Astute readers may have deduced from the title of this post that my first attempt at making marshmallows using agar instead of gelatine was less than successful. And they would be right.
Boy, would they be right. About the only good thing I can say for this tray of attempted marshmallow is that it matches my handbag. My flamingo handbag.
Yes, I know. Way too much food colouring. My hand slipped, you see. Twice. Because I regret to inform you that the pink stuff tastes very nearly as scary as it looks. Rosewater is not an ingredient that improves when used in large quantities.
Anyway, a good scientist records her failures as well as her successes, which is in fact why I stopped studying chemistry at the end of Year 10 (I’m just a tad competitive). Nevertheless, I shall boldly attempt to write this experiment up in a suitable fashion. For science!
To make a marshmallow without using gelatine.
Marshmallow apparently got its name originally from the marsh mallow plant, which was used to thicken the sweet. Not having a source of marsh mallow available, I decided to go with agar instead. Pectin won’t set without sufficient acidity in the mix, but agar is happy with alkaline or neutral mixtures (don’t put anything acidic in your agar if you want it to set, however). I didn’t have a recipe for vegan marshmallows, so I consulted the internet oracles, and the consensus seemed to be that 1 1/2 tsp of agar would set about 600g of sugar syrup. My basic recipe uses just gelatine and sugar syrup, though the proportions are quite different, but I know agar is much stronger and also produces a tighter gel than gelatine, so this seemed plausible.
Accordingly, I soaked the agar in cold water while I boiled sugar, glucose and water to soft ball stage (look, I’m not going to bother with exact amounts here, since you don’t need a recipe for disastrously failed marshmallow any more than I do), and added it to the agar in a slow stream, while beating the mix with electric beaters. I then continued to beat the mixture until it was completely cooled, added disastrous amounts of food colouring and flavouring, poured the lot into a tin lined with paper and a layer of sifted cornflour and icing sugar (50/50) and left it to set.
You’ve seen them. Not pretty. Basically, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t enough agar. The marshmallow started off in the usual unpromising fashion, as a slightly thick, slightly opaque, wholly unappetising, beige liquid, which eventually started to thicken and turn pale and peaky. It took a lot longer to thicken than gelatine marshmallow, and never really seemed to get aerated in the same way – I beat it for about 20 minutes, and while it did change in consistency and became almost white and difficult to get the beaters through, it never reached ‘stiff peaks’ and didn’t really increase much in volume (gelatine marshmallow ends up looking a lot like uncooked meringue). Moreover, it has been sitting uncovered in its tin for nearly 6 hours now and appears to be just as liquid and gooey as it was when I poured it in there. The online oracles suggested overnight setting, which can mean anything from 6-12 hours, but I’ll be quite surprised if this sets even if I leave it until tomorrow morning. It doesn’t look like it’s changing at all.
Also, I used far too much rosewater and lavender water, and it tastes like soap. I only wish I could blame the agar for that, but I can’t. The disturbing flavour and colour of this marshmallow is merely the evil cherry on top of the entire ice-cream sundae of wrong that is my marshmallow mix.
I’m pretty sure I need to at least double the agar next time, or possibly just buy new agar – further inspection revealed that my agar was past its best-before date, though it worked just fine in the agar jellies I made last week. It’s also possible that my agar was of a different grade to that found in the US, where the vegan marshmallow recipes originated. No idea how I can check that, however. I think I also need to check my scales, as they were behaving a little oddly and I’m not absolutely certain how much syrup I ended up making. On the other hand, the grapefruit pectin jellies I made immediately after the marshmallow worked out perfect well, so I suspect the scales are not the sole culprit here.
I’m not sure what to do about the fluffiness issues. The internet suggests all sorts of fascinating products which I’ve never heard of and may not be available in Australia – and in any case, I’m hoping very much to find a recipe that doesn’t require large quantities of really obscure ingredients. It can be hard enough to find agar, frankly. Though my Honours students have offered to steal me both agar and petri dishes so that I can make creepy lab-based desserts (no, I will not be making edible agarose gels out of materials liberated from my workplace, however enthusiastic my baby scientists may be on the subject). Fortunately, one of my Lab Heads has just loaned me a book on the chemistry of food and cooking, so I’m hoping there will be something illuminating in that. (And by illuminating, I do not mean glow in the dark confectionery. Though I imagine I could also find the tools for that at work too. Not that I didn’t come close to achieving ‘glow in the dark’ with that pink food colouring today.)
I believe experiment 2 will involve 3 tsp of freshly purchased agar and the same amount of syrup, assuming my scales behave correctly.
And *much* less food colouring.
(experiment 2 will, however, have to wait until next weekend as I need to re-stock on both glucose and agar, and the latter is neither cheap nor readily available on this side of town)