Sunday, April 5, 2009

making a memory


sometimes, i consider myself a food person,
someone who knows about trendy ingredients,
the latest gadgets
and the must-visit restaurants.
somebody who likes a lot of different
foods, but is not overly impressed
by everything she eats,
because, she, unfortunately, is a bit particular.

and other times,
i feel like i'm the newest girl on
the culinary block
(proof: i started this blog
about 5 years too late),
shocked by a new kitchen technique,
or truth be told,
an old classic.
scared to try,
yet so intrigued, i can think of little else.
that's how i felt the first time
i learned i could make
marshmallows.

we were in school.
it was the fourth module:
pastry.
i had been looking forward
to this section from the
beginning, knowing, there
wouldn't be any lamb
and that it was where i would
really thrive
(i forgot that pastry requires
a lot of precision for piping, frosting,
dolloping, slicing).
one very, very hard and, i think,
angry, instructor later, i was counting
down the days for the module to
end. i know. it's a familiar story.

but then, during the candy weekend, we
were taught to make
marshmallows -
which we learned were
quite prized in europe and often
brought to restaurant tables in long strips,
before they were
cut into individual squares
for diners,
using fancy marshmallow scissors.

i was instantly smitten by
the idea,
the process,
the whole thing.
before we even made the first
batch, i felt a connection
to marshmallows that i've
never before felt.
sure, i like a good
s'more. so much so
in fact, that we served
them at our wedding.

i did love that when you
add heat -
from an open flame,
a microwave
or an oven,
they change from
a solid, decent-tasting
sweet into a drippy,
sticky, caramelized
mass that seems
determined to make
you smile or swoon.

and i loved that they
usually are associated with
stories, like how in
camp as a child,
we counted
down to the
one day each summer
in which nature class
was not a seemingly boring
exploration of caged bugs
and birds,
but a time that we would
collect sticks, build a small
fire and in the middle of the
day, char a stickfull.
or how my youngest sister
went through a very long
s'more phase and because
it spanned over winter
months, settled for placing
marshmallows on top of
graham crackers and chocolate
chips and microwaving them
for 25 seconds. every time, she
waited until the very last
second before yanking open
the microwave door and watching
the now huge and 
about-to-burst marshmallow
collapse atop the grahams.

all that, but i never really
thought about or cared about
the marshmallow itself.
that day in class,
my partner and i were assigned
rose water marshmallows,
which was the one i was secretly
crosing my fingers not to
have to make, but we got it
and we made it
and i still loved everything
about boiling the mixture,
beating it into fluff
and once smoothed,
letting it sit and cure
before cutting.
(and even after, when a jerk
in my class of adults
dumped a whole
bowl of tempered chocolate
onto them, just because,
it didn't damper my enthusiasm.)

i realized how amazing
marshmallows can be when
they're freshly prepared, using
excellent ingredients. i realized
that they're at once
artisan and rustic.
and i realized that even if my squares
weren't perfectly cut,
no one cared after one bite.

and so, even though i promised myself
that once i left culinary school
i would:
braise everything all winter long,
always make my own chicken stock
and
use as many pots as needed
no matter how much of a mess 
it makes,
making marshmallows
was one of the very few
promises i abided by.

and i still do.
i swear by marshmallows,
a book that boasts combinations
like pear honey and 
sweet potato spice.
i've made absolutely scrumptious
brownies from one of my favorite
cookbooks,
using homemade marshmallows
and homemade graham crackers
and i constantly search for new
recipes.

this one, featured 
about a year and a half
ago in gourmet, was one of the simplest.
if you've never made marshmallows
before, i strongly 
recommend that you start with this 
relatively simple recipe.

i hope that if you try a batch,
you love to make them as much 
as i do.
but i give you this recipe
and this story,
fully aware that feeling
like marshmallows may be your calling, 
like marshmallows may be the one thing
you feel a true connection to in the kitchen
is kind of weird and 
probably not for everyone.
and in that case, 
i hope you just like
eating them. 
and, that you have a wooded area
nearby so that you can 
pick a stick, 
light a (safe) fire
and create your own s'more memories.

toasted coconut marshmallows
adapted from gourmet magazine
i know that coconut is not everyone's favorite and i haven't tried  it yet, but i have to believe that you could substitute finely crushed almonds or ground chocolate for the coating. or, if you want plain marshmallows, mix together two parts confectioners' sugar and one part cornstarch. don't coat the pan with this mixture. instead, once they're firm, toss the entire marshmallow in. they are so unbelievably sticky before they're coated - but don't worry, the coatings have an impressive effect on them. also, like many candies, it's best to make marshmallows on a dry day.

if you become serious about marshmallow (or candy) making, a battery-operated thermometer is a great tool that beeps so that you don't have to stand and stare and give yourself an inadvertant facial waiting for the syrup to come to temperature.

2 cups unsweetened dried coconut
3 (1/4 oz.) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup water, divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

place oven rack in center of oven. heat oven to 350˚f.

place coconut in shallow baking pan; place in oven and bake 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until golden brown. oil bottom and sides of 9x9 baking pan with 1/2 cup toasted coconut. set aside. place 1/2 cup water in bowl of electric stand mixer; sprinkle gelatin over water.

in saucepot over low heat, combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining water; stir until sugar dissolves. bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, without stirring. using moist pastry brush, wash down any sugar crystals that appear on the side of the pan. put thermometer into syrup and cook (without stirring) until thermometer registers 240˚f. remove from heat and let stand until bubbles dissipate.

turn mixer onto low speed. in a slow steady speed, carefully pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture. increase speed to high and beat 15 minutes, or until very thick. add vanilla extract and beat 1 minute more.

immediately pour marshmallow mixture into prepared pan and press with dampened fingers to smooth the top. sprinkle with 1/2 cup toasted coconut. let stand uncovered 2 hours, or until firm.

run a sharp knife around the edge of pan; invert onto cutting board. cut into 3/4" wide strips and then cut into 3/4" squares. toss marshmallows in coconut (in small batches) to coat completely. i like to dip all sides one at a time.

*we were so lucky to find kella macphee, our wedding photographer, who took both beautiful and memorable pictures at our reception. she took the second two pictures in this post, the blazing marshmallow and us, making our own s'mores.

*the first picture of the marshmallows came from my mom's house. she was forced to deal with me, carrying a plastic container of marshmallows, asking for her camera and then ransacking her cabinets for interesting or colorful dishes, all before i took my coat off. we decided to go with her huge white corian dining room table. different, but fun, i think.

3 comments:

jenno326 said...

Marshmellows remind me of running through the rain in NY while trying to find my "favorite" dessert place. This recipe sounds better (and drier!)

brooke said...

you're right! i forgot that s'more story...us in the middle of the city late at night in absolutely crazy rain, searching for the magaical place where you can make you're own s'mores and us, actually stopping at the police station at one point to ask (or for shelter, i can't remember).

colwatts said...

I think I'm going to make marshmallows for Easter. I'm a little nervous but Em is coming tomorrow so maybe we'll do it together.

Col