I have a secret to tell you. Are you ready?
Homemade marshmallows are really, really easy to make. The Stay-Puffed marshmallow man doesn’t want you to know, but it’s true.
They also taste a million times better than store-bought. I used to think the only appropriate use for marshmallows (besides putting them in the microwave and watching them puff up) was lighting them on fire and then picking away at the charred bits. Not with these, though… I actually like homemade marshmallows. I like them so much, in fact, that this is the third time they’ve made an appearance here on the blog.
And I’m certain it won’t be the last.
Let’s count the ways homemade marshmallows are different from your run-of-the-mill ones, shall we?
1. They are soft. Now, you may be saying to yourself, “of course, all marshmallows are soft.” But no, not like these they’re not. They’re like little pillows of sweetness. But not like those hard orthopedic pillows… we’re talking light, cloud-like pillows that angels use to rest their heads on when no one is looking.
2. They melt. Place these in a mug of hot chocolate and wait a few minutes before drinking it. The marshmallows spread out into a frothy, gooey blanket of sweetness that adds to every single sip. Take that, mini marshmallows!
3. The flavor. Straight-up, homemade marshmallows just taste better than store bought. Add to that the fact that you can infuse them with just about any flavor you like, and now you have a real winner. I once had a sweet potato casserole made with these brown butter sage marshmallows, and I’m pretty sure it’s one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth to date.
If you need more convincing, stop reading and make a batch. It’ll take about twenty minutes, and then they have to set up overnight. Tomorrow, you can wake up to one of these:
This, my friends, is one of T-Hub’s favorite things of all time. Hot cocoa (he also likes it as a mocha, with a shot of espresso and fresh whipped cream), with a few drops of orange extract, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Topping it off with these marshmallows is like the icing on the cake. And the extra chocolate? That’s like the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. Only better.
Before we get to the recipe, let’s talk about how marshmallows work.
Marshmallows are made up of three basic components. Sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin. Now, before we get carried away, the corn syrup we’re talking about here is not the same as “high fructose corn syrup” — this stuff is almost entirely glucose (not fructose), is less sweet than table sugar, and is used to help keep the marshmallows soft and chewy.
To make the marshmallows, the sugar and corn syrup are boiled together to a temperature of 240 degrees F. This is also known as the “soft ball” stage of candy-making. The temperature sugar is heated to gives us a clue as to how the sugar will behave once cooled. At 230-235 F., it is at the “thread” stage. At 235-245 it is in the “soft ball” stage. 245-250 is “firm ball”, 250-255 is “hard ball”, and, well, you get the idea. The names of the stages come from when a small amount of the boiling sugar is dropped into cool water. At the thread stage, the sugar creates thin strands, and does not harden. This is the temperature you would use to make a sugar syrup. At the soft ball stage, a bead of hot sugar dropped into cool water will form a ball that is very soft and pliable. At the firm and hard stages, the ball gets harder and harder, and at higher temperatures it will become brittle. Once you go above 320F, the sugar begins to caramelize… but be careful! Any higher than 350F, and the sugar will start to burn.
Boiling sugar might sound a bit scary, but don’t worry. Just be sure to use a pot big enough to hold the bubbling liquid, and use caution when pouring the syrup. Once you’ve made marshmallows once or twice, you’ll be doing it in your sleep.
Once the sugar reaches soft ball stage, it gets whipped with the gelatin. Beating the sugar introduces air, and creates a light, spongy texture. After a thorough beating, the marshmallow fluff gets poured into a pan, dusted with corn starch and confectioner’s sugar to keep it from sticking. As the mixture cools, the proteins in the gelatin help support the fluff, and keep it from collapsing. Finally, the slab of marshmallow is ready to be cut into bite-sized pieces. Or giant pieces. Or wee tiny pieces. Or mini cookie-cutter snowflakes. Whatever.
Dunking in chocolate is optional, but recommended. Unless you’re planning to toast these babies, in which case, save the chocolate for the s’mores.
