Every now and then I'll embark on a baking/kitchen project I was once intimidated by and realize that it was really a lot simpler than I thought it would be. This happened when I made bagels for the first time, and the first time I ever baked my own bread, and while making doughnutswas a bit of a project, it wasn't too difficult in the end (just sticky and time-sensitive). Last year when I was shopping at Trader Joe's with T., we spied some "homemade" vanilla marshmallows. T. is a devout marshmallow lover. This is a tricky issue at our house because marshmallows, which contain gelatin, are not vegetarian--not in the least (gelatin is made from ground up animal bones--did you know that?). So I have spent a great deal of time waffling on the issue of marshmallows, and feeling guilty about eating them, and worrying about the double-standard I was living. None of this stopped me from making my own marshmallows last year.
Marshmallows are the kinds of things you wouldn't imagine making, or couldn't imagine you could make, but they turned out to be ridiculously easy, and when given away in little festive bags at the holidays, really impressed and delighted people. Homemade marshmallows are so much better than the store-bought ones. I used this recipe, and except for the time it took to let the marshmallow settle and cool in the pan, the whole process was very quick and simple.
Earlier this week I decided I would make them again and write about the process for this column, but then yesterday I was smitten with guilt about the non-vegetarian thing. A quick Google search, and too much office time spent reading up on gelatin and gelatin alternatives (there really are none), left me feeling even more guilty. I wrestled with this all afternoon, and even stopped by the health food store for Agar Agar (a flavorless gelatinous substance derived from seaweed). I spent way longer there than I needed researching enzymes and homeopathic ADHD remedies, and by the time I left I was pretty flustered, and had a lot to think about. Somehow, between the health food store and home, I decided to let go of the guilt and just make those marshmallows again. After all, gelatin is in some jams and jellies, in gummy candies, which we do eat. I also decided I would try a vegetarian marshmallow recipe in the near future, despite all the bad reviews I read (please let me know if you know of a good vegetarian marshmallow recipe). So stay tuned for that.
Before you embark on marshmallow-making, know that you'll need one of these . . .
(My good friend John gave this to us as a wedding gift, and it's still running strong.)
. . .unless you want to stand holding a hand mixer for 12 minutes. Marshmallow-making is a wonderful project for the whole family, and there are many steps the kids can do all by themselves. If you have a four-year-old like T., you'll also have to let go of any worries about powdered sugar going everywhere, because it will. But just as the glitter we used for snowflakes last weekend made everything festive, so does the sight of powdered sugar on the hands of your littlest one.