I’m not a fan of marshmallows (MMs) in the packet. They are soft and squiggey and sort of remind me of things I wouldn’t like to eat. The texture is just…. squiggey.
But then you toast them over an open fire and…. oh…… something magical happens to that white squiggey blob. I am going to tell you about my most recent experience in making perfect marshmallows.
There is an art to the perfect MM. I discussed this at great length with some girls (they were all under the age of about 12 I guess) a couple of weekends ago.
We were at a bonfire. The bonfire was HUGE – like ridiculously huge. So huge you needed a 20m pole to put your marshmallow on to get it near the heat. This wasn’t the perfect MM toasting bonfire. But we wanted toasted MM and when girls (this includes me!!) want toasted MM they will do anything to get them.
We had the perfect host though – Dave. He could see our arms up against our faces trying to protect them from the heat as we attempted to get closer – close enough to warm our MMs. He saw us dash in and hold our MM close to the flames for 5 seconds and then retreat because it was too hot. He saw several catch alight and some drop into the fire.
Being the perfect host he took it upon himself to see if he could help us out. In his lovely American drawl Dave asked if we would like our own MM fire. THIS man knows how to keep a bunch of girls happy. He went and got his shovel then asked us which bit we wanted!! Oh – to have a choice of coals. After a bit of dancing and glancing out from under protecting arms, we decided on “That bit”. Lumbering big Dave just walked right to the fire edge and got us out these perfect coals.
Not too hot but still lots of burning power in them. Not crumbly – they might ash the MM if they crumble. Not loose and spitty and exploding from eucalyptus oil – serious contamination issue! Just nice hot coals with staying power – constant glow.
Dave made us this little fire to one side – up wind of the bonfire and far enough away so we didn’t burn but close enough we would stay warm – it was a cold night up in them there hills!! We were just about set to start toasting. The process attracted a couple more girls but the problem with the bonfire is ALL the good toasting sticks had been put on the bonfire before it was lit – tidying up!!
The girls raced around with youthful enthusiasm finding sticks. My less than youthful appearance seemed to suddenly make me the expert on sticks. Several stick were presented “How about this one?” “I found this one under the table” “There’s one over here in the rubbish” (Great!!) “I’m sure there was some over there in that bush” “This one has two prongs. I can do two at once” “Which one do you want” ……….
Each stick needed to be considered. Some had ends which were too fat, some didn’t have a sharp point having been ripped off the tree when they were green, some looked as if they had been used for some other questionable purposes….. but then we found some perfect sticks – not too long so you can control it well, not too skinny so it won’t break when you put the MM on, not to fat – fat points makes the hole too big – for some reason this just isn’t perfect, not too green (especially eucalyptus) as there is the concern the fire might bring out the tree oil taste as they heat up.
The perfect point has to enter the MM without force – like slipping on a silk shirt – it just slips on. The MM has to glide on – a tiny sticky so the MM won’t fall off but not too much otherwise you lose the shape of the MM. It is essential to keep the shape and a large surface area for reasons which will become apparent in a moment!!
So, each of us had our stick. The big bag of MM was passed around and everyone selected what they wanted. I don’t like the pink ones. (I know MMs are not vegetarian as they are held together by gelatine which is a ghastly gelling agent made from animals hooves and skin. But like most people, I have my weaknesses and caramelised MMs is one of my weaknesses. So ethical vegetarian is ignored and taste buds take over my being! I am no longer responsible for my actions and choices!! MMs are gluten free though (Does this balance the lack of ethical stance??)).
So I choose a white one. There is much discussion about who likes what flavour and why. And whose brother likes what colour. And what her brother DID with the MMs (“Really??” “Yeah – he did”). And how many MMs people have managed to stuff into their mouths at once. I live a sheltered life – I’ve never tried this. Am I missing out on a great experience??
It was so fabulous to be sitting there huddled around the fire talking with these wonderful women in the making. Our MMs in the fire. They were highly amusing and entertaining. We chatted on about school – who likes it, who doesn’t, who’s smart, who gets into trouble, who wags (Really ?? Wagging happens in Primary School. Oh!! Things have changed since I was in Primary School. No one would dream of wagging – that’s not true – dream but never take action to actually wag school) (Non-Aussies: wagging school is when you don’t go to school when your parents think you have gone)…….
I found out the latest goss on which boy is cool, which teacher is “mean”, how much homework there is…….. Primary school is a happenin’ place!! Way too busy and emotionally complex for me.
But back to the business in hand. Toasting, roasting and incinerating the MMs. Joey loved her’s burnt. She just plunged the MM into the flames or way too close to the coals and – whoosh – it was on fire and black and burnt – and perfect for Joey. Amy didn’t like hers hot so waved them over the heat then ate them more or less cold – enjoying the experience of setting it up “just right” to wave! and being part of the MM toasters!
But me…. the perfect MM is a slow, carefully undertaken art. One must first of all delicately place the MM of the stick – as I said, not too forced or the shape will be ruined but enough to ensure the MM will stay in place and not drop into the fire as it softens with the heat.
One must carefully observe the fire. The coals must be hot without flames and heat coming from all directions. In between two hot sticks is perfect – but rarely found as one is usually on fire which is TOTALLY unsatisfactory!! Sometimes you have to share the perfect coals – they are a precious find and must be respected and not tampered with!! The coals have to be hot but not too hot – the colour of the coals has to be just right; you can tell the perfect heat by the colour of the coals.
Once the perfect coals are found you have to then hold your MM close to the coals but not so close that it burns. It’s a delicate balance. It’s better to check the MM often than leave it close to the coals where it is likely to burn. They burn or turn too dark brown before you know it. It is judicious to heat and look, heat and look, heat and look……. gradually the squiggey, blobbey white anaemic looking MM forms a harder coating on the outside. A sort of skin forms – the sugar in the MM is caramelising, gradually hardening…… gradually darkening. First just a hard white surface – then softly, gradually, patiently you have to nurture this skin so it turns brown. Not dark brown which tastes burnt. A soft brown. A pleasing brown. Not blistered. The surface still has to be smooth. Usually the area where the stick point is slightly darker than the other part – but it all needs to be delicious, yummy, caramel brown.
When the moment comes, when the MM is perfectly toasted – you know. It just looks perfect. It’s so perfect you can’t resist eating it. But wait – not all of it at once. You have to get your lips, press them gently into the outer skin and suck off the outer layer. With a little pressure it just slips off the molten MM – just the skin – leaving about 60% of the MM behind on the stick.
Mmmmm…… the skin you have sucked into your mouth is two sided: the outside has a firm texture and is brown and caramel and a little crisp. But as you blend the outside with the inside….. Oh, the mix of the textures and the temperatures and the consistencies…….. Inside is really soft and hot and flowing and creamy and it mixes with the outside – the brown crisp caramel and the white, hot creamy bit. Bliss on a stick – literally. It’s impossible not to close your eyes when your taste buds are exposed to SUCH sensations all at once. The perfect marshmallow……..
And the best thing is……. you then repeat this on the 60% you still have on the stick. You get another layer of caramel bliss. 2, maybe 3 times, until its all gone. And your hand dives into the packet for another one.
Mmmmmm……. the perfect marshmallow!!