Ok - so it's a bit of a stretch for a holiday - but give me any reason to make marshmallows and I'll take it! I've taught these airy, sweet delights time and time again and it never gets old. I'll be honest, I was never a big fan of the overly sugary store-bought variety and thought that I didn't like marshmallows. But I can admit when I'm wrong - and I was W-R-O-N-G!!
So what is a marshmallow? Basically it's sugar and air, stabilized with gelatin or a vegan gelatin substitute. Yep. That's it. Simple, right? But then we go back into history.
The marshmallow was originally made with the marshmallow plant, which grows in a "marsh" and secretes a thick, spongy sap that was then mixed with honey and grains to make a candy treat. The Egyptians were making marshmallows 2000 years ago for their gods, pharaohs and nobility. These sweet treats have been pleasing palates for a long time! It was also often used as a medicine to soothe sore throats and even occasionally made the rounds as a love potion.
Then in France they discovered that the sap could be whipped with egg whites and sugar to form a sweet, moldable candy. And the rest is history! Over the years the sap has been replaced with gelatin and we often use corn syrup to make these confectionery delights. Somewhere along the road, we decided it was easier to buy, rather than make, our marshmallows. Not true! They are simple to make and just require a little advance planning.
At Gather we prefer making them with corn syrup and gelatin sheets for a firmer set marshmallow. The sheets can easily be ordered online and are a pure form of gelatin (ie: none of that off-putting smell) and they provide a firmer set final product. Plus, they're super fun to play with for kids or adults. Once you have them you'll wonder why you ever used the packets.
So...what do you need to know before you dive in?
1. Altitude. Altitude. Altitude. We all know and love it (groan!). Yes, it is going to slightly impact your marshmallows in a couple of ways. First, our boiling point in Colorado Springs is actually around 200 degrees, depending where in town you live (rather than 212 for sea level). So it does impact sugar work and candy making. Bring your marshmallows to 235 rather than the sea level recipes that go to 250. Then comes the whipping. I stop the marshmallows sooner than traditional recipes tell you to, just to preserve as much air as possible. I have over-whipped, and I have made flat little marshmallows that looked very sad. So stop them before they are completely cool and still fluffy.
2. Always (ALWAYS) use powdered sugar on ever surface that they are going to come into contact with, lined with parchment. You are going to make a gooey, sticky mess. Just embrace it and get on with it! I have read recipes that suggest using corn starch, which leaves a raw starchiness that is pretty unappetizing. So reach for the powdered sugar instead.
3. If you are going to color your marshmallows make sure to use gel food coloring. It won't dilute your mixture too much and they are more color saturated than the traditional liquid food coloring.
4. If you want to keep them from sticking to your hands rub your hands down with a little bit of shortening. It's white so it won't stain the marshmallows (spray will) and it won't add flavor. You don't need a lot - just rub a little in like hand lotion. You can also put a little on your spatula to make it easier to spread.
So give it a shot - it's fun, easy and delicious!
Check out our favorite classic Marshmallow recipe here
And if you want to step up your S'More's game at the end of summer try our homemade Graham Cracker recipe here
Happy National Toasted Marshmallow Day - Go Get Toasted!
Here are a few of our favorite marshmallow recipes: