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Simple to make marshmallows at home

Wed., Sept. 3, 2014, midnight

Discover the ease of homemade marshmallows

Labor Day might have marked the last long weekend of summer. But there’s still time to squeeze in another couple of quick trips to the lake before the weather turns crisp. And there’s nothing quite like celebrating the end of summer with the classic camping confection: s’mores.

The unsophisticated but satisfying staple of childhood never seems to go out of style. Perhaps that’s because it’s so simple to make.

The experience of toasting your own marshmallows likely has a lot to do with it, too.

Whether you prefer the soft, chewy squares to be blackened beyond recognition or just ever so slightly caramelized, they are the key ingredient – the gooey, melty, sweet glue that holds the chocolate- and-graham-cracker sandwich together.

Marshmallows, however, don’t taste like much on their own – unless, that is, you buy the artisanal kind or make them yourself.

Homemade marshmallows are fresher – and somehow sweeter, fluffier and more delicate – than the mass-produced variety. And once you’ve mastered melting and whipping the sugar – it’s not difficult, only time consuming – the candy offers a kind of blank slate for whatever creative flavor combinations you can dream up.

Why make plain old vanilla when you can make more flavorful vanilla bean? Or, vanilla chai, vanilla lavender or lavender honey?

Add chocolate chips, bacon bits or cookie crumbles. Swirl in peanut butter. Dunk, drizzle, sprinkle.

Mocha. Espresso. Amaretto. Bourbon. What about the time-honored pairings of mint chocolate chip or peanut butter and jelly – in a marshmallow?

These fancified versions of a favorite childhood dessert trace their roots to the marshes of ancient Egypt. The sticky sap from the root of the marsh mallow plant was combined with honey and fed to pharaohs.

The sap was used in the candy – particularly popularized by confectioners in France – until the late 1800s. Then, manufacturers began using egg whites, sugar, corn starch and gelatin to achieve the treat’s spongy texture.

The familiar shape dates to 1948, when Doumak, Inc., makers of Campfire Marshmallows, patented a fully automated process that pushed the marshmallow mixture through tubes.

Today, the product remains practically irresistible to kids. In fact, marshmallows are so light and airy that a friend’s 4-year-old once asked her mother if she could strip down and roll around in them because she wanted to feel the softness against her skin. Mom obliged her preschooler, who lined up jumbo marshmallows on blankets on the floor, then proceed, nearly naked, to tumble over the top of them.

Grocery-store marshmallows have traditionally topped hot cocoa, held Rice Krispies treats and popcorn balls together, and provided that sticky, sweet, caramelized crust for the classic Thanksgiving of candied yams. Of course, throughout summer, they’re often toasted over a campfire to make s’mores – and memories.

But in recent years, gourmet, handcrafted marshmallows have become a treat to be enjoyed on their own – without being melted or toasted or used as decoration. Artisanal marshmallows have been cropping up in specialty stores across country – and selling for $1.25 to $3 or more per piece.

Regionally, Madysen’s Marshmallows in Sumner, Washington, sells a dozen – in chocolate-dipped flavors like Coco Macademia, Citrus Salt Caramel and Caramel Nutty – for $14 to $17. Marshmerries, an online-only shop based in Kirkland, Washington, sells its gourmet marshmallows – in flavors like Orange Dreamsicle, Coconut Cream and Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl – for $12 or $18 for packs of four or six.

In Spokane, Madeleine’s Café and Patisserie sometimes offers housemade marshmallows in the large glass jars on its countertop. While Bruttles doesn’t make its own marshmallows, its stuffs the sugary puffs with caramel and dips them in chocolate.

James Middleton, younger brother of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, recently put a new twist on the fancy marshmallow movement, printing Instagram and Facebook pictures on marshmallows. His London-based start-up Boomf sells “the edible selfie,” or “a sweet square of silliness,” for $26 for a box of nine. It takes orders online and ships all over the world.

In their own kitchens, home cooks can stuff marshmallows with caramel or chocolate or nuts, or flavor them ginger lemon, cardamom rose, orange chocolate, chocolate chili, maple bacon, salted caramel, cinnamon brown sugar – whatever they want.

How about s’mores-flavored marshmallows – a vanilla puff dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with graham cracker crumbs? Or, fold the graham cracker crumbs into the mixture for added texture inside and drizzle the tops with chocolate.

They’ll still be good in hot cocoa or s’mores. But homemade marshmallows – flavored just the way you like them – might just be best enjoyed on their own, one bite at a time.

Homemade Marshmallows

Adapted from the Country Living and Alton Brown via Food Network

Making marshmallows is a little messy.

