Adventures in Marshmallow Balrog Making

So, last Monday I was feeding my Lord of the Rings obsession and found aintitcool.com. The next day, I noticed the contest.

It beckoned in overlarge letters:

Wanna win a Zanti Ant and Balrog from SIDESHOW TOYS!! CLICK HERE!!!

- www.aintitcool.com

I don’t usually enter contests, but I’ve been nursing this obsession for a while and a free LOTR film related object piqued my interest. Also, the link wasn’t a question. It was an assertion, a statement that actually, upon deep reflection, is true. So I obeyed its better knowledge of myself and clicked here.

The contest idea got me giggling madly; it is so delightfully absurd. The challenge established by Harry: create a balrog out of marshmallows (wire armature OK), set it on fire, take a picture. Email the picture to the posted address and Harry will then choose the best from amongst the submissions on Feb. 1. The winner receives a limited edition balrog sculpture produced by Sideshow/Weta. They made 1,000 of them. They retail for $300 USD on the site and are already sold out. You can see a picture of the prototype at their site: www.sideshowtoy.com/lotr_home.html

I wasn’t going to enter. I thought to myself: Entertaining idea, but just a little cracked.

But, I reckoned without the commute home. 2 hours of nothing to do but listen to the LOTR soundtracks and try to sleep while standing up, catching my connection, and finding a seat, and then try to wake up in time for my stop. Having actually had enough sleep the night before, I found the evening nap particularly fugitive, and so I spent the entire time trying to distract my mind. You see, if I stop and think too much I start worrying about my grad school application and my FAFSA. As those are real things that actually have an impact on my future, I have been avoiding sustained thought on either area for as long as possible. What better distraction than the creation of an edible demon of the ancient world? (For pictures of my balrog, go to www.geocities.com/chattering_teeth)

So, here follows my recipe for a Balrog of Morgothmallow, vanilla flavored.

Makes one marshmallow monster approximately 15 inches tall (not including base) with a wingspan in excess of 4 feet. Since this is an homage to the film interpretation, this balrog has wings. It is also still edible if rather dirty, and aside from the stuff that would be painful to chew and swallow.

Ingredients:

Tools:

Helpful reference:
The Special Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring film has 2 DVDs of supplementary materials. The second, Part 2: From Vision to Reality, has a section titled Visual Effects, which in turn has a section titled Weta Digital. This section was very helpful when designing the proportions of my confection.


Schedule – For me, this was after work, except for Day 5 which was a Saturday morning
Day 1:
Begin work on frame.


Day 2:
Complete work on the frame. Attach to post tension anchor block.


Day 3:
Make marshmallow and coat frame. Set in a safe, pet free place to dry.


Day 4:
Toast surface with butane torch. Insert eyes to softened marshmallow on head. Apply bright pigments in the cracks left pale after toasting.


Day5:
Apply black pigment to raised surfaces. Make and insert bullwhip. Take goofy pictures with random props. Take outside or put in fireplace and torch.


Execution –
Day 1:
This was a simple matter of cutting reasonable pieces out of a sheet of chicken wire and bending them to suit my purposes. I started with the tail and lower body, added legs, then upper body, then arms. I would fashion the piece from chicken wire and attach/reinforce as necessary with the floral wire. Arms and legs were long, narrow tubes which were then bent to create joints. The tail and abdomen was a long curved cone. The torso was a squat, rounded tube. The wings were large sheets cut into approximately the right shape and then outlined in floral wire. I folded the chicken wire under to reinforce the base of the wings, and then folded it again to create a spring-like section which would be attached to the body and which would in turn lift the wings slightly away from the back of the structure.


Day 2:
I completed work on the wings but left them unattached until I had made and attached the head. The head was made in two pieces, again from chicken wire. The horns were created as one piece and then a rough, truncated tube was attached to create the rest of head. An opening was left with the wire flaring out so that I would have a place to build a mouth. Once attached, the head could swivel up, allowing some access to the body cavity. I didn’t really need this option, but it was fun to build it in.

I then attached the wings and ran a length of the heavy copper wire through both legs leaving enough to secure to the post tension anchor block later. I ran another long piece of copper wire from wing tip to wing tip, and another from the wing brace down the back and through the primary support leg. The copper was wired together and then to the frame for stability. I then attached the entire frame to the post tension anchor block, wrapping the copper wire under and around, and adding some floral wire at loose spots. I popped some stale marshmallows I had into the head and body cavity and took some photos. I ended up leaving them there, although I realized too late that I should have removed them for weight reasons.

Day 3:
I placed the wire frame onto my cake turntable as the base was quite heavy and I wanted to be able to access the entire figure easily. I then covered the back of the wings with waxed paper cut to fit and attached with more floral wire. I did this as I was concerned about how the marshmallow would adhere to the wire. As it turned out, I didn’t have to worry. The marshmallow stuck quite well to all the surfaces, including itself. It's viscosity also permited it to bridge fairly large unsupported expanses as long as I was careful to allow each layer to set before applying another. However, the paper did allow for a thinner layer of marshmallow. Thickness became an issue as the figure became heavier, causing the figure to crouch progressively lower.

