A huge number of my favorite family traditions revolve around food items and certain holidays. My own children are young and I’m constantly trying to think of new, fun things we can incorporate into our holiday celebrations to help them create fun memories just like I have of my own childhood. This past Halloween I decided a new family tradition would be making yeast doughnuts every fall. After an entire day of experimenting with that and I crossed it off the list. The doughnuts were amazing, but I knew I wouldn’t be repeating the day-long experience every year. (Although I think I might try cake doughnuts which look much easier!) When homemade marshmallows started popping up everywhere a couple of years ago I thought that it might be a fun new tradition and I finally got around to trying them out this year. I was pleasanty surprised that while the actual process takes a little time, the individual steps are so simple that this little project is totally doable, and the results are worth it. I’ve made several batches this year and I think it’s safe to say that it will be an official family Christmas tradition! My kids love helping with the kid friendly steps (cutting shapes with cookie cutters, dusting with powdered sugar) and they love eating them even more. And I have to say, that not being much of a marshmallow fan- I did too!

Homemade Marshmallows
adapted from Alton Brown, variations by Our Best Bites

3 packets unflavored gelatin
1 C ice water, divided
1 1/2 C sugar
1 C light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 C corn starch
1/4 C powdered sugar

9 x 13″ pan
non stick spray

Optional for variations:
cocoa powder
peppermint extract
food coloring
dipping chocolate
crushed candy canes

Place the contents of the gelatin packets into the bowl of a stand mixer. (Yes, you’ll want a stand mixer, or someone to trade off holding a hand mixer with you- but don’t blame me if you blow out the motor of your hand mixer, you’ve been warned!) Add 1/2 C of the ice water.

Stir gently to combine and then set that bowl aside.

In a small saucepan combine: remaining 1/2 C water, corn syrup, granulated sugar, and salt. Stir mixture to combine and bring it to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and then clip a candy thermometer onto the pan. And seriously, if you don’t have a candy thermometer you can grab one for less than 3 bucks at Walmart or even sometimes in the baking isle at the grocery store. It’s well worth the little investment!

The sugar mixture needs to remain on a simmer and come to a temperature of 245 degrees F. It may take 20 minutes or so, so just stir the mixture every once and a while and keep an eye on the temp.

After the mixture reaches 245 degrees, remove from heat. This is where you need to be very careful so you don’t end up cursing my name while treating the third degree burns on your forearms. While your mixer runs on low speed, you need to slowly pour the sugar mixture into the bowl with the gelatin. Now I don’t know about you, but half the time when I try to pour something directly out of a pan (especially when I’m trying to pour slowly) it ends up spilling down the side of the pan and off the bottom and onto the counter, etc. So I choose to dirty one more dish and ladle the sugar mixture into something with a pour spout, like so:

After you add the entire sugar mixture to the gelatin turn the beater speed up to med-high. Continue to whip for 12-15 minutes, adding the vanilla in the last few minutes of beating.

*Also, immediately put your sticky pan and utensils from the sugar mixture into very hot, soapy water. The quicker you get it soaking the quicker the goo will come off!

While your sugar goo is magically transforming into soft, fluffy marshmallows, prepare your pan.

Combine the cornstarch and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Spray a 9 x 13″ pan with non stick spray and coat the bottom and sides with the cornstarch mixture. Tap excess out and save it.

When your marshmallows are done beating the mixture should be thick and white and luke warm, like this:

It’s kind of like jarred marshmallow cream at this point. Grab a spatula and scrape the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan. The stuff is sticky and gooey and it might put up a fight. Show it who’s boss. And don’t worry about getting every last gooey drop because you won’t! Just pull out what you can and then immediately put that dirty dish in the sink with hot soapy water. I found it helpful to spray my spatula with non-stick spray. Once the marshmallow mixture is all in the pan you’ll need to spread it out. A lot of recipes tell you to dip an angled knife into cold water first, but I found it much easier to spray the back of a large spoon with non-stick spray and spread it that way. It will be kind of lumpy, but just keep spraying and patting and get it as smooth as you can. (You can read my notes on variations later in the post to see why my marshmallows are two-toned)

Let the pan sit at room temp for about an hour (to form a dry layer on the top) and sprinkle a couple spoonfuls of the corn starch mixture over the top. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and let it sit overnight. Technically, you could cut the marshmallows after 4-5 hours, but I think they work better after sitting overnight.

When they’re ready to cut, just pull the marshmallowy sheet out of the pan. It should pop right out. The bottom side will be much nicer looking than the top side!

At this point you could use cookie cutters if you want some cute little shapes. I think hearts would be adorable for valentines day and stars are darling for Christmas time. If you do use cookie cutters, you can use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the scraps into mini marshmallows so you don’t waste any.

Otherwise, grab a pizza cutter, or a sharp knife if you don’t have a pizza cutter, and cut the marshmallow into cubes. It helps to dust your cutting implement with the cornstarch-sugar mixture. Especially after it gets sticky stuff on it.

Once they are cut, dust each marshmallow lightly with the remaining cornstarch mixture. This makes them easy to handle and keeps them from sticking together.

After cutting you’ll want to keep these in an air tight container or they will dry out just like store-bought ones do. They’ll be good for a couple of weeks if stored well.

So you probably noticed that half of mine are light brown in color. I played around with some flavors and came up with a cocoa marshmallow that’s awesome. They are also yummy with peppermint extract. These particular brown ones are peppermint-chocolate flavored (one of my all-time favorite flavor combos) and they were a big hit. Here’s some notes on my variations:

— Add all flavorings and colorings in the last few minutes of beating.
For Cocoa Marshmallows: add in 3-4 tablespoons of unsweetened cococa powder. If you make cocoa marshmallows, add a spoonful or two of cocoa powder to your cornstarch mixture as well.
For Peppermint Marshmallows: add in 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
For Colored Marshmallows: add food coloring in the last few minutes of beating (think colored fruit flavored marshmallows!)

Another fun thing to do is chocolate dipped marshmallows. Melt 1/2 C chocolate chips (I prefer semi-sweet or dark because you’re basically dipping sugar squares into it) with 1/2 tablespoon shortening and combine until smooth. The cornstarch coating on the marshmallows makes it a little hard sometimes to have the chocolate stick, so just work slowly and it should work just fine. I sprinkled crushed candy canes on too for extra Christmas cheer!

Think how yummy (and completely adorable) it would be to dip these in chocolate and then sprinkle with crushed graham crackers. Or put a marshmallow between 2 graham crackers and dip the whole thing in chocolate.

Eat them plain or pop them in a hot cup of cocoa. Either way you’ll close your eyes and say mmmm….. these make a super cute gift!

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