Hello, internets! I’m Sarah from the newly-created Sweet Synthesis and I’m here to talk about marshmallows and the making thereof.
Marshmallows! You can make them in your very own kitchen! Who knew? Certainly not most of the co-workers to whom I gave said homemade marshmallows as holiday gifts this year. Whip up a batch (or several) of these babies in various flavors and then proceed to impress your friends. They will think you can do magic. No joke.
Marshmallows don’t always have the best reputation–but hear me out. Homemade marshmallows are nothing like those sickeningly sweet, cylindrical confections you pick up at the grocery store. No, homemade marshmallows are unbelievably fluffy, their taste is somehow much lighter, and they’re much more aesthetically pleasing.
To be honest, the process of making marshmallows really does feel magical — one minute, you have boiled sugar and corn syrup, and the next, you have this whipped up, fluffy white cloud of deliciousness. Magic. But best of all, marshmallow-making is really easy, really quick to prepare, and really easy to clean up.
…but because this is Food Shenanigans, and I have never crafted anything perfectly or without a few mishaps, let me recount my first-time marshmallow-making efforts in all their victories and grotesque defeats.
I set out (with good friend, helper, and once-upon-a-time contributor to this very same blog, Julia) to make a few different flavors of marshmallows using Not Without Salt‘s primary vanilla bean marshmallow recipe (as well as her hibiscus one) and slightly adapted it to create chocolate swirl and peppermint.
Vanilla Bean Marshmallows
(recipe from Not Without Salt)
1.5 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup of cold water, divided
2 packets or 1.4 tbs of non-flavored gelatin
1 tsp of kosher salt
nonstick spray or oil
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out (or 1.5 tsp vanilla extract)
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
A standing or electric mixer with a whisk attachment
1 medium-sized saucepan
A candy thermometer
A 13×9″ pan
In your standing mixer, add 1/2 cup of cold water to your gelatin and let it sit.
In a saucepan set over medium-high heat, mix granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and the rest of the water. Cover and let the mixture simmer for 3-4 minutes. Uncover and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. You want to boil your syrup mixture until it reaches 240 degrees F. This is the “softball” stage of candy-making.
You’ll find that your mixture will heat up in leaps and bounds until it reaches 235 degrees…and then it seems to take for-ev-er to make the last 10. Do not be disheartnened. It will get there. Do not get impatient and remove your mixture from the heat before it reaches the right temperature. You’ll know your syrup is ready when you can dip a fork into it and then blow a bubble out of the mixture.
When the syrup mixture finally hits 240 degrees, immediately remove it from the heat. Turn on your mixer to its lowest setting and sloooooowly add the hot syrup mixture to the bloomed gelatin by pouring it down the sides of the bowl. It’s totally going to steam like crazy and smell like…well, boiled sugar and corn syrup. You may even think something plastic is melting, but it’s not. Everything is fine. Unless you’ve left a spatula on the burner.
Now, boiled sugar, you say, that’s going to be terrible to clean, won’t it? Not so, if you’re quick about it: after you pour the syrup mixture into your mixer, immediate fill your saucepan with very hot water from your kitchen sink, maybe add a few drops of dish detergent. Let the the sit and soak up nice and good while you attend to more important matters. Alternatively, you can boil hot water in the saucepan later to re-melt any hardened sugar and it will come off, easy-peasy.
Add your vanilla (bean or extract) to the mixture and gradually bring the mixer up to a higher speed. You might want to keep it at medium for a bit until the mixture thickens and cools slightly, and then you can bring the speed up to high.
Let the mixer run on high for 12-15 minutes. Your mixture will go from opaque, syrupy goop into fluffy white goodness in just a matter of minutes. Magic.
You may have some time on your hands while the mixer is doing its thing, but fear not! There are more things to do.
First you’ll want to sift your cornstarch and confectioner’s sugar together in a separate bowl. Then you’ll want to line your 13×9-inch pan with parchment paper and lightly grease its bottom and sides. And finally, you’ll want to dust your pan with said cornstarch and sugar mixture, making sure the bottom and sides of the pan are completely coated. You can be generous here. It’s better to have too much than too little, trust me.
