Last week I promised you something sweet and holiday inspired, but gave you very little else to go on. I didn’t know, yet, that what I would have to offer would be a beautiful red and white swirl, a puffy, gooey, perfectly melting cube of magic, like a candy cane exploded into clouds and rained powdered sugar all over my kitchen.
Marshmallows look like an ambitious cooking project, and I’ll admit they are not quite as easy as, say, your average chocolate chip cookie or gingerbread recipe. But they are so, so worth trying. When you compare store-bought marshmallows to homemade they are, as I explained yesterday, like the difference between those sheets in a discount motel, and the Egyptian cotton sheets with the sky-high thread count you dream about treating yourself to maybe that’s just me…). The homemade ones are soft and luxuriously puffy, and they linger on your taste buds without that powdery residue you get from the kind that come out of a bag. Plus, you get to play with gelatin and egg whites.
To make mine, I looked to two of my sweets inspirations: David Lebovitz and Irvin Lin. I’ve been reading these two men’s blogs for years now, continually impressed as they churn out ambitious baking projects I never, three or two or even one year ago, would have considered attempting. Then over this summer my sister and I decided to try Irvin’s red velvet s’mores with cream cheese marshmallows, and the recipe he put together was so precise and, once I got over my fear of the boiling sugar syrup, so unthreatening that I decided homemade marshmallows should become at least a semi-regular part of my repertoire.
This is essentially a three-part recipe. First, you dissolve some gelatin in cold water. While it softens and thickens and turns into a curious gooey business that resembles nothing so much as that sticky glue magazine companies use to affix perfume fold-outs and coupons to their pages (how delicious does that sound?!), you melt some sugar with corn syrup and a touch more water, making a barely golden syrup that bubbles and thickens but doesn’t hurt you, because you stir carefully and make sure you have shoes on, in case of disasters. It takes some time for the syrup to come up to the requisite 240F degrees, so while you wait, you whip some room temperature egg whites to soft peaks, helping them along the way with a pinch of cream of tartar.
Then all that remains is to combine. Off the heat, you scrape the gelatin, now congealed into this weird, pecan-pie-filling consistency, into the syrup, whisk to combine, and then pour the still-hot gelatinized syrup carefully into your egg whites. You whip them for a long time – ten minutes long! – and they expand triumphantly until you aren’t sure your stand mixer can hold them all. At the last minute, you add some vanilla and mint extract, and then deposit into a well-greased baking dish, swirl with some food coloring if desired, and stow in the fridge overnight to cure. The next day, you have a wide dish of marshmallow, which you can slice, toss with powdered sugar, and use for whatever purposes your heart desires.
I found, through intense and repeated experimentation (I do these things for you…) that they melt with almost no resistance in cocoa, and would be a revelation dipped in dark chocolate. You could likely torch them just a bit to top a peppermint variation of a grasshopper or chocolate cream pie. But I find that with this peppermint flavor in particular – swirled for the holidays and almost aggressively minty – I like them best straight out of the refrigerator.
Adapted from Eat the Love and David Lebovitz
Makes one 9x13x2 inch pan slab of marshmallow, which you can cut to your desired size
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin (about 14.5 grams, though the quantities on the Knox brand box are not very forthcoming)
¾ cups water, divided
4 egg whites, at room temperature (being at room temp helps them whip faster)
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon peppermint extract (or less – it’s quite strong)
10-12 drops red food coloring (optional)
1-2 cups powdered sugar, for coating cured marshmallows to prevent sticking
- Grease a 9x13x2 inch baking dish with non-stick spray. Mine was butter flavored and looked a little yellow – I’d advise a white or clear version.
- In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin powder over ½ cup of the water, then set aside to gel.
- In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and remaining ¼ cup of water, then stir over medium heat. Use a candy thermometer to moderate the temperature – you are looking to heat this to 240F. This will probably take about 8-10 minutes, with the last 10 degrees taking the longest. You can turn away from this now and then, but be sure to stir regularly as the sugar dissolves to prevent it from burning.
- While the syrup heats, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer, but using a stand mixer is much easier and faster) until they form soft peaks. When the whisk or beater attachment is pulled out of the eggs, what remains on the attachments will droop a bit back toward the bowl – those are soft peaks – peaks that fold over.
- When the syrup reaches 240F, remove it from the heat and scrape the gelatin into the hot syrup, stirring with a whisk to dissolve. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the hot syrup mixture into the egg whites and mix gently, just to warm them up so they aren’t shocked. Then, with the mixer on medium speed, pour the syrup into the egg whites in a slow but steady stream, being careful to aim for the whites themselves, not for the whisk or the side of the bowl, which can cause droplets of hot syrup to fly out onto you. As Irvin says, this sounds scarier than it is. Just be careful and you’ll be fine.
- With all of the syrup poured in, turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and beat for 5 minutes. The egg whites will take on the consistency of a thick whipped cream.
- After five minutes, add the vanilla and peppermint extract, then increase the mixer speed to high and beat for another five minutes. The mixture will increase dramatically in volume, become glossy and thick, and resemble that marshmallow fluff you can buy in jars.
- You’ve now beaten your egg whites for a total of ten minutes. Use a rubber spatula, greased for extra insurance if you wish, and pour/scrape the mixture into your greased 9×13 inch pan. For the swirly candy cane effect, drip 10-12 drops red food coloring over the surface of the marshmallow, spacing the drops evenly for best coverage.
- Gently insert the tip of a butter knife into the marshmallow mass and swirl around, dragging the food coloring over and through the pan to create a swirled effect. Don’t overdo it, though – you want well-defined swirls, not pink marshmallows.
- When you are satisfied with your swirls, cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap, taking care not to let it touch the top of the marshmallows (it would stick like crazy), and stow it in the fridge overnight, or at least 8 hours, to let the marshmallows cure.
- After marshmallows have cured, all that remains is to liberate them from the pan, slice them to your desired size (I used a pizza wheel for this), and toss them in powdered sugar to keep them from sticking to everything they come in contact with. To do this, I put 1-2 cups sifted powdered sugar in a brown paper bag, added the marshmallows, and shook them gently until they were evenly coated. Then, remove and consume as desired!