Readers of this blog have no doubt gathered that I’m not big on baking, nor have I prepared many of the recipes that run in the newspaper’s weekly food section.
Baking, to be blunt, is too much of a bother for someone with my general apathy for sweets. And recipes rarely warrant the fuss on a daily basis. Simply put, I cook from experience, not a set of written instructions.
But this weekend, I made a concession to both recipes and sweets by tackling the Homemade Marshmallows that ran in the most recent edition of A la Carte. Gourmet marshmallows (read, not from a package) are a confection I happen to love, particularly if they’re flavored in interesting ways.
I have been the recipient of some McCormick extracts over the past year (one of the perks of being a food editor) and wanted to employ those to best effect in my kitchen. I ended up using orange and vanilla extracts in my first batch and coffee extract in my second, cocoa-dusted batch.
Marshmallows aren’t much to look at. Their beauty is all in their texture, which is heavenly when homemade and rubbery when extruded in a factory and packaged. Before setting up, homemade marshmallow has the texture of commercially made marshmallow fluff that comes in a jar and can be spooned, smeared or licked to your heart’s desire.
I’m more enamored of marshmallows than before because they really are easy. The stove and the mixer do all the work, there’s minimal measuring and manipulating of ingredients and the end result seems pretty impressive. Yes, the marshmallow is sticky right out of the mixing bowl, but the messiest part of the whole operation is dusting them with cornstarch and powdered sugar. But since when is simply opening a package of powdered sugar not messy?
However, pans and bowls used to make marshmallow clean up almost effortlessly under hot, running water, quicker than cooks could scrub off cake batter or cookie dough. And you don’t even have to turn on your oven or monitor the marshmallow once it’s spread out. Just let it sit overnight, dump it out of the pan the next day and use a pizza cutter to divide the mass into bite-sized squares.
Because I was overly ambitious and wanted to make football-shaped marshmallows for Super Bowl, I compromised my marshmallows a bit by trying to shape them without the right tools. Foolishly believing I simply could use a sharp knife to cut football shapes free-hand, I ended up using kitchen shears to snip away at them. Marshmallows really should be shaped with a well-greased cookie-cutter, or they end up looking ragged.
And, of course, I was reminded that drizzling designs with melted chocolate is harder than it sounds. If I was planning to decorate marshmallows in the future, I would use melted chocolate to affix sprinkles or other candies.
My next opportunity will be for a Valentine’s Day batch of raspberry-flavored, pink-tinted marshmallows adorned with some cinnamon candies. I also was planning to use peppermint extract (one of my personal favorites) in a green-tinted marshmallow for St. Patrick’s Day, possibly accented with some green sprinkles left over from baking Christmas cookies.
Provided they materialize, I’ll add those to the Facebook album.