Making marshmallows amuses me. They seem magic: gelatin and sugar syrup combine to make fluffy, silly confections. They have no redeeming food value–well, maybe the gelatin offers some protein–but they make up for their lack in fun value.
I make marshmallows maybe once a year, using a version of King Arthur Flour’s recipe (on their blog, they have great step by step photos of making marshmallows). Last year, I added crushed peppermint candies. They added color, texture, and flavor. For the first day. After that they began to melt and the marshmallows turned damp and gummy. If you use candies, eat your batch the same day. Or the next at the latest.
This year I decided to add red and green food coloring, adding a couple drops to the completed batch and using just two swipes with a large spatula to fold them in. I use a larger pan (11″ by 17″) than the recipe calls for. The marshmallows still seem plenty tall to me–about 1 or 1 1/2″.
One of the reasons I like to make marshmallows is that they can be a mess. So not only are they a food of childhood (Did you spend hours squeezing the marshmallows between your fingers until they reverted to a sticky, stretchy, sweet mass?), but they remind me, too, of playing in the sandbox.
To slightly reduce the mess (too clean takes the fun out of it), I use the splash guard on the stand mixer. Then, if I rev up the speed too fast, I don’t have to wash the walls afterwards. This bit of advice comes to you from experience. I also cut the marshmallows with my pizza wheel. Pressed against a long ruler, I can make fairly straight cuts.
Do prepare your pan ahead of time and pour the marshmallow in while it’s still a touch warm. It will spread nearly on its own with just a few nudges from your spatula. I’ve only found frustration with the “use wet hands to smooth and even the top” method. I figure perfection rarely equals fun. The candies set in about 2 hours.
You still have time to make these for Christmas. In fact, they’d be a great Christmas eve activity with the kids. The ingredients are probably in your pantry: sugar, gelatin, light corn syrup (or maple syrup), and flavoring. (I like to use peppermint extract.) The only special equipment you need is a thermometer because to thicken properly, the syrup needs to reach 235 or 240 degrees F. Give it a try and you may start a new holiday tradition.
PS: I made peppermint marshmallows the first time for book group, floating them on top of thick hot chocolate made with coconut milk. If you don’t get around to marshmallows this holiday season, write a note to yourself to make them and the hot chocolate for your Valentine. Oooooh boy!