I am the kind of person who would rather figure out how to make a graham cracker with what I have in the pantry than get in my car, drive to Publix and pick up a box of Honey Maid.
In fact, that's what I did on a recent "cool-ish" evening at our house, when we got the backyard fire pit going and the s'mores cravings soon followed. The crackers were good, more like very thin and not-as-sweet cookies than anything else, and I would make them again. No biggie.
But I had never attempted to make the other crucial part of the melty campfire sandwich: marshmallows. I wasn't planning on it, either, content to buy a bag at the store because I don't especially like the squishy sugar clouds anyway. Then this week's cover story happened, and the part of me that insists on making anything I can from scratch poked its head out and said, "Marshmallow time?"
So here goes.
I knew nothing about how marshmallows are made, and a couple of things surprised me right away. For one, recipes for homemade marshmallows are ... rather simple? There aren't many steps at all: Bring some stuff to boil in a saucepan, add that to some other stuff in a stand mixer, let the mixer whirl away, pour into pan. You don't even need to turn your oven on.
The ingredient list is forgiving, too, the weirdest one being unflavored gelatin. This is easy to find at grocery stores, and it's the key to making marshmallows marshmallowy. If you've never worked with it and are intimidated at the thought, don't be.
Before I made the 'mallows, I went to Cake Affection in St. Petersburg to talk to owners Aaron and Ivy Lippard about how they make their handcrafted marshmallows. I learned valuable tips that helped me fare much better than I probably would have on my first try. You can read those tips and more about the artisanal marshmallow trend here, but the two lifesavers were this: Prepare your ingredients ahead of time so you can move from one thing to the next immediately, and turn the mixer on high when it's time to do so and let it do its job all the way.
When I got home, I got to work. And it was a fluffy dream.
Marshmallow recipes will tell you to use a candy thermometer to get an accurate temperature on the sugar-water-corn syrup mixture that makes up most marshmallow bases. Full disclosure: I didn't use one, because I always forget I don't have one until I need one. Ivy doesn't use one either. It's advisable, for sure, because getting the right temperature at this stage is crucial to forming the correct consistency. But the kitchen gods must have been smiling on me. I pulled mine off the heat after the suggested cooking time in the recipe below, at which point it was clear and sort of thick and super bubbly. That got mixed in the stand mixer with the gelatin, and this is where things got funky.
Little-known fact, at least to me: When gelatin is being mixed with a hot liquid, it really stinks. Like dirty laundry, or perhaps something related to the animal parts that go into making the stuff. My advice: Let the mixer go while you set a timer for 13 minutes and get far away from your kitchen. The smell dies down eventually, and you'll need to let the whole thing whirl for longer than you think.
At this point, it was basically marshmallow fluff. Very sticky fluff that you should take care not to get on many surfaces. Into a pan it went, doused with confectioners' sugar. And then it sat, on my counter, overnight, ready and waiting in the morning to be cut into snow-white, squidgy, s'mores-ready squares.