Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Homemade Marshmallows

Homemade marshmallows have been in vogue for the last couple of years, and it's no wonder why. These little candies are delicious and make impressive gifts. They are also surprisingly easy to make, and can be customized in so many ways. All in all, homemade marshmallows make a great Valentine's Day gift for neighbours and family - or yourself! And if you're not into Valentine's Day (like me), you could plop one into a nice cup of hot chocolate - it's the perfect cure for winter blahs.

Originally marshmallows were made from the root of the marshmallow plant and egg whites and sold as medicine. Nowadays marshmallows are a candy made by combining a cooked sugar syrup with gelatin. I followed the recipe at joyofbaking.com, but every marshmallow recipe follows approximately the same proportions. You can play around with the amount of sugar (some recipes call for only 1 1/2 cups, some for 2 cups) and corn syrup. Feel free to customize your marshmallows by replacing the vanilla extract with other flavourings, or even liqueur Just be aware that some flavours are stronger than others, so if you're going with something like peppermint or almond, reduce the amount of extract in the recipe to taste. If you're a vegetarian, you might want to try replacing the gelatin with agar agar flakes, or you could try out a traditional recipe made with real marshmallow root.

You'll definitely want to use a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment for this recipe.

Here is the basic recipe, generalized from many sources:

3 envelopes gelatin ( 2.5 Tbsp or 12 sheets)
1/2 cup cold water

2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/8 - 1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla, or the flavouring of choice
food colouring, if desired

plenty of confectioner's sugar for dusting

-Grease a 9 x 13" pan, and line with parchment paper. Dust heavily with confectioner's sugar.

-Put gelatin and cold water in your mixing bowl. Let stand to soften.

-Make the sugar syrup. In a medium sauce pan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, salt and water. Wash down sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Clip on a candy thermometer, and cook the mixture until it reaches 220F (soft ball stage). Take the pan off heat immediately.

-With mixer on low speed, slowly pour the syrup into the softened gelatin. Increase speed to high, and beat mixture until it is thick, white and fluffy. This will take between 5 and 15 minutes. Add vanilla (or other flavouring) and food colouring, if using, and beat for another 30 seconds to one minute more.

-Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, using a dampened rubber spatula. The mixture will be extremely sticky, so just do your best here. Generously sprinkle the top with confectioner's sugar. Let stand, uncovered at room temperature for 6 - 12 hours, depending on humidity.

-Generously dust a cutting board with confectioner's sugar. To remove marshmallows from pan, cut around the edges of the pan with a sharp knife. Either turn the pan over onto your prepared cutting board, or pull the entire marshmallow out if that works better for you. Peel off the parchment paper, and cover with confectioner's sugar. Cut the marshmallow slab into desired shapes, with a sharp knife or cookie cutter. The marshmallows will be very sticky, and you'll probably have to stop and clean your knife several times. Keep the marshmallows small as they are very sweet and rich. A little goes a long way!

-Decorate as desired. The cut edges will be extremely sticky and need to be coated with something to keep them in tact and moist. There are no limits here! Simple ideas include confectioner's sugar, toasted coconut, cocoa powder.

Store marshmallows in a parchment lined container at room temperature. Marshmallows will keep for at least a week or two, depending on humidity.

These would look so cute in tiny packages, wrapped up with brown paper and pretty ribbon! Your friends and neighbours will love you!

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