Why I Love This Recipe
This is another newcomer to the DeMartino pantheon of holiday treats. It was only a couple of years' back that I discovered the glory of homemade marshmallows. They aren't simple, but once you get the hang of it, they're not hard, either. And when you show up at a friend's house with a box of these, it's tough to resist the bright, cool aroma of peppermint once you take the lid off. It's like the opposite of Pandora's Box.
Ingredients You'll Need
• Nonstick vegetable oil spray
• 1 cup (8 oz) cold water, divided
• Three ¼-oz envelopes unflavored gelatin
• 2 cups (13.5 oz) granulated sugar
• ⅔ cup (8 oz) light corn syrup
• ¼ tsp salt
• 2 tsp peppermint extract
• ½ cup corn starch or potato starch
• ½ cup powdered sugar
1. Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil – be sure to press the foil all the way into the corners and get sharp creases. I like to use two sheets, each folded so they are the exact width of the pan – lay the first sheet into the bottom of the pan, draping the ends over the edge of the pan. Then rotate the pan 90° and lay the second sheet in. Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray. ALTERNATIVELY. Coat a 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray. Put the cornstarch and powdered sugar in a zip-top bag and mix; place ½-cup of the starch/sugar mixture into the prepared pan, cover with foil, and shake like crazy - until everything has been completely covered in powder. Dump out remaining powder.
2. Pour ½-cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water; let the mixture stand until gelatin softens and starts to bloom, at least 15 minutes. It’ll start to look a little gummy, a little foamy.
3. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining ½-cup water in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves; you’ll want to brush down the sides of pan with pastry brush dipped into clean water, to catch any stray sugar crystal and get it back into the mix. Once the sugar’s fully dissolved, clip a candy thermometer to the side of pan. Increase the heat and bring the syrup to a boil. Once boiling, leave it alone – DO NOT STIR IT – until the syrup reaches 240° F, about 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and the thermometer from the pan.
4. Turn the stand mixer to low speed. SLOWLY pour the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture in a thin stream; best to pour it down the side of the bowl (don’t pour the syrup onto the whisk while it’s running, as it may splash and you will learn what napalm feels like). Once the syrup is in, gradually increase the speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. The mixer’s going to rattle and buck a bit, so don’t wander off. An untended mixer working full tilt has an unnerving tendency to “walk” off the countertop. You’ll hear the thing whine a bit, too, as the mixture gets thicker. Right at the end, add in the peppermint extract and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.
5. Move fast now: Scrape the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with spatula (give the spatula a good spritz with nonstick spray first). It’s going to set up on you quicker than you think, so don’t dawdle. Let the candy stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours, or up to overnight.
6. If you haven’t already (and really, you should have), stir the remaining corn starch and powdered sugar together. Dust a work surface with the mix, forming a rectangle slightly larger than the pan (so larger than 13”x9”). Don’t skimp on the starch/sugar mix here – you’re going to need a lot of it. Turn the marshmallow slab out onto starch/sugar mixture. Sift even more starch/sugar mixture over marshmallow slab (you remembered to remove the foil, right?).
7. Coat a large sharp knife or pizza cutter with some nonstick spray (and a little more of that starch/sugar mix wouldn’t hurt, either). Cut the marshmallows into 2” squares. Toss each square in the remaining starch/sugar mixture to coat. Shake off the excess mixture, then box or bag up your marshmallows. Or do what I do, and just jam them into my face.
So… candymaking. It’s one of the more exacting areas of cooking. I’m not going to get into the mechanics of all of it now, mostly because I don’t exactly know all the mechanics myself. But let me give you a few tips on the above recipe.
For starters – be careful. Hot sugar will burn straight through to the deepest parts of your soul if it gets onto your skin. When you first create the syrup, you’re dissolving all those sugar crystals into the liquid. The corn syrup is going to help immensely with this, as it is already in a different crystalline structure than the granulated sugar. However, you want to help it out some. While it’s starting to dissolve, you want to brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. What you’re doing here is getting any stray sugar crystal that’s stuck to the side back into the mix, where it can dissolve. If you don’t, it’ll cause trouble for you later on. Speaking of later on, once the mixture is fully dissolved, you’ll notice I tell you to stop stirring. Why, you ask? Because, while the sugar crystals are dissolved, they’re just itching for an excuse to precipitate out of the solution. A stray, un-dissolved sugar crystal (such as one that may have stuck to the side of the pan and come loose) can be the catalyst that kicks the whole thing off. Stirring may agitate the mix enough to kick it off, too. Either way, it can cause your syrup to become grainy, and then you’ve got to start over. And since this is candymaking, temperature is key. If you’re a master chocolatier, you can probably eyeball the mix. The rest of us schlubs use a candy thermometer or an instant-read thermometer. It’s the only way to get accurate results.
Once you’ve gotten the syrup incorporated into the gelatin and got the thing whipping for a while, you’ll start to think to yourself, “that looks plenty fluffy and stiff. I don’t have to whip it anymore.” You’ll feel the urge to turn off the mixer early. RESIST THAT URGE. Even if it doesn’t look like the volume is growing anymore, you still need to give the sugar and gelatin time to trap all that air and form tiny little stable pockets. Otherwise, once you get it into the pan, it will get flat and just not have that ineffable fluffy marshmallow quality.
Of course, these are peppermint (and peppermint is strong – a little extract goes a long, long way), but you can make any flavor. Vanilla is the traditional. They get better if they’re allowed to sit for a while. Store them in zip-top bags. They’ll keep for a few days. Well, theoretically – they’ve never lasted that long.
Oh, and sorry vegans, but there’s really no good, easily procurable substitute for gelatin. And it’s pretty essential for marshmallows. You’re SOL on this one; go check out my spiced candied pecans.
Mini-marshmallows? Yeah, we can do that – Skip step one, but mix the corn starch and powdered sugar together – you’ll still need it. Follow the recipe, steps 2 through 4. After it’s been mixed, scoop the whole mass into a pastry bag fitted with a plain, circular opening tip. Pipe out long tubes of marshmallow onto parchment coated with your starch/sugar mix. Let them set up for at least four hours, then go ahead and slice them up into minis. If you want to get really ambitious, you can mix in a couple of drops of food coloring when you add the extract to get the tinted colors. ALSO, instead of piping these out into stand-alone tubes, you can use it as a dessert topping, i.e. icing a cake with it.