When you peer into your mixer and see that you have a wonderfully fluffy marshmallow mixture with stiff peaks, pour the marshmallow mixture into the dusted pan, smoothing its surface with a lightly greased spatula.
(After you’ve licked various bits of marshmallow fluff off the whisk attachment and mixing bowl, throw these suckers in some sudsy hot water and let them soak. They’ll emerge all shiny and clean with nary a scrub.)
Coat the top of your marshmallow mixture with even more cornstarch and sugar. You want to completely and evenly coat the top of these babies to keep the marshmallows from drying out. Again, be generous. Tis the season, after all.
The marshmallows will need to sit at room temperature, uncovered, for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight. Yeah, the wait is a total bitch, but it’s important and you can totally do other things in the mean time, like sleep or have a mini Firefly marathon. Or you can be me and watch Contagion and forever be afraid of touching anything in public ever.
I can’t lie: the first time I made marshmallows, I wanted to make a double batch, yet had totally messed up my math, as I am wont to do, and did not use nearly enough gelatin for one batch, nevermind two. As a result, after 12+ hours of supposedly letting my marshmallows set over night, all I had to show for it was, essentially, sticky, gooey fluff. I wouldn’t have complained, really, except the non-stick spray I used had also apparently been three years past its expiration date, giving the whole thing a nasty, funky taste. Into the trash that one went.
When the marshmallows are set, run a wet or lightly greased knife along the sides of the pan to dislodge any marshmallow that may have stuck to it, then upend the pan onto a powdered sheet of parchment. The marshmallow should fall out easily (and if you’re rather graceless like me, in a plume of sugar and cornstarch) but if not, you may need to do some gentle coaxing.
Carefully peel the parchment paper from the marshmallow and add more of the cornstarch and confectioner’s sugar mixture to the uncoated surface. By now, you are probably also going to be coated in this mixture. It’s inevitable.
So now you have a block of powdered marshmallow, which you’ll then want to cut into smaller pieces. Me, I prefer little 1″ squares. I used a pair of lightly greased and powdered kitch shears, but you can also use a sharp pizza cutter or knife. Lightly coat roll each smaller piece in the remaining cornstarch and sugar mixture, making sure there are no tacky surfaces exposed.
Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
And there you have it, folks. Beautiful, sort-of-natural homemade marshmallows, ready to use for a number of purposes. Add them to hot chocolate (oh god, do), make s’mores, melt them over your sweet potato dish this Christmas, or just eat them plain on their own. They’re that good. Really.
And here are some variations:
Chocolate Swirl Marshmallows
Go about using the above recipe but do this too: Mix 3 tbs of quality cocoa with an equal amount of boiling water and gently stir it into your marshmallow mixture after you’ve whipped it up in the mixer.
You’ll want to create a nice chocolate swirl pattern, so don’t overmix! The fat in the cocoa will make your marshmallow mixture a bit less tacky and more liquid-y. That’s alright. Pour this mixture into a greased and dusted pan and follow the rest of the recipe as usual.
Substitute the vanilla with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of peppermint extract. But really, this amount depends on the strength of your extract. My peppermint extract had an 89% alcohol content, and 11% peppermint, which is a little more diluted than other kinds of peppermint extracts. I added 1/2 tsp to my marshmallow mixture and the resultant flavor was subtly pepperminty, like eating one of those fluffy, meringue-like, pastel-colored mints that restaurants liked to offer in big glass bowls to departing customers. Nothing too overwhelming. Your mileage may vary. Just…be careful. It’s easy to go full-on intense with peppermint. Err on the side of caution at first, sample your marshmallow mixture often, and then add more as needed.
To distinguish the peppermint marshmallows from the vanilla ones, we swirled red drops of food coloring into the surface of the marshmallows with toothpicks after it had been poured out into the pan and then dusted the top.
The gel food coloring was super thick and kind of hard to work with. It looked so disconcertingly like blood that Julia wondered if we weren’t making Halloween-themed marshmallows instead. I still had faith though (and in the end, after being powdered, they turned out great, so there).
