What’s sweet and squishy and a big hit at holiday parties? Santa, of course, but also homemade marshmallows.
As with Santa, some folks don’t believe in the magic of the pillowy clouds of candy. Having eaten the bagged marshmallows from the grocery store for years, they can’t see the point of making them at home. There are actually several reasons to make them, including the ability to flavor them with spices or booze, and a soft, meltaway texture that mass-produced marshmallows can never approach.
Enough people have become marshmallow fans that there are entire stores devoted to them. Wondermade, the largest purveyor of artisanal marshmallows, grew from a 2011 Christmas gift that was itself homemade. Stymied to find the perfect gift for his wife, Floridian Nathan Clark wrapped up a candy thermometer and a recipe for marshmallows. Inspired by the gift, Jenn Clark quickly mastered the recipe and began tinkering with it to create more flavors. Within a year, she was a full-time marshmallow confectioner with a shop in Sanford, Florida and a nationwide following for the Clarks’ creations.
As Jenn Clark discovered, marshmallows are relatively easy to make. Unlike many candies, humidity isn’t an obstacle, because their fluffiness is stabilized with gelatin. They do require a heavy-duty stand mixer to whip in the air (Wondermade’s packaging proclaims their product is “made with 100% sweet, magic air”) that makes them tender, and a thermometer similar to the one that launched a million artisanal marshmallows, but not much cooking skill is needed.
In fact, cooking ability is less essential to marshmallow making than cleaning skills. Not only is the marshmallow fluff a sticky goo that can somehow make its way to every kitchen surface, the process is finished with a thorough dip in powdered sugar, which also manages to float throughout the kitchen and leave a light dusting everywhere.
The clean-up is a small price to pay for the revelation waiting in the first bite of the softer, less gummy marshmallows. The texture of a fresh marshmallow is more similar to one that’s been roasted and is starting to melt, but without the stickiness. That’s because the sticky surfaces have all been covered in powdered sugar or a less-sweet mixture of confectioners sugar and cornstarch.
Chocolate marshmallows can be dredged in a mixture of confectioners sugar and cocoa powder, or dipped in melted chocolate. The cocoa-coated bites are a shortcut to a cup of hot chocolate: when two or three are dropped in a cup of hot milk, the cocoa and sugar turn the milk into perfectly proportioned hot cocoa, with the marshmallows floating on top.
Firm marshmallows can be cut with small cookie cutters into shapes before coating with sugar or dipping into melted chocolate. Spraying the cookie cutters with cooking spray will minimize sticking. To cut into the traditional small squares, spraying a pizza cutter or kitchen shears will make the job easier and the result more uniform.