Now that the holiday season is officially over, I think I can safely tell you about these homemade marshmallows. "Safely" because the impetus for making these was a completely unexpected case of the holiday blues, and I didn't want to bring anyone down with my tales of woe. Because Christmas is supposed to be such a happy time. Right? It's the most wonderful time of the year. Right? Mistletoe-ing, hearts aglow-ing, snow a-blowing! Right?! It's the happiest season of all, and I had every reason to be happy. Only... it wasn't, and I wasn't.
Instead, I was feeling more than a bit bah-humbug-ish. And the more I felt that way, the more I didn't want to feel that way, and the more guilty I felt about feeling that way, which made me feel even more bah-humbug-ish. A vicious little holiday circle, it was. So I tried to find my way out of it. I made a concerted effort to focus on the positive things in my life - my family, my friends, my health, my work. I took notice of all the wonderful people making a difference in this crazy world of ours - like Gregg Breinberg ("Mr. B") of the PS22 Chorus. How could anyone remain in a bad mood after listening to those beautiful voices singing a song like this, and seeing Mr. B's infectious enthusiasm? Lastly, I made a tried-and-true recipe that was sure to banish my blues: homemade marshmallows.
Homemade marshmallows, people! Had I thought of this earlier, it would have saved me a lot of holiday heartache. Because it is physically impossible to not smile when making these. Why? Let me count the ways:
1. They are ridiculously easy - handful of ingredients, no candy thermometer needed, almost impossible to screw up.
2. They transform before your very eyes from a rather wonky (if truth be told) grey-ish liquid into a giant, billowy, white cloud of sweet fluff in a matter of minutes. It's like the most fun science experiment ever.
3. You get to pour and smoosh and smooth said white cloud into the pan with your hands, which is like the most fun playdoh experience ever.
4. When you finish, you have the most awesome, gourmet, big, square, fancy-stores-charge-a fortune-for Homemade Marshmallows! Like, from your own kitchen! (Yes, I am aware that I have slipped into Valley Girl mode. I'm embracing it.)
So I made them. And in the midst of the boiling, the whipping, the dripping, and the dipping, a funny thing happened. I realized that beating the holiday blues was not that difficult after all. I hope once you give these a try, you'll realize that homemade marshmallows aren't very difficult, either.
According to various (unconfirmed) internet sources, marshmallows - in some form or another - have been around thousands of years, since the time of the ancient Egyptians. I don't know whether marshmallows are still popular in Egypt, but they sure are in the U.S., where we eat about 90 million pounds of the stuff every year. The French apparently love their marshmallows, too. Called "guimauve" en francais, they come in myriad flavors and are eaten as a candy or snack. The geek in me loves these kinds of factoids. (But not as much as I love these marshmallows.)
Flavorless vegetable oil (like Canola), for oiling the pan, spatula, plastic wrap
1/2 cup cold water
3 envelopes of Knox gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 to 1 cup confectioners' sugar (aka powdered sugar), for dredging
Line a 9x9-inch pan with foil or plastic wrap. Brush it with a little vegetable oil to coat. Set aside.
Add the 1/2 cup water to a very large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer). Sprinkle gelatin over the water, and set aside for 10 minutes.
After the gelatin has been soaking for about 5 minutes, begin prepping the sugar syrup in a small, heavy saucepan: combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in the saucepan over high heat. Bring to a full boil and boil hard for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat. Immediately pour boiling syrup into gelatin and mix at high speed (use caution!). Add the salt and beat for 12 minutes, adding the vanilla in the last minute. The mixture will more than triple in volume, will become white, and will resemble marshmallow cream.
Pour the marshmallow into the plastic-lined pan, using a lightly oiled spatula to scrape it out of the bowl. You will probably need to scrape a fair amount of the marshmallow off the beaters, as well. Lightly oil a piece of plastic, place over the top of the marshmallow mixture, and use your palms to gently smooth and press the marshmallow flat and into the corners of the pan.
Let the pan sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours, or overnight. Do not refrigerate. Carefully remove the marshmallow slab from the pan and place gently on a large cutting board that has been generously dusted with powdered sugar. Sprinkle more powdered sugar over the slab. Using a large chef's knife that has also been dusted with powdered sugar (see a pattern here?), cut the slab in half, then in half again, so you have four large squares. Cut each square in thirds (3 long pieces each), then cut each of those pieces into thirds (3 squares). Continue to dust the marshmallows with the powdered sugar as you work, so they don't stick together. When you are finished cutting the marshmallows, roll them in powdered sugar to completely coat. Gently shake off the excess sugar and store in a tightly sealed container or plastic zip bag.
Makes 36. The marshmallows will keep at room temperature for 3-4 days.
Notes: If you have a stand mixer, use it. I don't have one, and my hand mixer works just fine, but be prepared for the loooong mixing time. If you use a hand mixer, it helps to have someone around to pour the boiling sugar syrup for you.
Variation: Chocolate-Dipped Marshmallows
As you can see, I decided to dip these in dark chocolate. But because I didn't feel like messing with tempering the chocolate, I used dark cocoa candy melts, which don't require tempering. This time around, I tried the Wilton brand, which tasted fine but was a bit grainy. I prefer the Merckens brand, which seems to melt and set more smoothly. (I forgot to measure - sorry - but I probably used about 2 cups of the candy melts.)
Melt the candy melts in a glass bowl in the microwave. A small, deep bowl works best. Start with 30 seconds on high, stir, then heat in 10-15 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted. Watch carefully! If the chocolate gets too hot it will burn, and you'll have to throw it out and start over.
Shake excess powdered sugar from a marshmallow, dip it halfway into the chocolate, lift it straight up, and set on a baking sheet to cool. Repeat until all marshmallows are dipped, reheating chocolate if needed.