Marshmallows Are Not For The Faint of Heart

I should have listened. But I never do. Valerie turns out these amazing homemade marshmallows every year at Christmas. They look just like the Williams-Sonoma marshmallows pictured above. I was looking for a low-cost gift for a family get together and decided that if Valerie could do it so could I. But Valerie said it's way harder than it looks. Valerie said she couldn't do it without her husband's assistance. Valerie said using a mixing stand could blow out the motor. Did I listen? Nope. Valerie, my apologies.

8:45 am - Batch #1: So I'm using a slightly different recipe than Valerie. And since my printer isn't hooked up, I copied the directions by hand. Gelatin and water sitting for half an hour, syrup mixture heating up to 240 degrees, all is well. Turn the mixer on low and add the syrup. Beat for 12-15 minutes and add the vanilla during the last minute. Poured it in the sugar-dusted pan and it was about an eighth of an inch thick. Busted out the recipe and realize I forgot to write the following: "Once all of the syrup mixture has been added to the bowl, INCREASE MIXING SPEED TO HIGH and continue to beat for 12-15 minutes. My first batch looks more like Laffy Taffy than marshmallows. It kinda sorta tastes like marshmallows but its texture is more like one of those sticky spiders that you got as a kid and threw on the wall and watched as it globbed its way down.
{The first skinny batch}

3:30 pm - Batch #2: This time I followed instructions to a T. And then I realized exactly why Valerie needs an extra pair of hands. She said that at about 7 minutes into mixing the marshmallows start to climb up the beater (and on into the motor) unless you are able to keep it "mashed down" in the bowl. Less than 5 minutes into my {ahem, HIGH-speed} mixing session it started to rise. I kept my cool and was using a spatula to keep it all down. I was thinking to myself, "Self, you are a natural at marshmallow-making. Self, you should tell Valerie exactly how you're doing this so that it will be easier for her next year. Self, if only you had a free hand available because you should totally give yourself a pat on the back. SELF, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE FACT THAT THE HEAD OF YOUR SPATULA JUST GOT CAUGHT IN THE BEATERS AND BROKE OFF AND NOW YOUR BOWL IS WOBBLING AND THE MARSHMALLOWS ARE CLIMBING UP THE BEATERS AND ALL YOU HAVE IN YOUR HAND IS A PLASTIC STICK?!?!?!?"

It's okay, readers, I still managed to keep my cool...just a minor setback. I turned the mixer off, fished out the spatula part, grabbed a spoon, and went back to work. I managed to keep the climbing at bay by resting the bottom of my big spoon against the top of the blades. Yep, hubris snuck back in and I was gloating in the fact that I had apparently solved Valerie's biggest marshmallow dilemma. The only issue at this time is that I was fairly sticky from fishing out the spatula bits. With one minute remaining, I was supposed to add a teaspoon of vanilla but my left hand was super sticky and my right hand was dedicated to spoon/beater duty. I grabbed the bottle with my left hand, and opened it with my teeth (totally sanitary, I know). I figured I'd just eyeball the amount, just a splash really, when the bottle hit the side of the spinning bowl and a whole lot more than a teaspoon fell into the batter. "Um...self, any suggestions here?"

{Exhibits A: the plastic stick and B: the pesky bottle of vanilla}

So I turned off the mixer yet again, put a smaller bowl underneath the beaters (in case any blobs of sticky goo dripped off), and inverted the larger marshmallowy bowl over the sink. I think I drained most of the vanilla but there's really no telling just how much remained in the batter. If I thought I was sticky before that I was sadly mistaken. I went ahead and beat the crap out of this brownish mixture for another minute and then I scooped it all into my pan. This batch is much fluffier and taller and all-around more marshmallowy looking than the first, but I'm concerned about the taste. Alas. Also, Valerie's are always level on each side and the top of this batch seems pretty wavy. Oh well. Two down, two to go.

{Better looking, but better tasting? Hmm...}
{Er, did I say better looking? Most definitely before pulling it out of the pan!
But they actually turned into decent mini marshmallows. Could hardly tell how ugly they were beforehand!}

P.S. I used to think that Williams-Sonoma was ripping people off by charging $15 for 27 oversized marshmallows (pictured at the top of the post) but now I'm not so sure. I think that probably the people who are forking over that kind of cash are all people like me who have attempted (and failed!) to make them on their own. Personally, I think $15 is looking like quite the bargain at this point!!!!

...and later in the day...

9:45 pm - Batch #3: I came home from watching a "dollar" movie with Little Miss M and decided I would give it another shot before going to bed. Everything was perfect. I had all sorts of backup utensils lined up in case of emergency. I improved upon my technique (some lessons learned from throwing pottery actually came in handy) and thought I had knocked this one out of the park until.........can you guess what's coming?.............the motor blew on the mixer! Are you freaking kidding me?! Remember Valerie's caveat? Yeah. It was just so thick and I guess it was too much for the poor machine to take. I'm hoping that it just overheated and will work again soon because I borrowed it (oops!).

I still had three minutes remaining and had a whisk on stand by but I had beaters and a spoon and a spatula that needed de-marshmallowing (mainly because there wasn't much left in the bowl at that point) before I could start whisking. I wasn't sure if this lag time would be detrimental to the marshmallows or not but what could I do? I tossed in the (precisely premeasured and at-the-ready!) teaspoon of vanilla and whisked the hell out of that bowl of glop. My arm was killing me after about 30 seconds but I pushed through for a whole minute. I still had two more minutes to go but I figured if it was stiff enough to break the mixer, it was stiff enough for me. It took a while to mush it down in the pan and it still isn't an even surface but whatever. I don't really care anymore. I have enough ingredients to try a fourth time but, again, I don't care anymore. What I care about is alcohol. Tequila. I need a shot of tequila.

{All in all, they turned out just fine. Tasted pretty good, too. But I'm not convinced it was worth it...}

Lessons Learned:

#1 - Valerie is a domestic goddess. When she speaks of marshmallows, she speaks the truth. Write down her every word. I am now recalling that Valerie also said she started using a smaller pan so the finished product would be taller. Hmpf.
#2 - Never handwrite detailed recipes. Print them out!
#3 - Always have a dog or two around for kitchen clean up. (EDIT: apparently dogs do not care for powdered sugar and therefore you must clean up your own marshmallow mess)
#4 - If someone sells it, buy it. No matter the cost!
#5 - If your dear friend gives you a delicious homemade treat, enjoy it and think not about whether you are capable of recreating the deliciousness. You probably aren't.
#6 - Pottery techniques work surpisingly well with a spinning bowl of marshmallow goop. So take as many continuing education classes you can. You never know when they'll come in handy.


Party of Five said...

this is hilarious! I have wondered about Valerie's famous marshmallows from time to time, but I think I will take your advice to heart and leave it to the pros.

Valerie said...

Oh, my heavens. I was har-dee-har-harring out loud throughout this post. This is definitely going to be linked to my blog. Whether or not you have mad marshmama (Henry's term) making skillz or not, you definitely have the skillz to write about it! And if it makes you feel any better, the time we attempted cocoa ones, they flopped. And there was a time either last year or the one before that our spatula got stuck in the beaters and there were red silicone bits in the marshmallows. Awesome. And in case you ever attempt it again, 244 or 245 degrees is the number, and mine are usually wavy across the top as well. ;)

katie said...

Courtney, I am laughing my head off! That is especially funny since I know firsthand about Valerie's awesome marshmallows! I appreciate them so much more now!!! HAHAHAHA!

Yogurt Moon said...

Williams-Sonoma better watch their backs!