Honestly, the hardest part of making marshmallows is the clean-up, and even that isn’t hard. There will undoubtedly be powdered sugar and marshmallow goo everywhere, but all it takes is a little warm water to wash it away.
All that technical talk probably makes this sound a lot harder than it is, so you’re just going to have to trust me when I say, you can do this. And you should. Homemade marshmallows are a total game-changer.
What’s your favorite way to eat marshmallows? In hot cocoa, s’mores, or some other way? Let me know in the comments!
Chocolate Dipped Orange Marshmallows
Makes about 50-100 marshmallows, depending on size
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin (1/4oz each, or approx. 2 1/2 TBSP)
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. kosher salt, or just a pinch of fine-grain sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. orange extract
1/4 tsp. fresh orange zest (about 1/2 an orange)
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup corn starch, or potato starch
8 oz. good quality dark chocolate
1. Lightly grease (or spray with baking spray) a 9×12 inch baking dish. Mix together the confectioner’s sugar and corn starch, and sift about 1/4 cup of the mixture over the baking dish. Be sure to cover the entire bottom and sides of the dish thoroughly. You want it to look like a blanket of freshly covered snow, with no gaps showing. Set aside.
2. Place the gelatin into a large bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, and add 1/2 cup of the water. Set aside. (If using a hand-mixer, have it ready and nearby.)
3. In a medium-sized pot with high sides, add the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and the remaining 1/2 cup of water. Cover with a lid, and place over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes. After a few minutes, remove the lid and check to see if the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is boiling. If the sugar has not dissolved yet, return the lid for another minute or two.
4. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the lid and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, or soft-ball stage. This should happen within 5-10 minutes, but keep a close eye.
5. Once the sugar reaches 240F., remove it from the heat and carefully(!) pour it into the bowl with the gelatin, while beating on low speed. If you have a stand mixer, be sure to use the spatter-guard to prevent hot sugar from spattering out of the bowl. If you’re using a stand mixer, try to pour the sugar into the bowl without pouring it over the beaters themselves. Having an extra set of hands will help.
6. Increase the speed of your mixer to high, and beat for at least 8-10 minutes with a stand mixer, or 10-12 minutes with a hand-held mixer. At first it will look thin and frothy, then it will begin to thicken. After several minutes, it will look like marshmallow fluff — keep beating for the full time. In the last couple of minutes, add the vanilla extract, orange extract, and orange zest.
7. Using a lightly greased rubber spatula, pour the mixture into your prepared baking dish and spread it evenly. Dust the top with more of the confectioner’s sugar / starch mixture, and let rest at room temperature for at least 4-5 hours, or overnight.
8. Once the marshmallows have set-up, remove them from the baking dish and cut into squares (or use a small cookie cutter to make shapes). I find a pizza cutter dusted in corn starch makes easy work of the cutting.
9. Toss the marshmallows in more confectioner’s sugar / starch to coat all sides thoroughly. Then, place a handful of marshmallows into a mesh sieve, and shake back and forth to remove any excess dusting powder. Repeat until all of the marshmallows are done. Finished marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container or baggie in a cool, dry place for up to a couple of weeks, or dipped / drizzled with chocolate and stored for up to one week.
For the chocolate
1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. (Or, place the chocolate in a bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted).
2. Dip or drizzle finished marshmallows in the chocolate, and set on a parchment lined plate or tray. Let rest until the chocolate has hardened.
Recipe notes: marshmallows can be made in nearly any flavor you can imagine! Feel free to swap the orange extract for whatever flavoring you like, or add herbs and spices to make things interesting (chai spice, pumpkin pie spice, or gingerbread spices are all nice additions). You could also add cocoa powder or other add-ins, like jam, or fruit purees. To make plain vanilla marshmallows, leave out the orange extract and zest, and add another teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Smaller marshmallows can also be made by using a rimmed baking sheet instead of a 9×12 inch dish, or by piping the marshmallow goo onto a thoroughly dusted cookie sheet.