Upon hindsight, it probably would have been easier to gently stir in the drops of food coloring into the marshmallows while it was still in the mixer, much like you would if you were making the chocolate swirl marshmallows (see above).
Oh boy. Hibiscus. The flavor of these ones were my favorite. The beautiful pink color? Divine.
But the process of actually making these was the most worrying and in the end, these ones caused the most trouble. I’m not going to recount what we did when Not Without Salt has provided the recipe here, but I will talk about Everything That Went Wrong.
We used all the ingredients that were listed, including lemon juice and lemon zest. Boiled the hibiscus juice and used it in place of the cold water in the original vanilla bean recipe. So the hibiscus juice is boiled along with the sugar and corn syrup, as well as with the lemon. The thermometer was climbing, but the mixture was as a placid lake on a breeze-less summer day when it should have been bubbling.
I turned my back to fetch a few note cards — just a few seconds, literally! — and came back to find this:
Which, in the end, results in you later having to do this:
Let me recommend using a bigger saucepan with deep sides when making hibiscus marshmallows.
Aside from the murder of my stove top (cause of death: saccharine smothering), things were going swimmingly. We poured the hibiscus syrup into the gelatin mixture and whipped it up. The mixture starts out a deep beet-like maroon and is whipped up into a beautiful light, airy pink color.
And then we went to pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan. I noticed how the texture of this batch seemed awfully taffy-like, as opposed to marshmallow-like (trust me, there’s a difference). Unlike previous patches, this batch did not want to be spread out into the pan and smoothed over. It liked to stick together. It was a little rubbery. Hmmm.
After letting the hibiscus marshmallows set, we went to turn them out, cut them up, and powder them. No problems. The batch didn’t turn out as pretty or as consistent as the others — the surface had set highly unevenly because I just couldn’t get the mixture to spread out very well in the pan. We had a few rejects in this batch (and, much like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory, we were madly stuffing them into our mouths) but the yield was still plenty enough.
As we were bagging and tagging marshmallow gifts, we noticed something curious. The hibiscus marshmallows were tacky, even after we had coated them all in the powder mixture. Had the hibiscus marshmallows simply absorbed their coating? Odd, but we coated them all again just to be safe.
Cue: The next day. After stealthily dropping off little baggies on co-workers’ desks like little marshmallow elves, I happened to, perhaps, you know, sample a leftover bag for myself. For quality assurance. You know.
Quite simply, the hibiscus marshmallows had shed their powdery coat again and turned into Gak-like squares, sticking to their marshmallow compatriots in the bag, even liquidating into pink ooze at the edges.
What horror hath I wrought?
I’m not sure what happened. The recipe came from a blogger I trust. She didn’t make any mention about having possibly created an alien life form. Perhaps in the boiling over fiasco, we had boiled the sugar to too high of a heat (the thermometer did read about 250 by the time we got around to removing it from the burner, ye gods it happened quick). Perhaps the lemon juice I had used was off.
(And only in hindsight do I realize that I could have used the actual juice from the lemon I zested, which I did not. I used a bottle brand, which probably has all sorts of other chemical additives. Sometimes I am just so full of fail.)
As it was, I profusely apologized to all my marshmallow recipients whenever I had the chance.
“You’re welcome, I’m glad you liked them. Yes, you really can make marshmallows. Sorry about the hibiscus!”
No one seemed to mind too much, though. The other marshmallow flavors were still pretty great. I’ll probably attempt the hibiscus ones again at some point, because they really did have a wonderful flavor–a kind of tartness that worked beautifully against the sweetness of the marshmallow. Yeah, they are definitely worth trying for again. Use lemon juice from an actual lemon, guys.
And that is my account for 8 hours of marshmallow making. A marshmallow-making marathon, if you will. By the end of it, my kitchen was appeared to be ground zero for a confectioner’s sugar bomb, and somehow we had gotten caught up in the explosion if the state of our clothes were anything to go by. My microwave had powdered fingerprints on it, though I don’t recall either Julia or I ever going near it. Marshmallow-making is easy and fun, but it’s not a very neat process. Sorry about that. And the hibiscus.