Saturday, 27 October 2012

Marshmallow Madness: a review

Some time ago I was sent a copy of Marshmallow Madness by Shauna Sever to review. I was quite excited by this as I've been wanting to make marshmallows for a long time. But as I'm a vegetarian I needed to find a gelatine alternative and this step proved to be tricky. When I remembered, I wasn't anywhere that stocked it and when I was somewhere that might stock it, I didn't remember. Anyway, the long and the short of it is, this review is well overdue.

My first impression when receiving the book was that it was a bit of fun. The cover was pink and fluffy and covered in pastel shades. The cover was also squishy; something that was a little surprising, but also enjoyably tactile and reminiscent of an actual marshmallow. The book is well illustrated, with enticing pictures appearing on every other page or so. The photographs are particularly interesting as they are not all in one style: some are practical, some impressionistic and others just mouth watering.

My second impression was that there was a bit more to it. The introductory pages cover a bit about the history of marshmallow, which surprisingly goes back to the Ancient Egyptians who, not so surprisingly, used the marshmallow plant. Ingredients are covered, including alternatives and possible allergies. Alternatives to gelatine were not covered, however, which as a vegetarian I found a bit annoying. Later, I discovered a recipe for vegan marshmallows, but this wasn't obvious in this rather crucial introductory chapter. There are a few pages on equipment and if I'd read this bit properly before embarking on my marshmallow making venture, I probably wouldn't have attempted it. Shauna recommends a sturdy stand mixer, as hand mixers aren't quite up to the job and also make it more difficult for one person to manage when drizzling in the hot syrup. Guess what sort of mixer I have? The basic method for making marshmallows is covered in detail.

So how do you get a whole book out of a marshmallow you may well ask? Well there's more to a marshmallows than you might think. There are two main methods for making them, one using egg whites and one using gelatine only. The deeply chocolate marshmallows I wanted to try uses the gelatine only method. You can flavour your marshmallows with just about anything it seems, including fruit purees; blackberry was one I found particularly appealing. There is a chapter on the classics, although I'm not sure I'd consider kahlua filled marshmallows a classic. A few additional recipes used to accompany your marshmallows are also covered including the American classic Graham Crackers.

There are seven chapters in all and pretty much anything anyone could possibly think of relating to marshmallows is covered. How about cocktail inspired marshmallows? Now wouldn't that have been a good one for last month's We Should Cocoa? The final chapter is using mallow to make delectable bakes and desserts including the famous American S'mores. The hot chocolate recipes at the end made me want to make marshmallows more than anything else I'd seen on the subject. Serving up a spiced hot chocolate with your own homemade Aztec chocolate marshmallows would make a classy end to a Mexican inspired dinner party - no human sacrifice necessary.

This is an American book so all measurements are in cups and one of the main ingredients used is corn syrup, which is not widely available here in the UK and is also suspect in terms of its high-fructose levels. I substituted golden syrup for this, but honey or other syrups such as maple could be used instead.

My introduction to marshmallow making came in the form of Deeply Chocolate and I was soon deeply out of my depth. It all went horribly wrong for me, but I put this down to my lack of competence rather than the recipe. I overcooked the sugar and when I added it to the cooler chocolate syrup, it seized and went into one huge lump. No amount of whisking "mallowed" it and I was petrified I was going to burn out my poor hand held whisk; I gave up after 15 minutes and poured the contents into the prepared tin and hoped for the best. The hard lump banging against the whisk also meant the liquid went mad and sprayed across my kitchen covering just about everything with specs of dark chocolate goo - not fun to clean up! My result was more like Turkish Delight than marshmallows, but despite being very soft and squidgy, it did taste good.

I don't want to end on a bad note, however. If I had a stand mixer, I would most certainly be attempting these again and there are a number of recipes in this book I would love to try.

18 comments:

  1. The only time I made marshmallow I concluded that it's only fashionable because stand mixers are! Too hard otherwise.

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    1. Yes, I found out the hard way. I do like the idea of making them though.

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  2. I think this book would be too specialised for me, even if I had a stand mixer. Marshmallows aren't something I buy often, let alone want to make! I've just reviewed Shauna Sever's next book on Vanilla, which sounds as if it's a much more accessible subject in comparison!
    http://mainlybaking.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/pure-vanilla-book-review.html

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    1. Hard to go wrong with vanilla Suelle, where would us bakers be without it.

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  3. Great review and another reason why I too need a stand mixer! Karen

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    1. Trouble is, I grew up with a stand mixer, but we very rarely used it. Bowl and wooden spoon seems a lot less faff somehow - for most things! Having said that, I suspect I wouldn't say no to a nice red Kitchen Aid if one happened to turn up ;-)

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  4. I would never have thought about making marshmallows at home, but Turkish delight would be something. :-)

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    1. Yes, Turkish Delight is something else I've been meaning to try my hand at for ages.

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  5. I'm not fond of marshmallows, so decided not to review this book. Glad I didn't given the whole stand mixer thing.

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    1. I was really excited at the thought of making them, so decidedly disappointed they didn't work out. I had visions of serving up posh hot chocolates with my own chocolate marshmallows floating atop - dreams hay!

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  6. I'd like to have a go at making my own marshmallows as I've never seen veggie friendly ones for sale so I haven't been able to eat them in quite a while! It does seem like a lot of effort though, and I don't have a stand mixer either...

    If it helps at all, they sell a vegetarian gelatine at the Asda in Bodmin - never tried it though so can't say if it's any good!

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    1. Thanks Nat, though I think it will have to wait until the day I get a bigger kitchen and can fit a stand mixer in. I used agar agar, but I've since heard it doesn't make very good mallows.

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  7. There is something about making homemade marshmallows that is so satisfying, a bit like making curd! Such a shame yours didn't turn out as you had hoped but I hope this hasn't dented your enthusiasm for having another go.

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    1. That sounds like you've made them Chele. Yes, one day I will have another go. I really like the idea of making my own.

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  8. Good review. Good to know that the measures are all in cups (which I don't like) and that a stand mixer is pretty much a necessity. Sorry yours didn't work out, but perhaps there are other ways and means...

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    1. Yes C, thank you. I should take heart. And actually my mother's ancient Kenwood might do the trick.

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