Fail 1: Burned “charcoal” Marshmallows


A big part of scientific research is keeping a proper lab notebook. One of the best purposes this serves is that it can allow you to go back and review your protocol and data to explain a particularly bad result. This is also true for cooking, though we rarely mark down observations or even notes on that particular recipe. So, in an attempt to explain a particularly had FAIL, here’s my ode to burning sugar and spilling gelatin.

The original recipe: Homemade Marshmallows (that are able to be flavored.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup water for sugar and 3/4 cup COLD water for gelatin
  • 1 oz of unflavored gelatin (they come in .25oz, by Knox)
  • 2-3 drops peppermint oil
  • 2 large egg whites
  • confectioners sugar for dusting

Process:

Basically, you put the corn syrup and sugar into the pot with 3/4 cup water and dissolve the sugar. You get it to boil and then attach the scientific abomination called a “candy thermometer” to the rim of the pot.

The thermometer is a lie.

This candy thermometer is evil. Trust me on this one. They say that you’re supposed to calibrate it by measuring the temperature of boiling tap water (which is always supposed to be 212F at our elevation) and then remember the displacement between the actual reading. Well, even after doing that, this thing doesn’t work worth a damn. It was only until later that I learned about the cold water test, something that has allowed me to make the smoothest caramel known to man. (More on that later).

The color seemed a little...off.

While this mixture is boiling to reach 260F, you dissolve your gelatin in the cold water and let it “bloom” 7-10 minutes. You then want to heat this up in a water bath, which isn’t a major problem until it spills over into your gelatin, throwing off your consistency AND destroying your water bath. If you’ve added in the drops of oil, your failure now smells of peppermint.

Of course, I continued hoping that by some cooking miracle, the marshmallows would turn out okay, maybe a bit…soft. I started the egg whites whipping in my stand mixer and got ready to add the gelatin to my sugar. But, my sugar looked a little dark…and it hadn’t reached 260F yet! In fact, it was at 240F even with my calibrated thermometer. So, I added the gelatin in a rush, which caused the solution to boil up and spill over slightly, while I frantically whisked them…with a metal whisk. Metal utensils in candy making is apparently a cardinal sin. NO METAL. It acts as a surface for nucleation, which in cooking terms means that it will cause your sugar to turn back into a solid lump of crystals. Luckily, the gelatin here acted as an interfering agent, so the sugar couldn’t crystallize out.

Whipping the mixture and praying that it would be saved...

Once combined, I added the mess to the egg whites, and fluffed the whole thing on med-high until it couldn’t get fluffier. The marshmallows still looked a little…brown. So even after I turned them out onto greased parchment lining a glass dish for them to settle, my hopes for a culinary miracle were dashed. They tasted like something fished out of the bonfire. Nice and burnt.

So, into the trash. At this point, not worth saving. Though I’ve made these successfully before, I find that my mood profoundly affects my cooking abilities. And I think I was studying for a test at the same time, which always puts me in a panicked mood.

Mmmm...tastes like failure...

So, lessons learned. Next time I’ll make sure I have plenty of time and patience, and instead of the candy thermometer, a bowl of ice water to test the progress.

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