It's A Marshmallow Misfit World

It’s official.

I saw my first snow flurry of the season when I was home in Syracuse (unofficial abominable snowmonster capital of the world) this past weekend.

I suppose this means it’s time to break out the spiked holiday drinks and relish in Burl Ives singing A Holly Jolly Christmas. (I can usually trick myself into thinking winter is fun with this kind of behavior until early January.) So, hot toddy in hand, I set out to fully embrace the season. And I’ve already had my first holiday revelation: marshmallows.

The marshmallow is a funny thing. It’s a bit of an oddity, well known and yet nearly impossible to describe in detail. Many eat them, but few can describe them.

Not that you can fault anyone for that. Marshmallows—by definition—are not meant to be pondered over. In fact, please don’t; best not to overanalyze, much like the origins of a hot dog or a man wearing a red wool reindeer sweater with blinking lights or a dentist-aspiring elf; I’d wager you don’t really need to know their back-stories.

Even though a marshmallow is nowhere near as concerning as say, a man in itchy, battery-operated holiday apparel, the initial anticipated bite of a homemade marshmallow can be a tad worrisome. I made homemade marshmallows to top twice-baked candied sweet potatoes this thanksgiving and ended up with a few extra confections to dole out to willing companions. Without fail, a serious look would fall upon the taster as the marshmallow neared the mouth.

The response was always the same: “they taste … like … marshmallow!?” A fact that was somehow oddly comforting. (It was also comforting to find that they bounced—much like Bumbles.) This being my first marshmallow-making attempt, I too was surprised at their legit marshmallow qualities.

Only a marshmallow could be described by saying it tasted like … itself. And misfit or not, pretty much everyone I know will eat a marshmallow in some form, whether it’s sandwiched between graham crackers, swirled into ice cream, paired with chocolate, caramelized on a sweet potato, or made into a rice crispy treat.

This makes the marshmallow somewhat of a magical nonconformist. And an easy one to make, at that. And a perfect way to ease into the snowy season ahead. (See lyrics below.) Hot chocolate with homemade vanilla marshmallows would be a particularly lovely holiday bribe for a shoveled sidewalk, especially if you throw in a little Baileys. They’ll keep quite well through the next month, so make a bunch to have on hand for every snowy evening (or red-nosed misfit) you meet.

Vanilla Marshmallows
Adapted from Alton Brown

3 packages gelatin, unflavored
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1.5 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla extract
Canola oil to coat pan

Place gelatin in the bowl of a mixer with 1/2 cup water. Combine the rest of the water, sugar, corn syrup and salt in a medium saucepan and heat covered on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes. Uncover and cook until sugar mixture reaches 240 degrees using a candy thermometer, about 7-8 minutes. Remove mixture from heat, turn the mixer on low, and slowly add the hot sugar in a small stream down the inner side of the mixing bowl. Once all the hot sugar mixture has been added, beat on high until it turns white and resembles fluff, about 10-15 minutes more.

While the sugar is mixing, combine confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Grease 9 x 13 pan with oil and lightly coat pan with sugar and cornstarch mixture, like you are flouring a cake pan (there will be extra). When marshmallow mixture is ready, pour into pan and spread evenly using an oiled spatula. Dust top with confectioners' sugar mixture (using a sifter helps) and let sit uncovered overnight (or at least a minimum 4 hrs).

Turn pan upside down and slide out marshmallow mixture, running a knife around the edges as needed. Cut into little squares and dredge in remaining confectioners' sugar mixture (may need additional confectioners' sugar).

Makes about 60 marshmallows

-I don't have a candy thermometer (are you listening Santa?!) so I winged it and used a meat thermometer until the dial could go no further and then I just cooked the mixture a few minutes longer. I don't necessarily recommend this, but it worked in a pinch.

-These marshmallows got a tad weepy and benefited from some additional time out in the open air to dry out a bit more (1-2 days). My sister, who has been schooled in pastry, mentioned that her marshmallows did not get weepy when she made them in school; her recipe used egg whites (and probably a candy thermometer). Should you want to try this route, you could check out Smitten Kitten's marshmallow posting from Gourmet magazine circa 1998.

-Remember, it's your marshmallow world. Even Bing (and Hermey the Dentist Elf) would agree.

It's a marshmallow world in the winter.
When the snow comes to cover the ground.
It's the time for play. It's a whipped cream day.
I wait for it the whole year round.

-Bing Crosby from "(It's a) Marshmallow World"


  1. I've always wanted to try my hand at marshmallows. I just picture it being incredibly sticky and messy.

    I can really wait until the Northeast looks like a marshmallow. I'm happy with these mild days we've been having!

  2. you know, I had the oddest combination in a class with a local chef recently--marshmallow squares on fresh green pea soup. It was delicious!

  3. hermey! gah, that might be my favorite christmas special. :)
    LOVE marshmallows, but can't decribe 'em for the life of me. it's true.

  4. Homemade marshmallows are the absolute best and these, my friend, look perfect.

  5. I've never made or eaten homemade marshmallows before, but I would definitely like to!

  6. These marshmallows were so much easier (and way less sticky) than I ever expected. The hardest part was their transport from Boston to Syracuse.

    Marshmallows and pea soup? Wow. I'd wager Hermey would appreciate that. He is a big fan of pea soup, especially if he's describing a fog.

    Stay warm this weekend!

  7. This is SOOOO on my list of things to make this winter....looks like your came out great!

  8. Those look amazing. Paula Deen has a recipe for marshmallows in her magazine but they're peppermint and I like the sound of vanilla ones so much better (plus, I think Alton's recipe are always perfect). thanks for sharing this.

  9. Help! Is gelatin and pectin the same thing? I have no idea where I can find gelatin at the grocery store, and all I see in the baking or Jello aisle is pectin.

  10. Gelatin often comes in those little packets ... it's the powdered stuff. Knox is the brand you'll frequently see in supermarkets. It's an orange box. I hope you found it!

  11. Thank you! Will try to find it today!

  12. Maybe I've pondered marshmallows too much, but in my opinion, a bad marshmallow has a texture not unlike that of a powdered latex glove. A good marshmallow is like biting into a cloud.

    These look delightfully cloud-like. :)