Somehow, I ended up with a dusting of powdered sugar on my dress and toes – not to mention my kitchen countertops and floor.

The good news is it isn’t difficult if you have a little patience – and a stand mixer.

My advice: don’t bother with beaters. I used my year-old handheld mixer for my first two batches: double chocolate and Mexican chocolate with cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne. They tasted great.

But the beaters died during the mixing of the second batch. And, despite whipping the batter twice as long as the directions required, neither of those first two batches puffed up like it was supposed to – and similarly never set. So I inadvertently ended up with something that sort of resembled chocolate marshmallow fluff instead of actual marshmallows.

That changed when I switched to a stand mixer for my next four batches: vanilla bean, espresso, peppermint and almond. With the mixer, it didn’t take too long for each batch to puff up perfectly.

What takes awhile is melting the sugar, taking care not to burn the syrupy mixture on the stovetop while it slowly climbs to 240 degrees. (Use a candy thermometer to make sure the concoction reaches the right temperature.) It also takes time for the mixture to set – at least three or four hours, or overnight.

Waiting is the hardest part.

Once the mixture is set and you have one oversized, rectangle marshmallow, use a pizza cutter or large knife – non-serrated works best – to cut rustic squares. They won’t be perfectly uniform like the factory kind. And that’s perfectly fine.

They don’t all have to be square. Use biscuit or cookie cutters to punch out circles, stars, hearts or holiday-themed silhouettes. Or, pipe the mixture before it sets into molds to make seashell, egg or animal shapes.

You can even impale them on sticks and dip them in chocolate or caramel to make marshmallow pops.

The recipe below makes an oversize batch that easily can be halved if you don’t need as many.

For the base

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup corn starch

Vegetable oil, for pan

6 packages unflavored gelatin (1.5 ounces)

2 cups cold water, divided

3 cups granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups light corn syrup

In a small bowl, sift together powdered sugar and corn starch; set aside.

Brush the bottom and sides of a large baking dish with vegetable oil. Cut a sheet of parchment to fit into the pan so it covers the bottom and two sides. Brush parchment with oil, then coat with half of the powdered sugar mixture and set aside.

Fill the bowl of stand mixer with 1 cup cold water and sprinkle with gelatin; set aside.

In a medium or large saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine granulated sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup water; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees. Remove from heat and set aside.

Beat gelatin mixture on low for about 30 seconds, then pour in still-hot sugar-corn syrup mixture in a slow, steady stream. Increase mixer speed to high and beat until thick, ribbony and doubled in volume, 12 to 15 minutes.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Smooth top with greased rubber spatula. Let rest, uncovered, in a cool, dry place, about 4 hours or overnight.

Sprinkle remaining powdered sugar mixture over top. Invert marshmallow onto a dry surface and discard parchment. Brush excess powdered sugar from the top of the marshmallow onto work surface. Dust a knife or pizza cutter in powdered sugar from the work surface, then cut the marshmallow into squares, or use biscuit and cookie cutters to punch out shapes. Roll edges in the excess powdered sugar mixture on the work surface. Store in airtight container for up to 2 to 3 weeks.

Yield: approximately two dozen 1 3/4-inch marshmallows

Chocolate or Mexican Chocolate Marshmallows

1/2 cup plus 3/4 cup cocoa powder

6 tablespoons hot water

For Mexican Chocolate, also add:

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Pinch nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Before beginning steps above, mix together 3/4 cup cocoa powder and hot water – and additional spices, if making Mexican Chocolate – in a small bowl until a smooth paste forms, then set aside. Sift remaining 1/2 cup cocoa powder with powdered sugar and cornstarch, then set aside. Beat cocoa paste into gelatin mixture before adding sugar mixture.

Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

2 to 3 vanilla beans

Split beans in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds with the back of a table knife and cook with corn syrup and sugar mixture. For more vanilla flavor, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or an additional vanilla bean.

Espresso Marshmallows

3/4 cup instant espresso

2 cups boiling water

Before beginning steps above, dissolve instant espresso in boiling water in a small bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Substitute reserved espresso in both instances where water is called for.

Note: Use a large saucepan or pot for this mixture, which bubbled up much more than all of the others during the sugar-melting process. It also puffed up more during the whipping.

Almond or Peppermint Marshmallows

2 teaspoons almond or peppermint extract

8 to 10 drops red food coloring (for peppermint marshmallows)

Follow directions above, but after mixture becomes thick and ribbony, add peppermint or almond extract and beat for another 30 seconds. For peppermint marshmallows, before letting mixture rest and set, drop food coloring randomly onto top, then pull a table knife through food coloring to create a swirl pattern.

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