When you hand people homemade marshmallows, they’re always dazzled. These are actual marshmallows, but with a lush, moist texture you never find in store-bought versions.
If you want your friends to keep thinking you’re a wizard, don’t tell them how simple it is. Basically marshmallow is a meringue made with gelatin instead of egg white, so it just takes longer — egg white cooks almost immediately, while gelatin has to stiffen for 12 hours or more in the refrigerator — but the ratio of dazzle to effort is enormous.
In the 18th and 19th century, confectioners extracted a gluey substance from the roots of marshmallow plants and used that where we use gelatin today. They also hedged their bets with egg white. In fact, some modern recipes add some egg white, I really can’t say why.
Limitless variations for flavored marshmallows
There’s one thing we can learn from the old-timers: You don’t have to flavor marshmallows with vanilla. They typically used orange blossom water, which does give a deliriously dainty and elegant effect. If I thought as seasonally as you’re supposed to these days, I’d have saved this recipe for June, because I imagine orange blossom marshmallows could be used in all sorts of romantic wedding-related ways.
You could also use mint or lemon extract. In fact any flavoring you want would work because this is a broad palette on which much can be painted. But the very best marshmallow flavor, in my opinion, is butterscotch. The effect of rich butterscotch flavor in a plush texture is overwhelming.
There are commercial butterscotch flavorings in restaurant supply stores, but I don’t like to rely entirely on them because when a dish contains only two ingredients, sugar and gelatin, the artificiality of artificial flavors becomes a bit noticeable. Instead, I replace the corn syrup in the marshmallow recipe with an English product called Lyle’s Golden Syrup which has been sold in tins resembling small paint cans since the 1880s. Unlike corn syrup, it’s made from sugar cane, but unlike molasses, it has a delicate browned-sugar flavor without the burnt and acid edge of molasses (which is of course perfectly appropriate in other contexts).
Use Golden Syrup and you’re already 85% of the way to butterscotch flavor. In fact, I understand that in England the company sells a butterscotch version of Golden Syrup that we should start importing right away. In the meantime, I like to punch the flavor up with a drop or two of butterscotch extract, but you don’t really have to.
Finding the perfect texture
The proportions of sugar, water, corn syrup and gelatin in this marshmallow recipe are pretty forgiving. You can find recipes with anything from 5 teaspoons to 7½ teaspoons gelatin to half a cup of water, and the proportions of sugar, corn syrup and water are also rather loose. If you use more liquid or less gelatin, your marshmallows won’t whip up as high but they will have a moister, more luscious texture. You may want to experiment with different proportions. I like a high medium-moist marshmallow, so I boil the syrup to the upper end of the soft ball stage, rather than the firm ball many recipes specify.
How forgiving are the proportions? I have made marshmallows with a syrup mixture that had so little liquid that not all the sugar dissolved. The corn syrup kept the mixture from “seizing up” into rock candy, but some of the sugar granules never dissolved. I found the effect pleasant, but maybe the world is not yet ready for crunchy-style marshmallows.
Basic Marshmallow Recipe
Makes 16 marshmallows
1 cup water, divided
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
½ cup light corn syrup
1½ cups sugar
¼ to ½ teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring
½ to ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
1. Spray an 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish with non-stick spray.
2. Pour ½ cup water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Allow the gelatin to sit for 5 minutes, then set the mixer bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water. Leave it there without stirring until there is no longer a floating layer of undissolved gelatin, 15 -20 minutes.
3. Remove the mixer bowl from the saucepan and set aside until cool, 10 minutes or so. Return the mixer bowl to the mixer and whip the dissolved gelatin as if it were egg whites until it holds soft peaks, about 1 minute.
4. In a small saucepan, mix the remaining ½ cup water and ½ cup corn syrup with the sugar. Bring to the boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium and place a lid on the saucepan for 3 minutes so that steam can wash any sugar crystals off the edge of the pan.
5. Remove the lid, raise the heat to high and insert a thermometer probe into the syrup. When it reaches 238 F, about 10 minutes from the start of cooking, pour the syrup into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, scraping as much as you can from the saucepan with a heat-resistant spatula.
6. Beat the hot syrup into the gelatin in 6 or 7 small batches, stopping the beaters when you add syrup avoid pouring any of it on the beaters themselves because they’ll waste syrup by whipping it onto the walls of the mixing bowl. Scrape all the syrup you can from the cup.
Two notes: Don’t be disturbed by a faint barnyard aroma, which will disappear when the gelatin cools. And put a paper towel on the counter when adding syrup, because there will be drippage.
7. When all the hot syrup is added, leave the mixer on high speed for 15 minutes. Beat in your chosen flavoring and scrape the marshmallow into the prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
8. In the morning, sift ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar over the surface of the marshmallow. Use a table knife or spatula to loosen the sides, then overturn onto a plate and tap the bottom. You may have to tap quite insistently. When the square of marshmallow has dropped onto the plate, use a sharp knife, preferably with a blade 8 inches long, and cut in four parts and again at right angles to obtain 16 cubes of marshmallow. Dredge each marshmallow in confectioner’s sugar to prevent stickiness and arrange on a serving plate; or on wax paper in a sealable container. Will keep for at least 1 week.
- Orange Blossom Marshmallows: Replace the vanilla with orange blossom water.
- Butterscotch Marshmallows: Replace the corn syrup with Lyle’s Golden Syrup and optionally add a drop or two of butterscotch extract at the end.
Homemade marshmallows dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Credit: StockFood