I think the Spring’s changeable nature was what initially led to me whipping up this heaping bowl of marshmallows. However, after being unsatisfied with the neotraditional form of marshmallows, I decided to whip up a batch based in egg whites. Marshmallows without corn syrup? Challenge excepted.
Well, Spring, I suppose it’s every fickle thing’s right to draw out a game of ‘hard to get.’ But, certainly, you’d like to come out from behind the clouds and play a bit? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a day swaddled in dryer-fresh blankets as much as the next chick, it just can get a bit toilsome, you know? A few days ago I witnessed skies as blue as artisanal chicken eggs – or maybe duck eggs. Not yet unblemished by clouds like the days of summer, but still hinting at picnic appropriate weather to come. Now? Swaths of cumulous so thick you might think the atmosphere was made of aged cotton. I think that this bout of capricious nature has bled into me as well. Is Mercury in retrograde, perhaps? Yes, it’s true, I too am visited by my own giddy spirits: poised to fling me from one corner of delight to some sort of depression. My mood is just as fickle as the clouds above. So, Spring, I get it. Sometimes a haze is the best place to make comfort.
Days like these make me take a running leap into melding seasons and meddling with flavors. I ask myself: ‘alright if today were a food, what would it be?’ Roasted tomato soup, chilled? Something supposedly warmed bent into cold flavor? Or perhaps marshmallows? You see, Marshmallows are hazy – ethereal lumps of edible cloud kind of hazy. They nearly always conjure up picturesque settings of Jack Frost kissed windowsills and wool throws. Those sorts of days where we’re swallowed by parkas and crave the comfort of the fire. When the breach of a foot into the chilly air is very nearly criminal! The kind of days where hands are empty if they’re not filled with teacups. But on the other hand, mallows are also daffodil-yellow chickens that we pop into our mouths with giddy glee. Accompaniments to Easter egg hunts and Passover brunches. The sort of thing that’s the first bird-song of Spring, sort of like ramps or more-scuddly-than-usual squirrels. They’re fickle and sticky and usually filled with things that they probably shouldn’t be stuffed with, concoctions of cloistered experimentation. The kind of Frankensteinian witches’ brew you might avoid in a 10-foot radius as you cling to your victual morals.
But undressed and undone, untangled by neo-processual angst, mallows become childhood fantasies. Wholesome and cheery and warm. No ethical existentialism required. Yes, mallows seemed like a good metaphor for a winter-dressed spring day.
You might think marshmallow making is bound to be fussy! After all, their origins are dredged in a multi-day process of sap being slung into sugar and whipped up into a fluffy mess. And those things packed in supermarket aisles seem about as approachable as a gelatinous slurry. But technology has advanced and now we can make marshmallows in an hour flat – without the need for chemical warfare. Then you put them to bed and, after a rest, they’re ready to be eaten by the fistful! This means that, at most, your hankering for weird-stuff-free, wholesome mallows is only a day away.
At first, I dabbled in marshmallows the neo-traditional way – with corn syrup. This particular sweetener acts as an invert syrup, ensuring that the delicate sugar doesn’t crystallize within your mallows. Marshmallows without corn syrup didn’t particularly seem to be the norm, so I thought I’d give the stuff a crack. However, I didn’t particularly care for the end result. It was chewy, a bit too chewy for my taste. I was looking for something ethereal and fragile. Like tossing cloud cover into your mouth.
Creating clouds in the kitchen.
In the pursuit of making my marshmallows as heavenly as possible, I skipped the corn syrup and dealt directly in egg whites. I don’t necessarily believe that corn syrup is the devil, but it is that shadowy figure in the corner who’s giving you the stink eye for reasons unknown. That is to say, I avoid it when I can. I figured that since it didn’t particularly impart my original recipe with the fluff I was looking for, I’d toss its inclusion. This means that I make my own invert syrup so that no crystallization of the sugar occurs. What’s left is a delicate puff of resistance that gently melts away in your mouth. I understand why most recipes call for the inclusion of the syrup, but I think that going without does just fine.
This recipe makes for a great last-minute gift for whatever celebration you might be attending this weekend. Or any other weekend.
