Occasionally, disaster befalls us in the kitchen. For me, less occasionally than most, because I am a master chef and an insane perfectionist with a profound fear of failure. Also, I am aware of my weaknesses, (lack of attention to detail, deep desire for instant gratification, inability to measure things exactly) and so I avoid things I will likely fail at (read: baking). But every now and then, Pinterest or some other source of food porn sucks me in, and I tempt fate by trying something new, something uncharted, and usually, something completely frivolous.
Nothing is more frivolous than a marshmallow. It is so frivolous, in fact, that it has become a symbol for frivolity. It is a post-modern adaptation of itself. Structure-less, colourless, flavourless unless burned to shit by open flames and jammed between graham wafer and chocolate, the marshmallow is so humble it is existence-less, nearly.
There is an important thing to note here, however. Pinterest is the Internet’s narcissism widget-producing machine; the online version of parents who tell their tone-deaf child that they have a beautiful voice pre-American Idol attempt. Nothing is humble on Pinterest. Just check out “Fall Décor” and find glitter-dipped pumpkins, raffia-wrapped pillar candles, and DIY pumpkin-spice/all natural/health increasing/super sexy massage oil. Pinterest is hell bent on us gluing, gemming, and jazzing our way to craft-nirvana.
So, you can understand why, when I came across a recipe for Champagne-Rosewater marshmallows, I felt compelled to try. I found a copy of an old Bon Appetit, and found their recipe as well. A quick scan of the recipe revealed very little baking (I must admit, at this stage, I missed the candy thermometer requirement). I was tricked, you see. I looked at the beautiful picture, the rose petals scattered about, (what is it with women and scattered rose petals? Why does this woo us so?) and I thought to myself, “Why, I like champagne. I like rosewater. I have both in the house. I can do this,” and I heard my mother’s voice in the back of my head saying, “Yes, sweetie. You CAN do anything you try!” (Luckily, my family has at least saved me from any kind of singing-related national chagrin.)
Now, as I said, I am well aware of my personal weaknesses, and the main issue I have with baking is not reading the whole recipe first. My mother has told me to do this approximately 28,798,374 times in my life, but that old instant gratification thing tends to get me. Not this time though! This time I read the whole recipe. Seriously, I did. Just a bit quickly, is all. But I got myself a candy thermometer, and some gelatin, and I decide to mallow the shit out of those marshes.
Ingredients from Bon Appetit:
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- ½ cup powdered sugar, divided, plus more for dusting
- ½ ounce unflavored powdered gelatin
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 cups sugar
- ¼ teaspoon rose water or orange-flower water
- 1 drop red or orange food coloring (optional)
At first, everything was coming along swimmingly. I pre-measured my various sugars. I prepped the gelatin. I whipped the egg whites. My first hiccup was at Step 2.
“Bring sugar and ½ cup water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush. Boil sugar mixture, without stirring, until thermometer registers 250°, 8–10 minutes.”
Well, all right then. I can do that. But let’s remember that there are in fact two sugars in this recipe. Powdered, and granular. Not one sugar, TWO sugars. (Sorry, that was a bit of a Canadiana joke.) I was puzzled. Do they mean put both in the pot with the water? I decided they must. So I dumped both sugars in and moved on. I also made a mental note to contact Bon Appetit and chide them for their lack of clarity by recipe creators.
Now, I’m feeling like a bit of a scientist. I’ve got thermometers in pots, I’m measuring carefully, and I’m noting my progress. I was secretly laughing at my Grade 11 Chemistry teacher, who clearly just could not see my raw talent for chemistry when he gave me that final 65%. How could I be expected to succeed with 20-year-old Bunsen burners and a lackluster lab partner? Impossible.
So I reach the 250° mark, and stir in the gelatin. I review the recipe again, and this time read the final sentence, “Dust tops of marshmallow with remaining ¼ cup powdered sugar. Turn out of pan and cut into 1” pieces; dust with more powdered sugar.” Oh. Oh dear. Ermmm… would that be that ¼ cup of sugar I dumped in the pot? Right. So, in retrospect, maybe that was clear.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “Too late now. Onwards.” What’s the worst that can happen, right? Maybe they’ll just taste extra sweet. So I move forward with the recipe, but you, beloved reader, are thinking to yourself right now, “But NO, Bailey! This is CHEMISTRY. You have to do it PROPERLY.”
And you would be right. But, at that moment, I was more preoccupied with EVERYTHING being sticky. Everything. My countertops are sticky. My mixer is sticky. My steering wheel is sticky. Everything. This is now causing me to get a bit of a tension knot in my shoulder and I’m feeling pissed off with the whole project now.
I then move to the final steps. Beat the sugar/gelatin/egg mixture until it triples in volume. I was concerned when this volume increase never happened, but the real dread set in when I went to wash the (brand new) candy thermometer, which had a sticker that read, “Remove before use”. (Whoops- it has since been removed, after first use).
Now, they cool for four hours, or overnight. I obviously could not possibly wait for an overnight, so four hours go by, and in no way do they resemble anything mallow-like. The texture is beyond sticky. When I try to get it out of the pan, the bottom reveals a clear, pink, raw-chicken resembling semi-solid.
It becomes clear to me that I was indeed lucky to be granted that 65% by Mr. Hamilton. I also realize I’ve become the #nailedit meme. And maybe, on a snowy, chilly, winter’s afternoon in February, enough cabin-fevered boredom will set in that I will attempt this again. But for now, I’ll stick to my fly-by-night pasta sauces.