I love the gift giving aspect of the holidays. Not the big family gift giving that requires a lot of thinking and wondering if the recipient actually wants the “stuff” you are giving them. What I love is the little treats that people exchange during the holidays. The cookies, the jars, the bags and boxes of homemade or store-bought treats. They come out at parties or at work or you leave them for the post man and the babysitter and the teacher. I love the overwhelming display of love as food that happens this time of year.
Given how enamored I am of the whole process, you’d think my participation would be as self-less as possible, picking the treats that I know friends and coworkers love the most. But my holiday treat making is much strategic than that. During the holidays (and let’s be honest, all year round) I bake to impress and pick my recipes accordingly.
That’s how these marshmallows ended up in little bags for coworkers and several (non-vegetarian) friends this holiday season. Marshmallows are by far the most impressive thing I can make judging by the reactions I always get when I make them. Mostly I get disbelief (“wait, you can make marshmallows??”) followed by much more appreciation than I deserve. Let me assure you, these take about as much effort as it takes to bake a cake and while they are messy, the cleanup is only as difficult as boiling water.
If you’ve never had a homemade marshmallow this is the time to try it. They’re soft and pillowy and even after a week on the counter they still taste better than anything you can get in a bag at the store. Wrapped up in little bags or boxes they make a sweet gift that’s sure to get plenty of oohs and ahhs.
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”
Makes about 50-60 1-inch square marshmallows
Cornstarch for dusting, about ½ cup*
2 1/4-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
½ + 1/3 cup cold water, divided
3 large egg whites
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 tbs light corn syrup
¼ tsp peppermint extract
4-5 drops red food coloring
Start by preparing an 8 by 8 pan. Line the pan with parchment and spinkle the parchment with cornstarch so that the bottom is covered. Then set the pan aside.
In a small bowl, combine the gelatin with ½ cup water and stir it together. Then let it sit for at least 5 minutes for the gelatin to soak up the liquid. It should look spongy and should have absorbed all the liquid.
While the gelatin blooms, in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they reach stiff, glossy peaks which should take about 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to overbeat the whites, err on the side of less stiff. Once the egg whites are beaten, go back to the gelatin (which should be done) and microwave it for 30 seconds to liquify the gelatin.
When the egg whites and gelatin are all set, turn your attention to the sugar syrup. In a medium-sized saucepan combine 1/3 cup water, the sugar, corn syrup, and salt and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook the syrup until it reaches 265 F and do not stir. If you need to move things around just swirl the pan a bit. Cooking the syrup to 265 should take about 5 minutes so don’t walk away or it will burn.
When the syrup reaches 265, take it off the heat and turn the mixer back on medium speed. Slowly drizzle the sugar syrup into the beaten egg whites until all of the syrup is in. Then add the gelatin and beat for an additional three minutes. Towards the end of that time add the peppermint extract and the food color until it reaches the pink you’re looking for.
Once the mixture is beaten, scrape it into the prepared 8 by 8 pan and spread it into the corners, making sure the top is even. Then let it sit for a few hours to set, preferably overnight.
To cut up the squares, take the parchment paper out of the pan and peel it off the set marshmallows. Dust the top with additional cornstarch and then using a knife or a pizza cutter, cut the marshmallows into 1-inch strips. Toss the strips with cornstarch and then cut them into 1-inch squares. Then toss the squares in cornstarch and sift off the excess. You can store the marshmallows for a few days in an airtight container although they’re best the day they’re cut since they go stale quickly.
* I’ve tried to do this with powdered sugar but the sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts water, which makes the marshmallows get soggy quickly when you leave them sitting out. Stick to cornstarch, they don’t need the extra sweetness.