Silver Rain & Brown Butter Marshmallows
- 1 ¼ cup of boiling water + ¼ cup of Silver Rain Tea
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1 tsp of salt
- 160g of aged egg whites – brought to room temperature (about 4 eggs)
- 4 T of unsalted butter
- 2 T of powdered gelatin
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- Hand or stand mixer
- 8×11 pan (preferably with straight sides – but not necessary)
- An array of spatulas, offset spatulas, and knife all greased with neutral oil
- Candy Thermometer
Prepare your Tin:
Line an 8×11 pan with parchment paper and coat it thoroughly with a neutral tasting oil. Many people prefer to go at it with a spray oil, but I find that I just make an absolute mess with those things. I usually end up having to mop up the floor if I do employ them. So, instead, I set aside a ramekin full of canola oil and paint everything slick with a pastry brush. At this point, it’s a good idea to pre-grease an offset spatula and some other spatulas to have for the unloading of the soon-to-be fluff. I like to plop the lot of them into a cup so I can keep the counters as tidy as possible. Combine the powdered sugar and cornstarch. It’s a good idea to sift it as well (to make it superfine) but it isn’t necessary. Put it into a bowl and set it aside.
Making the Tea and the Butter
Bring 1 ¼ water to boil and pour over your tea in a heat-proof bowl. Let steep for about 10-20 minutes depending on how strong you’d like the mallows to taste of tea. I usually go for 20 minutes. Once it is done steeping, strain with a mesh strainer and set aside.
Add the butter to a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring gently to ensure an even melt. When it is completely melted let it simmer. It will froth up enthusiastically. After 4-6 minutes or so it will start to turn golden and smell warm and nutty. At this point, you want to remove the butter from the heat and transfer it to a ramekin.
Prepare the Gelatin:
In a large stainless steel bowl (it can be of a stand mixer if you have one readily available) pour eggs egg whites. Dust the gelatin over the mixture and leave to soften (about 15 minutes).
Make the Invert Syrup (Because we aren’t using corn syrup, we need something else to impede the formation of sugar crystals so that the mallows will be smooth and toothsome):
In a large saucepan combine your sugar, 1 cup of your tea broth, your lemon juice, and your salt. You’re going to want to stir it frequently while it warms over medium-high heat. After the sugar is dissolved, you can take a more hands-off approach, but I recommend continuing to watch it like a hawk. It likes to bubble up and try and run over. If it gets too unruly I like to pop the bubble with the flat side of a wooden spatula. Continue to boil until 240 degrees, about 12 minutes.
Make the Mallows:
In the last few minutes of your syrup boiling, go at the gelatin mixture with a hand mixer. This will break up the gelatin and prepare the egg goop for your incoming syrup. Continue to beat the mixture at medium speed. When your syrup is 240 degrees, pour it gently down the side of your mixing bowl, careful not to splash yourself. When the syrup is fully incorporated dial your mixer up a few notches and keep on keeping on. It’ll take a good bit of time for the musty smelling concoction to whip up into fluff. So try not to fret about it too much and maybe have something entertaining handy.
You’re going to want to mix it until it starts getting pushy. It’ll fall away from the sides of your bowl and loop in thick ribbons if you take out your mixer. Go ahead and add the browned butter now and mix for a few more minutes. If the mixing is starting to feel tedious, and your hand mixer is dragging through the fluff you’re ½ way there.
You’ll need to work quickly when it’s come together. In a few minutes’ time, the fluff will become unruly and nearly completely unworkable. So grab a pre-greased spatula and dump the mallow mixture into your prepared tin. Smooth the top with either a pre-greased offset spatula or a wet spatula and dust the entire brick with powdered sugar/ cornstarch mixture. Set it aside for at least 4 hours and maybe overnight.
Congratulations! It’s a mallow! After you’ve been patient and let the sugar brick set dump it onto a counter powdered with the cornstarch/ powdered sugar mixture. Cut it into whatever shape you like! I usually cut down the middle (with a greased knife), then cut that middle down the middle, and half it again. Then I’ll take the strips and cut those in half, and that half into thirds. That’s all a bit confusing – I know. So just follow your heart and chop away! Just remember to powder your finished fluff in more cornstarch/ powdered sugar mixture!
Scientific American has a fantastic breakdown of what the bits and bobs of a marshmallow recipe do.
Michael Pollan on why corn syrup isn’t necessarily worse than sugar.
David Lebovitz on why he still (sometimes) uses corn syrup.
I like my mallows without any extra – but Local Milk makes a case for adding some mean caramel.
Want to know all there is to know about marshmallows? Wikipedia’s got you covered.1