The how-to and why-to of making marshmallows
It’s hard to argue against the marshmallow. A marshmallow is a perfect bite of fluffy flavored sugar. It will improve hot chocolate, sweet potatoes, graham crackers, trail mix and just about anything else it comes into contact with. On its own, the marshmallow is all the taste of a cupcake at half the mess and mass.
At least, that’s your experience so long as you’re not buying marshmallows at a grocery store. Store-bought marshmallows are a shadow of what they could for two main reasons:
- Store-bought marshmallows have lesser ingredients. The vanilla flavoring is made of a series of different chemicals that approximates the taste of real vanilla. There are instances where imitation vanilla would taste better, but in food where vanilla is the dominant taste, without the real stuff, you’re missing out. With handmade marshmallows you can use cane sugar too, which provides a more complex taste and binds to the vanilla and gelatin different than beet sugar or corn syrup would.
- They’re sealed in an airtight bag. When marshmallows are made, they are mixed. The mixing process allows the batter to expand and breath air into the confection. It needs that air to continue to retain its puffy shape and smooth texture. Marshmallows sold in air-locked bags will either dry out or lean on chemical preservatives to maintain form at the expense of taste.
The superior taste of a handmade marshmallow isn’t the only reason to make them. When you’re handcrafting any food you control the taste. Tonight we’re making a batch of passion fruit marshmallows. We could make strawberry, cherry, caramel, honey— there’s almost no limit to the flavor combinations we could use. The extra flavors introduce extra uses: Right now when I drink a cup of tea I use a few spoonfuls of sugar. I could make lemon or honey marshmallows and let that serve as my tea’s sweetener. Or I could purée banana and cut thinner sandwich-sized slices of mallow and have incredible fluffernutter sandwiches.
All these benefits come at little extra cost and a minimal amount of time. At Walmart you can get 28 large marshmallows for just under $3. Our first batch cost us a little more, but the subsequent batches will cost less since we have leftover ingredients. We spent 60 minutes from first measure to pouring the completed marshmallow into the dish to set and yielded more than 100 large marshmallows — the equivalent to two or three store-bought bag’s worth.
So how do you make marshmallows?
Before you start thinking about making your own, you need two pieces of kitchen equipment: A mixer and a candy thermometer. Without a good mixer you’d have to hand-mix the mallow mixture for 1o minutes. Even if you could manage to evenly mix cups of thickening creme, the mixture starts off at 240°F. That not an ideal temperature for anything you’d want to hand-mix.
A candy thermometer is critical because most cooking thermometers can only handle up to 220°F. They aren’t designed or made to read or even withstand higher temperatures. A candy thermometer reads up to 500°F (hard candy gets hot!) and comes with a clip that attaches to the side of even a deep pot so you can continuously measure the temperature of boiling confections. The chemical processes involved in reconstituting sugar, gelatin, vanilla, water, cream of tartar and salt into a marshmallow require really specific temperature triggers and without accurate temperature readings you’d have a hard time succeeding with this recipe.
If you have the mixer and the thermometer – or want to throw caution to the wind! — here’s what it takes to make your own vanilla marshmallows:
Step 1: Make the syrup
2 cups of water
5 1/3 cups of granulated cane sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
If it doesn’t say “cane sugar” it’s probably beet sugar. You can try beet sugar, but beet sugar doesn’t cook the same as cane sugar.
Stir all the ingredients together in a four quart pot.
Bring to a boil over medium high then cover the pot for two minutes. (The covered pot will trap the steam and wash any sugar crystals off the interior of the pan back into the mix.)
Uncover the pot and turn the temperature to high.
Do not stir!
Insert the candy thermometer and cook until you reach 240°F. (This took about 7 minutes for us.)
Once it hits 240°F, remove the pot from heat and let stand for 15 minutes.
Store excess syrup in a jar for future mallow-making. The leftover syrup will last for months. If you want to reuse it, microwave it for a couple of minutes until it’s softened without stirring.
Step 2: Make the bloom
1/2 cup and 2 tb cold water
1 1/2 tb vanilla extract (We used 1 tb double strength vanilla instead)
3 tb unflavored gelatin
Measure cold water into measuring cup and add vanilla.
Place gelatin into small mixing bowl.
Pour water / vanilla mix over gelatin while stirring with a whisk until there are no lumps.
Set mixing bowl near stove.
Step 3: Make the base
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup syrup
1 1/3 granulated cane sugar
pinch of salt
You can use corn syrup instead of handmade marshmallow syrup. But corn syrup is even more different from cane sugar syrup than beet sugar syrup would be, so expect odd results.
Use a four quart pan. We used a three quart pan and nearly boiled over numerous times.
Spray bottom and sides of pot with Pam and wipe lightly.
Stir ingredients into four quart pan.
Bring to boil over medium heat.
Place lid on the pot for two minutes. (Again, this melts down any sugar crystals on the side of the pot.)
Remove the lid and insert the thermometer.
Do not stir!
Boil until 250°F then remove the thermometer and gently stir in the bloom with a silicone spatula (or something else that is safe in that heat). Every time you add more bloom, the batter will boil up, but going slower didn’t really reduce the foam for us.
Pour the batter into mixer bowl.
Step 4: Mix the batter
Beat the batter on high speed for 11 minutes using a wire whisk in a mixer. The batter starts off incredibly hot and prone to splash, so cover the bowl and mixer with a towel if you plan on standing nearby.
Step 5: Pour the marshmallow creme into a pan to set
Spray a pan with Pam / cooking spray. (We used a 13″x9″ baking dish which gave us marshmallows about 1″ deep.)
Remove the mixing bowl and pour the batter into a pan. You may need to help the batter with a spoon or spatula.
Wet your hand with warm water and smooth down the marshmallow creme to an even surface.
The marshmallow creme is incredibly sticky. It will stick to anything it touches. But since it’s basically just sugar, warm water will melt it away so cleanup is a cinch.
Step 6: Wait
The marshmallow won’t set for hours. The creme is delicious, but if you’ve come this far resist temptation and let the creme harden into a proper marshmallow slab. If you don’t wait long enough, you’ll have a gooey mess that won’t cut or hold shape.
Step 7: Cutting and coating the marshmallows
1 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
Sift the sugar and cornstarch together. If you want to add a finishing flavor you could sift in small amounts of different spices like 3/4 cup dark cocoa powder, 2 tsp cinnamon, etc.
Lightly cover a cutting board with the coating.
Pull the mallow from the edges of the pan and flip pan onto cutting board. If the pan and cutting board and nearly the same size, you can cover the pan with the board first then flip them together.
Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the marshmallows into cubes. You could cut to shapes too. These are your creations so cut however you want, but remember that squares will offer the least wasted marshmallow.
Cover each marshmallow with the coating and place in a container.
You can store the marshmallows in a glass or plastic container. Remember that you want them to breathe while in storage, so don’t close the lid all the way. At room temperature your marshmallows will keep for two weeks, presuming someone doesn’t eat them first.
We made more than 100 inch-thick marshmallows and we wasted a fair amount of creme before setting the batter. With time that recipe should yield another dozen or two. We gave our creations to coworkers, friends and neighbors and found that few gifts brighten up a day like a small batch marshmallow.
Nothing tastes so sweet as a marshmallow you made yourself. Along the way you’ll have fun, save money and follow whatever flavor whims you come up with. You’ll probably make a lot of people happy in the process. So perhaps instead of asking “why make your own marshmallows?” the better question is, “why not?”