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LOST ITALIAN: Homemade marshmallows easy to make, but require patience

Sarah Nasello makes homemade marshmallows with cocoa mix for Valentine’s Day. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
Sarah Nasello makes homemade marshmallows with cocoa mix for Valentine’s Day. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 3
Sarah Nasello makes homemade marshmallows with cocoa mix for Valentine’s Day. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 3

FARGO -- Love is in the air, and lately I’ve been in love with making homemade marshmallows. According to our son, Giovanni, homemade marshmallows are so much better than store-bought ones, which he refuses to eat.

There’s a certain whimsy to marshmallows, and I’ve always wondered how these perfect little puffs of sweetness were made. But, if I’m honest, I didn’t really want to know. Something about them always seemed a bit … unnatural. What on earth gave them their perfectly fluffy texture, and just what was used to achieve that sugary goodness?

I’ve been playing with the process lately, and it turns out there really isn’t much mystery behind the marshmallow, and most of the ingredients are pantry staples.

To make them, you will need a stand mixer, candy thermometer, three packets of unflavored gelatin, granulated sugar, powdered sugar (also called confectioners’ or icing sugar), corn syrup, water, salt and vanilla. That’s it. And some patience, too, because this recipe requires the marshmallows to sit for at least 12 hours or overnight before they’re ready to eat.

I used vanilla extract for my homemade marshmallows, but you can play around and use mint, almond, lemon or any flavor you prefer. You could leave them white in color, I chose to make them pretty in pink by using a few drops of red food coloring gel.

I greased the entire inside of a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish with unsalted butter and then covered it with a piece of parchment paper followed by a generous coating of sifted powdered sugar. I chose a glass pan because it is non-reactive, and used butter because I’ve found that a non-stick cooking spray can leave spots of residue and color on the marshmallow.

The gelatin sits in cold water in a mixing bowl for about 15 to 20 minutes to soften, and will turn into rubbery-looking clumps when it’s ready. To create the candy base for the marshmallow, the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and water are boiled for about 10 to 15 minutes until the mixture reaches 240 degrees on the candy thermometer, which is called the “soft ball” stage.

The recipe has detailed instructions to walk you through each stage. Every time I make homemade marshmallows I’m surprised by how fun and easy the process is.

After they’ve set overnight, it’s time to cut and serve them, and you can make them into any shape you choose to create. Gio and I made them into large and small squares, various-sized hearts, and even tied some into knots.

The marshmallows are great on their own, and even better when added to a cup of hot cocoa. We make our own hot cocoa mix and for Valentine’s Day, we’ve made a double-batch which we’ll package and pair with bags of our homemade marshmallows to give to our loved ones.

Homemade marshmallows

Makes: Many

Ingredients

1 cup cold water, divided

3¼-ounce packets unflavored gelatin

2 cups granulated white sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or other flavoring)

Food coloring as desired

3 to 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted, for coating pan and dusting marshmallows

Directions

Grease a 9- by 13-inch glass baking dish with unsalted butter and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. Generously sift powdered sugar over the paper to coat, about 2 to 3 tablespoons.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, add ½ cup cold water and then add the three packets of gelatin. Allow to sit until gelatin softens, about 15 to 20 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, cook the remaining ½ cup water with the granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Cover the pan and boil for about two minutes, then uncover and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.

Adjust the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, without stirring, until it reaches 240 degrees, or the “soft ball” stage, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Using the whisk attachment, turn your mixer to its lowest setting and slowly add the hot liquid to the softened gelatin. To avoid hot splatters, gradually increase to high once the syrup has been added. Whip the mixture until very thick and stiff, about 10 minutes, then add the vanilla and any food coloring and beat until combined, about a minute. When ready, the mixture will have tripled in volume and the sides of the bowl should be lukewarm.

Use a spatula to scrape the marshmallow cream into the prepared pan and spread into the corners the best you can. At this stage the marshmallow mixture will be quite sticky, so dip the spatula into water if needed. I found it easiest if I just dipped my hands in water and used them to smooth the mixture into the pan.

Dust the marshmallow with another heavy coating of sifted powdered sugar and leave uncovered to set at room temperature for at least 12 hours, or overnight. To remove from pan, run a knife around the edge and then use a spatula to gently lift an edge of the marshmallow. Use your hands to turn the marshmallow out onto a baking sheet dusted with powdered sugar, paper side up. Remove the parchment paper and dust the top with more powdered sugar. Use a sharp knife, scissors, pizza wheel or cookie cutter to cut the marshmallow into desired shape.

Fill another baking dish or pan with 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar and toss each cut marshmallow in to coat, then use a small sieve to shake off any excess sugar. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

Makes: 5 cups dry mix

Ingredients

1 cup cocoa

1½ cups powdered sugar

2½ cups powdered milk

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

Combine all ingredients in food processor and mix until well combined. Taste and adjust sugar and cocoa as desired. Store in an airtight container for at least one year.

To serve, fill a mug with 2 to 3 tablespoons hot cocoa mix and add hot water or milk. Stir to combine and top with homemade marshmallows.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com