Edible Gift

Black Forest Marshmallows Are the Sweetest Edible Gift You Can Give

The only accompaniment to hot cocoa, in my book.

by:
December 17, 2018
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Welcome to Nifty, Gifty Holidays, our guide for all the little, magical ways we make the season sparkle. Today, we’re making homemade marshmallows, our Senior Editor Eric Kim's go-to edible gift for loved ones during the holidays.


There's a quiet, unsaid truth about foods we only ever seem to eat at certain times of the year. No one questions it: Like, why do we only buy drug-store boxed chocolates in early February? Why do we only eat roast turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving? Why do we only have hot cocoa with marshmallows in the winter? Valentine's Day chocolates should be bought on Feb. 15 when it's on sale, and eaten in one sitting, alone. Roast turkey and stuffing would make for lovely Sunday suppers all year long. Hot cocoa for dessert in the summer, while camping and toasting marshmallows? Duh.

These are the foods we look forward to every year, even though we could have them whenever we want. But maybe the reason we hold them so dear is because we've built these seasonal rituals around them. In the way that I always look forward to my annual Feb. 15 soak in the tub with a heart-shaped box of chocolates and Cabernet, binging old seasons of Grey's Anatomy, there is a certain lure to once-a-year traditions you wait around all year for. It keeps them special, and remarkably greater.

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There is, for me, no greater seasonal pleasure than making homemade marshmallows—a batch for myself to enjoy with hot cocoa and a good book, and a couple more to pack for my friends as edible gifts. As I've said before, sometimes the best gifts are the ones you'd never buy for yourself; same thing goes for the foods you'd never take time to make for yourself. Because around the holidays, I find that we can sometimes forget to take care of ourselves and spend most of our energy caring (and shopping!) for others. I suppose that is the magic of Christmas, the spirit of giving and all that. But these marshmallows are a gentle, pillowy reminder during this hectic seasonal rush to slow down and take time for yourself: both in the kitchen, making them, and on the couch in front of the television, eating them.

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Top Comment:
“I've made marshmallows, many times, and I appreciate that your recipe doesn't contain egg whites. It may be my own personal quirk, but I prefer the taste of marshmallows made without egg whites. That said, this recipe (like most candy recipes) would be easier to use and more reproducible if the measurements were given as masses, not just volumes. As for the almond extract/cherry pairing, that's easy: both almond extract and cherry flavoring contain benzaldehyde! In my lab days, I always enjoyed when I got to use something that actually smelled nice in one of my experiments.”
— MelissaH
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Plus, there's just nothing like a homemade marshmallow.

"Recipe developers always say that homemade is better—guilty!—but with marshmallows, it’s really true," my colleague and Food52 Recipe Developer Emma Laperruque said to me, cheeks stuffed with test mallows I had brought into the office.

"I don't love marshmallows on their own," Recipe Developer Ella Quittner admitted, luxuriously dipping hers into a cup of cocoa. "Because, let's be real, the best thing about a marshmallow is when it melts into your hot chocolate."

This year I wanted to do something special: I'm an avid fan of black forest cake, that dark chocolate and cherry dessert resonant of kirschwasser (German for "cherry water"), which is a fiery brandy made from cherry juice. When figuring out how to add that flavor to my mallows without having to buy a whole bottle of kirsch or somehow extract the essence from out-of-season cherries, I found that a little almond extract lent a similar cherry-like note.

(I don't know about you, but almond extract has always tasted to me of cherries. There's this reddit thread that I wish ran longer with more answers and research from others who have the same question: Why does almond extract taste like cherries? The only answer I can provide is that cherries and almonds belong to the same crop plant family—which is, believe it or not, the rose family.)


How to Make Homemade Marshmallows

Photo by Bobbi Lin

There's a big difference between things that are difficult to cook, and things that take time to cook. Marshmallows are easy for sure—and they don't even require of you much active cooking time (just a few minutes to make a sugar syrup, combine it with gelatin, and whip for 15 minutes in a stand mixer). But they do need to sit overnight to dry out, so be sure to plan ahead for that.

More importantly, there are a few very useful tricks to accomplishing the feat of (easy!) sorcery that is making marshmallows at home. Though I have made these in the most rudimentary kitchens (like cabins, and once even in a motel room on a hot plate with an electric hand mixer), these three things will make your life so much easier:

  1. A recyclable 8x8-inch aluminum foil pan, or even a silicone mold. The flimsy, malleable nature of the aluminum foil or silicone means that turning the mallows out becomes that much easier, as you can warp the pan to get the soft block out. Whatever you end up using, an 8-inch square is the ideal pan shape if you want 16 perfectly cubed marshmallows.
  2. A candy thermometer. Sure, there is a trick to figuring out how long to cook the sugar and water to its 240°F "soft-ball stage" without a thermometer: Just spoon a touch of the mixture into a cup of cold water, and if it solidifies into a soft, rollable ball, then it's ready; but if it merely melts into the water, then it's not cooked enough. However, it's really great not to have to guess, because taking the sugar far enough is probably the most crucial step to ensure that the marshmallows have the best texture in the end (soft and pillowy, but not watery).
  3. A stand mixer. Let me first say that I'm not discouraging anyone without a stand mixer to flee from this marshmallow recipe. But as someone who loves multi-tasking, there's nothing more satisfying than letting the mallow mixture just do its thing for 15 minutes while I go about the house and take care of other business, like petting my dog and looking longingly into her eyes. If a hand mixer is what you've got, great! One tip to keep your arm from falling asleep is to play really loud heavy metal, or to put on an episode of your favorite Netflix show.

Have you ever made homemade marshmallows? Also, do you know why almond extract tastes like cherries? Let us know in the comments below.

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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his weekly solo dining column, Table for One, runs every Friday morning. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

2 Comments

judy June 5, 2019
these look wonderful. Marshmallows are one of the foods that I have never attempted to make because I think they may be too difficult.I don't do much any making. And I have to admit that marshmallows are among my favorite sweets. In my latter years, I ate developed a huge intolerance to anything with corn syrup in it. So I ate shied away from trying them when I might have, as I have not seen any recipe that does not call for the stuff.I have some wonderful Lyle's syrup that I picked up. I wonder if that would be a possible replacement and work as well. Maybe I just have to try. The Lyle's has been sitting in my cupboard for about 3 years now, waiting for the right use to come along. And impetus. Maybe this is it. My favorite version of marshmallows growing up were those ones coated in toasted coconut. but I love dark cherries as well...hmmm.....
 
MelissaH December 19, 2018
I've made marshmallows, many times, and I appreciate that your recipe doesn't contain egg whites. It may be my own personal quirk, but I prefer the taste of marshmallows made without egg whites. That said, this recipe (like most candy recipes) would be easier to use and more reproducible if the measurements were given as masses, not just volumes.

As for the almond extract/cherry pairing, that's easy: both almond extract and cherry flavoring contain benzaldehyde! In my lab days, I always enjoyed when I got to use something that actually smelled nice in one of my experiments.