It's a Marshmallow World in the Winter...

Vanilla Marshmallows with festive swirl
When I was traveling in Europe in 1996, I purchased a book called "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson published the year before.  It was an excellent book as it turned out, winner of the PEN/Faulkner award, but I didn't buy it because I was certain the writing would be any good, but because I know what snow falling on cedars looks like and the name reminded me of home.  (The book is set in the Puget Sound, near Seattle).

Growing up in Washington State, my favorite tree was (and still is) the majestic cedar tree.  On the rare winter days when snow fell in the Seattle area and the weather was cold enough to make it stick around for a while, the snow-covered cedars and fir created a winter wonderland.  The snow made everything brighter, cleaner - the sounds muffled, the lights glowing slightly fuzzy and dim, through the falling snow - making the world a cozy, magical, slightly mysterious place, especially to a kid.

There's another part of winter that played a large role during my childhood.  On cold days, with or without the snow, we'd warm ourselves up with a cup of hot chocolate after hours spent outside.  Usually it was Nestle's Quik:  a big yellow foil-lined, cardboard package with a large-toothed, big-cheeked, rabbit on the front and a plastic lid, if I remember correctly - mixed with hot boiling water, a little cold milk to cool it to a drinkable temperature, and, if we were lucky, topped with a few marshmallows that would bob up and down until they melted into the chocolate liquid or were spooned up by us to be eaten right away.

And now here I am, many years later, sitting in my apartment in Helsinki with snow falling softly outside my window and covering the birch and pine trees with a light, bright coat.  I'm reminded of the old Dean Martin Christmas song:  "It's a marshmallow world in the winter, when the snow comes to cover the ground..."  It calls for a cup of hot chocolate and something really easy and really special:  Homemade Marshmallows.

You've probably seen these on sale during Christmas time at Williams & Sonoma, but trust me, once you realize how cheap and easy they are to make, you won't be shelling out for the expensive handmade ones at specialty food shops, and you won't be happy settling for the ones that come in plastic bags at the grocery store and are shaped like and look like the plastic covered hay bales seen off in the fields on the side of I-90 or any other freeway either.

Homemade Marshmallows
Whip up a batch and bring them to or serve them at your next party.  People, even the ones who proclaim to hate marshmallows, will love them.  You can use them in baking (Rice Crispies or Rocky Road Bars, anyone?), plain out of your hand, or topping a lovely, steaming mug of simply perfect hot chocolate. 

Homemade Marshmallows
adapted from recipe by Greg Atkinson, Seattle Times Pacific Northwest Magazine, 2005

1.  In the bowl of an upright mixter, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let the mixture stand while you make the syrup:
2 packets / 2 tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatine
1/2 cup / 1 dl cold water

2.  In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot, combine:
1 1/2 cups / 3 dl sugar
1/2 cup / 1 dl hot water
1/2 cup / 1 dl corn syrup or golden syrup

Stir the mixture over high heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is boiling.  When the syrup registers 240°F / 115°C on a candy thermometer, or as soon as a spoonful dropped into a cup of cold waters forms a soft ball, it's ready.

3.  With the whisk attachment, start the mixture on a low setting and blend the gelatin and the cold water mixture as you pour the hot syrup in a thin stream into the mixing bowl.  The hot syrup will dissolve the gelatin.  Once all the syrup is poured in, turn the mixture onto high and continue to beat the mixture until it is whipped into a puffy white meringue-like froth that holds stiff peaks, about 15 minutes.  

Note:  make sure you whip it long enough.  The peaks should stand straight up, not flop at all.  If you don't beat it long enough, you will be disappointed in the texture of your marshmallows.

4.  While the mixture is beating, prepare a 9" square pan.  Oil it lightly, then cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit the bottom.  Sift powdered sugar over the bottom of the pan to cover it completely.  Be generous with the amount of powdered sugar you use here as it'll make it possible to remove the marshmallow from the pan later.  

5. After 15 minutes, check your meringue.  If stiff peaks have formed, add:
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

And beat one more minute to combine.  (If your marshmallow mixture doesn't form stiff peaks yet, beat for another 5 minutes or so and check again, then add the vanilla).

6.  Here comes the messy part.  Have a bowl of cold water ready and a rubber spatula ready.  Remove the bowl and wire whisk from the mixer.  Dip the rubber spatula into the cold water, and use it to scrape as much marshmallow as possible from the wire whisk.  Set aside.  Dip the spatula into water again, and scrape as much marshmallow fluff as possible from the bowl into the prepared pan.  Don't worry about smoothing it out at this point - just transfer it.  Once you've transferred as much of the marshmallow as possible, set the bowl aside.  Dip your fingers into the cold water and rub your hands together so your palms and fingers are completely damp (not too wet!).  Using your hands, smooth the marshmallow fluff down in to the pan.  If your fingers start to stick to the marshmallow fluff, dip them in water again.  (Once the mixture is smoothed out in the pan, you can now add food coloring if you wish:  drip 12 or so drops of food coloring over the marshmallow mixture and swirl with a toothpick or fork tines.   I think they look good without food coloring as well). When it is too your liking, sift powdered sugar over the top in a heavy layer and leave to rest at room temperature for at least 6 hours or overnight.   

7.  After the waiting period, get
a small bowl of powdered sugar 

ready, and a clean pair of scissors.  Lift the Marshmallow mixture onto a cutting board or clean counter top, and using the scissors, snip the marshmallow into squares. (I cut them 6x6 for 36 total) Roll the cut ends in powdered sugar.  Once all the marshmallows are cut, store them in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.  

Tip:  All the sticky marshmallow mess on the bowls and utensils will come off easily in hot water.  Fill the bowl to the top with hot water, put all the utensils in it, and let it sit for 10 minutes.  Washing up will be easy. 

Makes about 36 marshmallows.

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