The conversation went something like this.
Me: “I think I’ll make marshmallows”
Family member, doubt written all over his face: “Don’t you buy them?”
Sardonic me: “Well, you can buy cookies too, it doesn’t mean…”
Doubt was not erased from his face so, to prove him that yes, marshmallows can indeed be made at home (thus avoiding that chemical after taste the store-bought ones have) I went digging for some history and, to my surprise, I discovered that marshmallows used to be the by-product of the marshmallow plant which was known to the ancient Egyptians for its medicinal properties, easing sore throats being the most popular.
The Egyptians made a candy by mixing the sap of the plant with honey and nuts. French patissiers in the 19th century whipped the sap to make what was known as “pate de guimauve”, a very labor intensive forebear of marshmallows as we know them. To speed up the process, they figured out that by whipping egg whites and adding gelatin and/or cornstarch they could bypass the marshmallow plant altogether and produce a very pleasing candy. It was then an American who invented an industrialized process that would make the candy in long, soft tubes, thereby introducing the shape we are all familiar with. The name “marshmallows” stuck although the plant is no longer used.
If you would like to make your own, here is a simple recipe. All you need is a candy thermometer. Once the marshmallows are set, cut them with a knife or a cookie cutter. They will keep for a long while.
RECIPE – Yield 13” x 9 1/2” pan
1/2 C Corn Syrup
1 1/2 C Sugar
1/2 C Water
4 Egg Whites
8 Sheets of Gelatin
1/2 Vanilla Bean, scraped
1/2 ts Vanilla Extract
- Combine corn syrup, water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to boil until the thermometer reaches 235F (soft ball stage, in candy-making terms)
- In a mixer, whip the egg whites to soft peaks.
- In the meantime, place the gelatin sheets in a small amount of water until softened. Squeeze it with your hands and add it to the sugar mixture. Stir until dissolved.
- With mixer running on medium, pour the warm syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream.
- Add the vanilla extract and pods and whip on high for about 10 minutes, until the marshmallows cool down completely and quadruples in volume.
- Dust your pan with powder sugar and cornstarch and pull the marshmallows over it. Dust with more powder sugar and cornstarch on top and chill overnight.