I whipped up 3 batches of marshmallow, stuck most of it into my biggest pastry bag and started piping. Too warm, and it would gape and sag, too cool and it wouldn’t pipe without a fight. I used a heating pad to keep the pastry bag warm and, when desperate, I would microwave it for a few seconds. Cooler marshmallow keeps its shape well, so I was able to fashion a face and tongue fairly well. The creased cragginess of the piped marshmallow also provided an interesting texture when I finished the next stage of decorating the creature the following day. However, I ran out of marshmallow and didn’t have enough corn syrup to make more, so the back of the wings was left uncoated, and several body areas were skinnier than I had intended.

Day 4:
I had a brain wave earlier in the day and decided to toast my now dry marshmallow with my kitchen torch. Also, my extremely good sport father went out and purchased more corn syrup, so I was able to make more marshmallow, and complete the coating process. I scorched it lightly all over, except for the fresh marshmallow. I would blow out sections that burned too eagerly. The raised areas crusted over and turned shiny black in spots while the creases stayed bright white. It was a lovely effect and, as a bonus, the house smelled great. I then mixed up some powdered pigment with a few drops of vodka and proceeded to tint many of the creases with yellow, red, and orange. I then ‘glued’ cinders from our fireplace to the post tension anchor block with left over marshmallow, to mimic a volcano.


Day 5:
I scorched the now dry second batch of marshmallow, and then mixed up a batch of black pigment and went over most of the monster, toning down the over-bright areas and giving it a more balrog-y darkness. I created a whip by running a piece of floral wire through a piece of loose cotton cord, and then pigmenting it with the food dye. I wired it to the open right hand and then put a block of marshmallow in the hand (and stained it red) for the handle. I covered up any visible wire with black pigment mixed with a bit of cornstarch so it would stick to the wire. I then took more pictures, including ones of it holding a gingerbread person, a demitasse spoon, and a lollipop.


The Burning-
The stage: A damp bale of straw in a wheelbarrow, covered with an old black plastic tarp, covered with rocks, covered with snow (all courtesy of Dad, who was really getting into the whole thing). It was a balmy 20 degrees Fahrenheit at 4pm as we tried to light my creature of flame and shadow, while simultaneously recording it with video tape and still photography. I had the first track of the Two Towers soundtrack looping in the background for a while, until it got on my nerves and I shut it off. Because….

The balrog wouldn’t burn. We spent over half an hour trying to get it to burn. The post tension anchor block was sitting on a ring of rocks. Because of this, it became a convenient chimney in which to create a fire of twigs and paper. We had a merry one going, but the balrog never burned long, and the flames wouldn’t spread. This, even though we doused it with rubbing alcohol, vodka, cooking oil, and stuck a lit birthday candle into it. It was just too cold. In fact, it looked like the critter was warming itself over the fire! The post tension anchor block became so hot and we had so much fire around it that the cinders I had glued to it were glowing, but still the balrog would not burn.

We finally gave up, and left it to cool down. Later that night, when the fire in the fireplace had died down to a manageable level, I folded back the critter’s wings a bit and popped it into the fireplace. I gave it a marshmallow on a stick to hold in the non-whip hand. It burned quite well. At last!

The Aftermath-
The course of true anything never does run smooth, however, and the novice on my still camera got the focal point wrong and the two best shots of it burning are both irreconcilably blurry. However, lots of other photos are both beautiful and usable and I’ve the video tape for posterity.

The wire frame survived the conflagration without melting or vaporizing. Even the flimsy floral wire survived intact. The marshmallow burned away into hard black cinders which had to be chipped off the frame.

Currently, the wire frame is sitting on the patio waiting for me to decide if I will papier mâché it, or just throw it out. It seems like such a sad end to just throw it out, but what would I do with a 4 foot wide papier mâché balrog?

Financial Expenditure-
Everything I used was lying around the house except for extra quantities of gelatin and corn syrup. In terms of ingredients, the flaming balrog cost me about $3. BUT, I did take many photographs. Without a digital camera (I prefer film for some reason), I spent around $45 for developing and another $10 for some Polaroid film. Since I went into this contest more interested in the process than the prize, I think the money well spent. I had a great time, although I’ve now moved on to new interests. I am now considering the logistical issues in making a One Ring birthday cake, not that I’d make one….

2/2/2003 - So, the contest results are out and I'm not a winner. I made it to 5th runner up though, out of 78 entries. Criteria? Sculpting, best photo, and how well it burned. I nailed the first, but was notably lacking in the last two. No regrets though! It was a lot of fun, and the other runners up and the winner are fantastic. Go to the aintitcool.com site and check 'em out! ...assuming they are still up by the time you see this. The winning 'malrog' is truly spectacular! I bow to his excellence. And the one facing off with the marshmallow Gandalf is just great fun.

Oh. The One Ring Cake is coming along nicely. Of course, this is just a prototype for when I have my LOTR theme party. Anything this big needs a trial run, as I have demonstrated with the marshmallow balrog. If only I'd done a trial run.... But lead me to the next contest, this time for a mounted ringwraith!

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