Making Marshmallows

The ancient Egyptians first enjoyed marshmallow as early as 2000 B.C. The original confection was made from the root of the mallow plant (Athaea officinalis), a wild herb found in the marshes of Europe and Asia. The Egyptians combined the sap from the mallow root with nuts and honey. The resulting candy was so tasty that it was considered fit only for gods and royalty.

Marshmallows were introduced and popularized in America in the early 1900s. Today, Americans are the main consumers of marshmallows. According to experts, Americans buy more than 90 million pounds of the sweet confection annually.

In modern form, commercial marshmallows consist of sugar, corn syrup, water, gelatin, dextrose, and flavorings.  These ingredients are whipped to a  fluffy, spongy consistency, and then propelled through long tubes called extruders.

During the extrusion process, the mixture solidifies into the typical, spongy texture of marshmallows. It emerges as a soft cylinder from the extruder, and is then cut into equal pieces. The marshmallows are rolled in a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and finely powdered cornstarch. 

The finished product is bagged and shipped to supermarkets to be sold to consumers. 

If, however, you are a domestic diva and prefer to make your own marshmallows, here are the simple directions.

You will need:

2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)  for dusting

Directions:

1. Combine gelatin with 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Let stand 30 minutes.

2. Combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 water in a saucepan, place over low heat and stir until syrup is dissolved. Rinse the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals which may form. 

3. Raise heat to high. Cook syrup without stirring until it reaches 244 degrees as measured by a candy thermometer. (firm ball stage). Immediately remove pan from heat.

4. With mixer on low speed, carefully pour syrup into the softened gelatin. Increase mixer speed to high. Beat about 15 minutes, until mixture is thick, white and almost tripled in volume.

5. Add vanilla, and mix to blend.

6. Dust an 8-by-12-inch glass baking pan with icing sugar, and pour in the marshmallow mixture. Dust the top with icing sugar. Wet your hands and pat it smooth. Dust once it once more.

7. Let the mixture stand, uncovered, overnight. It will dry out to proper consistency.

8. Turn it out onto a board; cut marshmallows into one-and-a-half inch squares, and dust with more icing sugar.

Whether you prefer your marshmallows homemade or fresh from a supermarket shelf, you are sure to win praise and appreciation when you present them to your family. These sugary, sticky confections may not be at the top of any nutritional list, but there are times when even gods, goddesses and royalty deserve an unexpected treat.

Reference:
1. Homemade Marshmallows Recipe : Alton Brown : Food Network
2. Homemade Marshmallows Recipe : Ina Garten : Food Network

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