When I first heard that marshmallows could be made at home, I was incredulous. How on earth could a home cook create a puffy, cloudy confection like the marshmallow? Surely it required specialized, magical industrial machinery operated by gnomes or elves or some other sugar-loving sprites.
But then I saw some for sale in a local restaurant—flavored in interesting ways, no less. And I made some. And it turns out that if you have a stand mixer and a Thermapen®, homemade marshmallows are easy to make. And what’s more, they are Delicious. Whether in rich hot chocolate, eaten plain, or, best of all, toasted over a flame (especially as part of a S’more), homemade marshmallows put industrial marshmallows to shame.
What even are marshmallows?
The name for marshmallows comes from an old ingredient in the original confection: the mucilaginous juice extracted from the root of the marsh mallow (Althea officinalis). Since ancient times, the syrupy sap of this plant was used a a curative medicine.
Over the centuries, marshmallow mucilage proved most effective as an antidote to cough and sore throat. (Modern medical studies have verified that marshmallow root does indeed soothe the inflammation in mucous membranes.) In the nineteenth century European physicians prescribed boiling down the mucilage with sugar to create a palatable cough syrup. In France, the mucilage was whipped with sugar and egg whites to form lozenges[…]By century’s end, French confectioners had dropped the medicinal mucilage for the more readily available gelatin.”–The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, ed. Darra Goldstein, pp. 430-341
While we have an old-timey cough remedy to thank for Peeps, Mallomars, moon-pies, Sno Balls, Rice-Krispie Treats, and rocky-road ice cream, marshmallows today certainly don’t have any mallow sap in them. All they are is sugar syrup that is cooked to the soft-ball stage (235–240°F [112–116°C]) and whipped together with some gelatin and vanilla. Temp the syrup with a Thermapen, subtracting 2°F (1.1°C) for every 1,000 ft elevation you’re cooking at, and fluffy candy-pillows are yours on the first go-round.
How marshmallows are made
To make the ‘mallows, the gelatin is first soaked (bloomed) in a little water and the boiling-hot sugar syrup (properly temped) is poured in with the vanilla. It is then whipped until the mixture cools to about 95°F (35°C). The resulting fluff will be very sticky! As the gelatin cools and sets up, the ‘mallows will firm up, becoming sliceable. The reason marshmallows in a bag don’t stick together and form a sugar-monster glob is that they’re coated in a thin dusting of cornstarch. You can use cornstarch, or, as in this recipe from King Arthur Baking, with powdered sugar, which contains cornstarch. (Originally, the candy was poured into molds made of cornstarch.) You may want to try both greasing and powdered-sugaring the pan before you pour. We only greased, and it was not super easy to get them out of the pan. I suspect a thin coat of powdered sugar on the bottoms will help.
After you let them cool for a few hours, or overnight, cut them up and dust the newly-exposed sides with more powdered sugar. Allow that to set a little bit and then make whatever you want with them!
These cushiony, airy delights have out-size flavor compared to any mallow you’ve probably ever had. And you can customize them how you like. You could throw some finely chopped nuts into the mixer for the last 30 seconds of mixing, you could add rosewater, sub honey in for some of the corn syrup, cut the powdered sugar with some cocoa powder…it’s all up to you from here! It really is remarkable how these few ingredients come together to showcase the grace of the confectioners’ art. Common, household ingredients turn into almost magical candies by simply temping the sugar properly and whipping in air. It’s remarkable and you’ll very much enjoy them if you give this recipe a try. I recommend you grab your Thermapen and do just that!Print
Homemade marshmallows based on the recipe from King Arthur Baking.
- 3 packages (21 g) unflavored gelatin
- 1 C water, divided
- 1 1/2 C granulated sugar
- 1 C light corn syrup
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- Powdered sugar, to sprinkle on top
- In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl if using an electric hand mixer), combine the gelatin and 1/2 C of the water. Let this soak while you prepare the syrup. Spray a glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- In a small but deep saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and remaining 1/2 C water.
- Cook, stirring, over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
- Stop stirring, raise the heat, and bring the syrup to a boil.
- As the syrup boils, check it often with your Thermapen. Our target is 240°F (116°C), adjusted down by 2°F (1.1°C) for every 1,000ft of elevation.
- With the whisk attachment in place on your mixer, turn the speed to low and slowly drizzle the sugar syrup into the bowl.
- Turn up the speed on your mixer and whip it. It will fluff up and whiten as it goes.
- Whip it until it cools significantly. A temperature between 95 and 100°F (35 and 38°C) is our goal. Use your Thermapen to get down into the fluff.
- Pour the fluff into the prepared baking dish. Use lightly wetted hands to smooth the top of the fluff.
- Dust the top with the confectioners’ sugar. Let the mallows cool and set up for several hours (overnight would be fine).
- Use a sharp knife with a lightly oiled blade to cut the mallows into squares. Remove them from the pan and dust the sticky sides with more powdered sugar.
- Eat up, put them in cocoa, or get roasting! If you want to save them for later, put them in an air-tight container with parchment or waxed paper between layers.
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