THE PERFECT MARSHMALLOWS
I love holidays and gift giving. I pride myself on being a good gift giver and have been known to go through great lengths to get the perfect gift—including once tracking down an old lost set of Legos from someone's childhood for the perfect Christmas surprise.
The first time remember becoming obsessed with creating the perfect Christmas present was my freshman year of high school (no surprise it was the first time I had a boyfriend to gift a present). This isn't to say I didn't care about getting a good presents for my family members as a kid, but for most of those years my dad and I had a tradition of going Christmas shopping together so I had a lot fo help picking out gifts in my younger years. For this first big Christmas present to a "significant" I decided to create a Mexican Hot Chocolate gift box—a super large mug, Mexican chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, small microplane, and, of course, marshmallows. The idea was consumable, delicious and cozy.
While putting the individual parts of this present together, the regular grocery store marshmallows (the staple of 'smores and camping trips) just didn't seem.... festive enough? I had recently developed an almost dangerous habit of flipping through the William & Sonoma catalogs and became obsessed with their square marshmallows. SQUARE MARSHMALLOWS! As a 14-year-old living in a small town in Oregon, it sounded luxurious to have these square marshmallows from William & Sonoma for your cup of hot cocoa. Now a pack of about six vanilla square marshmallows from W&S will run you about $20 (that's about $19 more than an entire bag of generic store brand marshmallows, if you were wondering). As you can imagine when I asked my mother to buy them her initial reactions was, "Absolutely not, that is an absurd amount of money for only six marshmallows."
When I begged her to reconsider, under the argument that square marshmallows are so much more superior and the only way I could show my boyfriend that I cared (teenage logic), the answer remained a solid, "No." While I'm sure at the time I wasn't pleased that my mom didn't agree with my teenage view of an appropriate use of money, it was a good parenting call on her part. While the idea of buying square marshmallows from W&S was nixed, the idea of having square marshmallows had taken a pretty firm hold on us. So instead of buying them, my mom pulled out an old recipe book with a recipe for marshmallows and made them. The Christmas present was saved!
I can't say for sure what the taste difference between our homemade marshmallows and the W&S marshmallows is (it's been 17 years since the Christmas I insisted on square marshmallows and I still have yet to ever buy a box of the W&S version), but I can say a fresh batch of homemade marshmallows are probably the best tasting marshmallows I've ever had. Nearly two decades after we made that first batch, they are still a holiday tradition in my family. Mom mum makes them every year.
Ironically, considering I was the one who inspired making them in the first place and all the other candies and cookies I bake at the holidays, I had never actually made the marshmallows myself—until about a week ago. I would say that it is incredibly simple and went off without a hitch, but I did have to FaceTime my mom to figure out why it didn't look quite right (I didn't whip it fast enough; easy fix). I made a second batch this week that I'll be dipping in chocolate as a dessert for my annual holiday party and this time, it really did go off without a hitch.
Marshmallows are a bit time consuming but quite simple to make. The one caveat is that I would highly recommend a stand mixer (I have a Kitchen Aid from the professional line). It's just too difficult to mix it properly by hand or with a hand mixer—trust me on this one.
This recipe was originally posted in an older version of the Better Homes and Garden cookbook (I think), and my sister once published a version on an old cooking blog we shared. Yep, surprise surprise, I come from a whole family of cooks. Anyway, I hope our family homemade marshmallows can bring a bit extra holiday cheer to your winter hot cocoa.
For the gelatin:
3 tablespoons gelatin (that's 1 full box [four packets] of Knox)
1/2 Cup cold water
For the syrup:
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
Combine cold water and gelatin in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let stand for 1 hour.
About 30 minutes in, begin the syrup mixture. Combined sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a heavy pan. Stir on low heat until sugar dissolves. Once mixture starts to boil (still on low heat), place a lid on the pot and let boil for 3 minutes (this washes down any crystalized sugar from the sides). Uncover and continue to cook until you hit the firm-ball stage on a candy thermometer. This can alter depending on your elevation, etc. In high elevation, cook until 220°. In low elevation this could go up to 244°. In Portland, I bring it to 225° and that seems to be about perfect.
With the stand mixer beating on low, slowly pour the sugar mixture into the gelatin. As the sugar mixture incorporates and is still warm, add vanilla extract. Beat on high for 15 minutes. Mixture will be thick and fluffy looking. Stick to the touch but not dripping off the beater. Place in 8 x 12-inch pan (I dust mine with cornstarch, or you can put parchment paper along the bottom). Let sit for 12 hours.
Remove from pan and cut set marshmallows into squares. Dust in cornstarch and store in air tight container.