderful ways as you heat them. Sugar will have different properties, depending on what temperture it has been heated to. At 244 degrees, a sugar syrup like mine, should form a firm ball when dropped in cold water, that flattens when you press it. This isn't the most precise method of determing tempurature, but it seems to work okay. If I get seriously into candy making (which I just might), I'll invest in a candy thermometer to get accurate readings.

This is, by the way, the point at which I swore to never make another marshmallow again. I wasn't sure if I had judged my temperature correctly, but I was terrified of over cooking due to understated warnings of "toughness" in my cookbook if I allowed my sugar to over heat. Candy making is not for the faint of heart.

The sugar mix then gets dumped into my stand mixer and beat for 15 minutes. Yes, fifteen minutes. It gave me time to scrape the burned sugar off my stove, I guess. At this point, you are incoroparating air into your mix. Marshmallows are mostly air. I've seen some recipes that omit the gelatin and use egg whites to hold the trapped air bubbles in place. But I have as much luck with getting egg whites to stand up, as I do with not letting the stove boil over, so I steered clear of those.

One of the best tips, I ever learned from Alton Brown's shows, was to always consider your food's "final destination" when cooking, and get it ready before you need it. It saves you the "ZOMG! Where do I put this? What do I do?" freak out dance that I'm sure my family can tell you about from my days cooking at home. So after I cleaned my stove, but before I was done whipping air into my marshmallows, I got this ready. I took out my largest Corningware, lightly greased it with butter, then dusted the whole thing with powdered sugar. This will keep your marshmallow from sticking--a critical component.
See how white and fluffy it is now? At this point I allowed myself to feel a tiny spark of hope. Hope that I haven't made a giant sticky mess of my kitchen for nothing. Hope that I can make a decent marshmallow at home.

And now you see it in it's finished state. It's traquility belies how messy it was trying to get this out of the bowl. This stuff is STICKY. It stick to the paddle, my hands, the bowl, the spoon, everything. The only thing it didn't stick to? The dish I'm trying to put it in. Stupid powdered sugar.

At this point, I made the mistake of licking the paddle before I put it in the sink. Oh. My. God. I honestly don't like marshmallows that much. They tend to taste very chemically to me. But this tastes fantastic. There's definitely a different flavor from the honey. It's sweet, without being over powering.

My marshmallows will need to "dry" for at least 12 hours before I cut them into cubes, roll them in more powdered sugar, then transfer them to a air tight container for storage. I plan to bring some of these to my parents' house for Christmas Eve. I know my brother, who's first complete sentance was "More mini-marshmallows, Mom!" will want to try them. I also have some vague thoughts about dipping a few in melted chocolate, then topping them with crushed candy canes to make a holiday candy. But honestly, that may be gilding the lily.

Will I make these again? Maybe. It was a huge pain in the neck. It took far longer than I thought it would, and made a big mess. The fluff alone is pretty darn tasty though. I may try again once I have a candy thermometer to help me through the scary parts.


Kristen said...

hey Jennifer! I followed your link from Chowhound. I made honey marshmallows last night. yum! I coated mine in a mixture of 2 part confectioners sugar, 1 part corn starch and a teaspoon of cinnamon. The cinnamon adds a nice spicy bite to offset some of the sweetness of the honey. they are sooo good. Hope yours set up well!

Jennifer Liang said...

Thanks Kristen! I may try that cinnamon on mine. It sounds really good.

Jafael said...

You are a cook after my own heart! It really makes me so happy to know there is someone else out there who is into making things on their own. Now I'm just going to HAVE to try this one, too! Joy of Cooking you said? Love that book. Since I actually own a candy thermometer, I'm a leg up!