Well, it’s that time of year again — the twinkling lights are up, there’s advent calendar glitter all over our living room, and the stockings are hung on our bookshelves with care — it’s Marshmallow Season! December is, at stately IPB Manor, a bacchanal of Williams-Sonoma’s peppermint hot chocolate, and that hot chocolate is so staggeringly delicious that it can’t be defiled with just regular grocery-store marshmallows. Which is, naturally, why W-S sells fancy homemade marshmallows to go with the ho-cho, at a pearl-clutching $18.50 for a small box of the things. While we’re more than happy to overpay for the ho-cho, I decided a few years ago to save a tiny bit on our holiday-season budget by attempting to make my own marshmallows. As it turns out, the process is almost impossibly simple, and yields a delectable end result that puts the expensive Williams-Sonoma ones to shame.
The thing about making marshmallows is that they are basically a kitchen miracle. It’s a handful of easy ingredients mixed into a strange substance that goes through a crucible of deliciousness and comes out a fluffy, scrumptious ho-cho garnish. Whatever happens in the crucible is a mystery to me. I use the recipe from my CIA “Baking & Pastry” cookbook. You start out with 1 1/4 oz of gelatin powder, 16 oz of cold water, 1 lb 8 oz of sugar, 12 oz of glucose (corn syrup), 12 oz of honey and 1 tbsp of vanilla.
You bloom the gelatin in half of the water, and combine the sugar, glucose, honey and the other 8 oz of water in a large pot.
Then you stir things up until all the sugar is moistened.
Then you turn on the heat and let it all boil, undisturbed, until it reaches the magic 252 degrees (F). I used to do this in a much smaller pot, and had to watch it closely, lifting off the heat when it flares up in its first flush of boiling; I also didn’t have a reliable candy thermometer, and had to stand over the steaming pot with my digital instant-read thermometer instead. It kind of sucked. Today I got to take my new digital candy thermometer for a test spin, and after some false starts, it ended up being like a dream come true.
Once the syrup hits 252, you take it off the heat and let it cool down to 210. Meanwhile, you melt the bloomed gelatin over boiling water, take it off the heat and add the vanilla. Once the syrup is cooled, you add the gelatin mixture. This is marshmallow in the raw.
With half the magic done, it’s time to get the mixer going for the other half of the magic. Just a few minutes whipping this stuff on high speed brings us to this…
…then to this…
…then to this…
…and finally it holds medium peaks! We have marshmallow!
The glorious, glorious goo is then spread in a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (last year I had issues with how sticky this stuff gets, and started dusting the paper with confectioner’s sugar before spreading the marshmallow in it), and is left to set.
And yes, this makes way more marshmallows than the wee little $500 box of them you get from Williams-Sonoma.
Once they’ve set, the marshmallow gets turned out on a cutting board, is dusted with more confectioner’s sugar, and is cut into chunks (which are dredged on all their sticky little sides with even more confectioner’s sugar).
Then they sit in sealed containers, separated by layers of waxed paper, waiting for their opportunities to melt atop a cup of peppermint hot chocolate, looking like the world’s most delicious flotation devices, and making December taste like a month of holiday scrumptiousness.