Corn Starch is Your Best Friend, Part 1
The 4th of July passed not too long ago, and friends back in the States emailed me their photos of red, white and blue themed BBQ’s, with hamburgers, corn on the cob and homemade pies, along with fireworks and bonfires on the beach. This last image was my favorite, with thoughts of summer camp and roasting marshmallows around the campfire coming to mind. Some kids roasted them until they were soft and just slightly browned, but I left them over the fire until they were completely black and burnt on the outside – the exterior crisp and weightless, the middle melted and gooey. Marshmallows are a part of my childhood. And by that, I mean bags of Kraft’s white Jet-Puffed marshmallows for making S’mores and Rice Krispies Treats.
Then I moved to France and discovered multi-colored guimauve, French style marshmallows. They are most commonly seen as long strips of delicate confections, proudly on display in the city’s pastry shops. Fancy chocolate shops sometimes have more familiar cubes too, even with exotic flavors and herbs.
I have wanted to make my own marshmallows for years! Intimidated by the idea, I just never did. Well if anyone reading this has similar hesitation, please hear me out – it’s actually very simple! And really fun, if perhaps a bit messy. Just keep in mind one thing, and all will be alright: corn starch is your best friend. Have a box at the ready, and you’ll be very happy when it comes time to removing your finished marshmallows from the pan and to cutting them into whatever shapes you desire.
Whatever you call them, marshmallows or guimauve are made of sugar, corn syrup and gelatin. Most recipes use whipped egg whites as well, and that helps to obtain that light, spongey texture they are known for. I decided to make two batches, one with and one without. I pulled out the M folders from my baking files… Meringue, Mocha, Macarons, Maple syrup, and voilà - Marshmallow! I read through all of the recipes I saved from newspapers and magazines over the years, all with very similar techniques and flavors, and decided to (finally) give it a go. I teamed up a friend of mine who had the same motivation — and a stand mixer. Perfect! We were ready to go…
First batch (and first of a 3-part series here): Chocolate Mint Marshmallows. We used Dorie Greenspan‘s recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours, with guidelines for “a meringue base, sweetened and strengthened by a cooked sugar syrup and fortified by gelatin.” She gives many ideas for playing around with the flavor too, but with a bar of Lindt 85% chocolate, cocoa powder and peppermint extract on hand, we had that covered.
Making marshmallows at home can be a messy job – you have been warned. Luckily, corn starch is a cinch to clean up! Scissors seemed to be the easiest tool for me, and you can even dip the blades in the corn starch before cutting. Choose whatever technique you’re most comfortable with for coating the marshmallows in corn starch (or powdered sugar) – dipping individually in a small bowl, tossing them all together in a big bowl, shaking them out on tin foil as above… and have fun with the shapes or sizes. I made some standard square marshmallows and then lots of minis, which were so fun to just pop in to my mouth. Both were great in sweetened steamed milk. They slowly melted down and gave such an incredible flavor to the milk, making my very own minty hot chocolate! I highly recommend it.
Got Milk? Now you just need some homemade chocolate marshmallows! The recipe is below, and then stay tuned for part 2…
Makes about 1 pound of marshmallows
About 1 cup cornstarch (or potato starch)
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
2 1/4-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup cold water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 bar of Lindt 85% chocolate (100 grams or 3.5 oz)
2 1/2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Line a rimmed baking sheet or baking pan with parchment paper and dust the paper generously with cornstarch. Have a candy thermometer at hand.
Put 1/3 cup of the water, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is dissolved, continue to cook the syrup — without stirring — until it reaches 265 degrees Fahrenheit (129 degrees Celsius) on the candy thermometer.
While the syrup is cooking, work on the gelatin and egg whites. In a microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining cold water (a scant 7 tablespoons) and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until it is spongy, then heat the gelatin in a microwave oven for 20 to 30 seconds to liquefy it. (Alternatively, you can dissolve the gelatin in a saucepan over low heat.) In another bowl, break up chocolate and gently melt in microwave. Add cocoa powder and peppermint extract, and mix to combine.
Working in the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in another large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until firm but still glossy — don’t overbeat them and have them go dull.
As soon as the syrup is ready, remove the pan from the heat and, with the mixer on medium speed, add the syrup, pouring it between the spinning beater(s) and the sides of the bowl. Add the gelatin and continue to beat for another 3 minutes, so that the syrup and the gelatin are fully incorporated. Fold in the chocolate mint mixture.
Using a large rubber spatula, scrape the meringue mixture onto the baking sheet or into the pan and spread well. Dust the top with cornstarch and let the marshmallows set in a cool, dry place. They’ll need about 3 hours, but they can rest for 12 hours or more. Best to just leave overnight.
Once they are cool and set, cut the marshmallows with a pair of scissors or a long thin knife. Whatever you use, you’ll have to rinse and dry it frequently. Have a big bowl with the remaining cornstarch at hand and cut the marshmallows as you’d like — into squares, rectangles or even strips (as they’re cut in France). As each piece is cut, drop it into the bowl. When you’ve got 4 or 5 marshmallows in the bowl, reach in with your fingers and turn the marshmallows to coat them with starch, then, one by one, toss the marshmallows from one hand to the other to shake off the excess starch; transfer them to a serving bowl. Cut and coat the rest of the batch.
Keep the marshmallows in a cool, dry place.