Saturday, April 2, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

Homemade. Marshmallows.  Need I say more?  I know what you may be thinking, because I am guessing your train of thought is similar to what mine was at first.  This is going to be complicated.  But no - it really isn't.  It's much simpler than you'd think - even simpler than making a cake would be.  Seriously.

And let me tell you - people will be very impressed with you when you offer them a homemade marshmallow.  You'll see it in their eyes.  They'll be even more impressed when they taste them.  Personally, this particular kitchen endeavor has given me pause to reflect on how I ever put up with commercial marshmallows all those years.  The vanilla flavor in these puts every marshmallow I've had up until now to shame.

The best part is that you can make these into any flavor you want; I will definitely be doing some flavor experimentation on your behalf, trust me.  (My friend Lisa, who taught me how to make these, made Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows, for instance).  For now, just know that we are not limited to vanilla alone.  And if you have kids, these would be a great project to do together; I am betting that they would love to help cut out the marshmallows (you could use cookie cutters to make them into fun shapes!).

The last piece of persuasion I will leave you with comes from the 5 year-old I babysit.  I brought her a heart-shaped marshmallow for her birthday, and she informed me with a grin that it was a "very excellent birthday gift."  Later that day, I received a thank-you card that read, "The marshmallow feels like a pillow with powdered sugar on it! Thank you!"  

Homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

1 tbsp (1 packet) Knox unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cool water
1 cups granulated sugar
1/4 + 1/8 cup water (halved recipes lead to weird amounts!)
1 tbsp honey
1/8 tsp kosher salt

1 - 2 tsp. vanilla extract (to your own liking - and you can also use any other extract you like here)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup powdered sugar
optional: 1 tbsp cocoa to make them chocolate-coated

To prepare the pan, grease and dust an 8-inch baking dish or cookie pan with a rim.  Alternatively, you can line it with parchment or wax paper.
Combine cool water and gelatin in a large bowl.  Set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, combine water, vanilla sugar, honey and salt.  Bring to rolling boil; if you have a candy thermometer, cook til it reaches 115 C or 238-240 F (firm ball stage). If you're like me and don't have a candy thermometer, bring to a rolling boil and then set a timer for exactly one minute, stirring constantly. When the timer goes off, remove from heat immediately. 
Turn on an electric mixer on low speed. Very slowly, pour the hot mixture into the bowl with the gelatin-water mixture.  Mix on low speed until thoroughly combined, and then turn mixer onto high speed. Beat for a long time - about 12 - 15 minutes - or until it is very thick and stiff peaks form (similar to when you beat egg whites). 
Spread evenly into your prepared pan, and cool for at least 1 1/2 - 4 hours (or overnight) before slicing.  When you're ready to slice them, combine the cornstarch and powdered sugar in a bowl and dust a cutting board with the mixture.  Remove the entire sheet of marshmallows to the dusted cutting board.  Grease a very sharp knife or scissors, and cut into desired size.  This is the fun part - you can even use cookie cutters if you want to make them into fun shapes!  Toss with remaining powdered sugar mixture until all sides are evenly coated and no longer sticky.
These will keep for several weeks in an airtight container in the fridge, or you can freeze them for several months.

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