Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Everyone knows what a marshmallow is, right? Those ubiquitous round pillows of sweetness that come out of a plastic package from the grocery store. Jet Puffed or Stay Puft or whatever they are called in your neighborhood. We use them in hot cocoa, to make s'mores, toasted, in rice krispie treats, and so on.
Well, marshmallows didn't start out as little round drum-shaped pillows. Way back in ancient Egypt, over 2,000 years ago slaves were making the Pharaohs candy out of the marsh mallow plant (which is only one variety of many mallow plants). These candies were very different from what we know today as the marshmallow. The ancient Egyptians mixed the mallow sap with honey and grains and then baked it into cakes. Soon, these delightful treats made their way to Europe and around the world. The Romans and Greeks loved the mallow plant, too. They believed that tea brewed from the marsh mallow plant would soothe sore throats. They also believed it would eliminate mucus. Interesting, huh?
Europeans also loved this sweet treat. There is even an Italian cookbook written in the 15th Century which devotes an entire section on how to season mallows. Why not?
In Medieval times, marshmallows liquids were given to cure all kinds of illnesses like toothaches, coughs, sore throats, chapped skin, indigestion, and diarrhea. It was used by herbalists of the time for everything from love potions to scorpion sting protection. Even Monks, living in the south of France, grew the mallow plants, along with licorice roots, in monastery gardens during the same time period.
The French, who love their sweets, were the first to think of making a candy strictly for adults from the mallow root. This was around the middle of the 1800's. Before the French thought of using the sap to satisfy our confectionery passions, this delightful root sap was used mainly for medicinal purposes.
The French shop owners started making their marshmallows by hand. They discovered cooking and whipping marshmallow sap with egg whites and corn syrup created a substance that molded easily. It figures that the French would come up with something like this. Viva la France!
Thus, the marshmallow was born. Since they tasted so good, everyone wanted some. This handmade delight took a long time to make because they were being molded one at a time. It wasn't long before someone figured out a better way to make marshmallows.
Early in the 1900's, marshmallows were finally being made quickly enough that they were able to be sold as penny candy in tiny little tins. It was because of the "starch mogul system" that marshmallows were being made so quickly. In the starch mogul system, a machine automatically fills trays with starch about 2 in (5.08 cm) thick, which is then evened off and slightly compressed. Then a printing board, made of plaster, wood, or metal trays shaped to mold the marshmallow of the final product is pressed into the starch and withdrawn. Then the space created is filled with hot creme. The first moguls were wood, but all were steel by 1911. Gelatin and other whipping agents replaced the mallow root in the ingredient list.
In the 1950's, marshmallows came in a little box. The box had a wax paper layer and the marshmallows were sort of sugar coated. These marshmallows were used mainly to make s'mores.
Today you can find marshmallows everywhere and in almost everything. Marshmallows can be found in our cereals, hot chocolate, Jell-O, candy bars, and puddings. You will find them in recipes for hot foods like carrots, hams, and yams. Some wines are even made with marshmallows!
There is even furniture based on the marshmallow. Have you ever seen a marshmallow couch or chair?
In the United States, we use the marshmallow at our most important holidays. At Halloween we give out candy bars with marshmallow centers. At Easter, the famous Peeps come to visit. During Christmas we sip hot chocolate with little marshmallows floating on top. Preschool and kindergarten teachers use marshmallows to make crafts at school.
Marshmallows even found their way into our movies as monsters. Do you remember "Ghost Busters" from way back in 1984? The Stay-Puft Marshmallow man was a big evil monster bent on destroying New York City! The list of marshmallow goodies is endless. Can you think of any more?
Thanks to http://www.twisted-candy.com/marshmallows.html for all of this great historical information about marshmallows.
Now, what you have been waiting for......
I used Martha Stewart's Homemade Marshmallow recipe but there are hundreds or maybe thousands of recipes including all different varieties such as chocolate, strawberry, and raspberry. You can find recipes without corn syrup, without sugar, vegetarian varieties, and so many more. But if you are not diabetic or allergic to any of these ingredients, go ahead and try this one. It is very similar to the ones by Alton Brown, Emeril and other famous chefs. This is the one recipe that I can say came out great. I did not think it would taste like the marshmallows from the grocery store but I had people tell me that they did. You will have to make your own decision about that. Don't be afraid to try making these! If you are nervous about putting hot liquids in your mixer, just drape some plastic wrap over the top of the mixer. I will also strongly suggest that you don't try cleaning the whisk attachment of your mixer until you are completely done with this process! I hear that you will wind up with marshmallow "strings" and a big mess. Follow the instructions carefully (i.e., don't let the sugar mixture get too hot).
by Martha Stewart
Makes 24 (depending on how you cut them)
• Vegetable oil, for brushing
• 4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons)
• 3 cups granulated sugar
• 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1. Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with oil. Line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhang on the long sides. Brush parchment with oil; set aside.
2. Put granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook, without stirring, until mixture registers 238 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, put 3/4 cup cold water into the bowl of an electric mixer; sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes.
4. Attach bowl with gelatin to mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With mixer on low speed, beat hot syrup into gelatin mixture. Gradually raise speed to high; beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Pour into prepared dish, and smooth with an offset spatula. Set aside, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours.
5. Sift 1 cup confectioners' sugar onto a work surface. Unmold marshmallow onto confectioners' sugar; remove parchment. Lightly brush a sharp knife with oil, then cut marshmallow into 2-inch squares. Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar into a small bowl, and roll each marshmallow in the sugar to coat. Marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days.
The Creative Cook