Like most Americans, I grew up thinking a marshmallow was a stiff, eraser-like confection, nominally edible, used in school construction projects involving toothpicks or dropped in hot chocolate. Neither candy nor cookie, a marshmallow was a gummy droid, entirely artificial and not all that enticing. My kids used to eat them only when there was nothing sweet left in the cupboard except raisins. To concoct a marshmallow at home seemed impossible. And to concoct at home a marshmallow that resembles a Kraft Jet-Puffed may be impossible.
After you have tasted a sugar-white homemade marshmallow you will not care. Homemade marshmallows are fairy food, pillowy, quivering, and soft.
Make it or buy it? Make it.
Hassle: Negligible, provided you have a mixer (a handheld mixer is fine if you're strong and patient) and a candy thermometer. If you don't have a candy thermometer, buy one. Cheap and useful.
Cost comparison: "The most basic homemade marshmallow costs $0.10. Kraft Jet- Puffed marshmallows: $0.04 apiece. On the other hand, high-end marshmallows like the Whole Foods brand: $0.50.
Makes 36 marshmallows
Three 1/4-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
11/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (page 260)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
In a tiny saucepan, over low heat, dissolve the gelatin in 7 tablespoons water. It will be pale beige and viscous. Turn off the heat.
In a larger saucepan, heat the granulated sugar and corn syrup with 1/2 cup water.
Bring to a boil, stirring until dissolved. Let it boil until it registers 265F on a candy thermometer.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a mixer, begin whisking the egg whites. Beat until firm and glossy. As soon as the sugar syrup registers 265F, begin pouring it in a slow steady stream into the egg whites, beating constantly. Add the gelatin and continue beating. When you start, the hot liquid will slosh around the bowl and you will think it is hopeless; by the time you are done, the mixture will have swollen into a luxuriant white cloud. Whisk until the bowl is cool to the touch.
Whisk in the vanilla.
Lightly grease a rimmed cookie sheet. Mix together the cornstarch and confectioners' sugar and sift half onto the cookie sheet. You want a really generous bed of powder. On top of this, spread the marshmallow and smooth the top. Let sit overnight.
In the morning, cut the marshmallows into 36 pieces with a sharp knife. If they stick, dip the knife in water. (Damp scissors can also help with the job.) Toss the marshmallows in the leftover powder; you want all the exposed sides of the marshmallows to be lightly coated in powder, which will keep them from sticking to each other.
Store in a cookie tin or resealable plastic bag. "They keep indefinitely, though they become crustier and less appealing after a week or so.
Excerpted from Make The Bread, Buy The Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch—over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods by Jennifer Reese. Copyright 2011 by Jennifer Reese. Published by Free Press.