I have a book in my kitchen, one of those spiral-bound blank books with a firm cardboard cover. Mine is inlaid with cork, and is decorated with botanical illustrations of cotton plants. The pages are wavy from moisture, and there is structural damage where some of the cork got ripped off. It is bulging, as it contains as many loose pieces of paper, folded and stuffed into it, as bound pages. It is one of my first collections of recipes, taken from magazines and books and friends, and is more than ten years old. (Which probably doesn't sound all that old, but considering that it's as long as I've been out of college, it feels like a long time to me.)
It's an interesting culinary-themed trip down memory lane to read through it, to see what types of food I was drawn to a decade ago. It is also interesting to realize how few of the recipes I ever made. Coriander Mushrooms, Highland Oat Squares, Mushroom Pâté, Tomato-Miso Soup - all untested. Can you tell I was a reader of Vegetarian Times back then? I wasn't even a vegetarian, but I think my post-college craving for healthy foods pushed me towards that publication. That and Cooking Light - I'm sure a lot of those never-tried recipes also came from Cooking Light. There are notes in the margins where I suggest ways to convert the recipes to gluten-free, but nothing to indicate that I ever took my own suggestions.
There's also not much to definitively say where all these recipes came from - most are handwritten onto the pages, and I was 100% consistent in failing to note where I found each recipe. So much for giving credit where credit is due! A scant few, the ones I have actually come back to over and over again through the years, I can remember the origins of. The pâte brisée and pumpkin pie come from Martha Stewart. The guacamole is Ina Garten's version. Bobbie Mills' Cinnamon Cake, which I don't remember making, obviously comes from Bobbie Mills. And although I have no idea who he/she is, a quick Google search reveals that the recipe was published in the September 1996 edition of Gourmet. It's heartening to know I was reading Gourmet back when I was still a teenager, but I do wish I'd had the foresight to save those copies.
Anyway, you probably care very little about my Gourmet-nostalgia, and even less about Mushroom Pâté, not that I can blame you. It's hard to focus on such things when I keep shoving big photos of fluffy, fresh marshmallows in front of you. But you see, everything you just read (or quickly skimmed, or skipped over completely, as the case may be,) really is relevant, if only marginally. Because contained in that overflowing and mostly-ignored culinary relic is a recipe I can't live without.
I don't remember how much time passed between my writing down the recipe and actually daring to make it. I do know it seemed simultaneously straightforward and scarily complicated, which is exactly the type of recipe I like to take on. But kitchen essentials like baking pans and candy thermometers and mixers weren't present in my immediate post-college life, so I imagine this recipe had to wait around a bit while I got my act together.
But once I did, I never looked back. And I've never looked at store-bought marshmallows the same way again. Why eat a stale, stiff, dull-flavored sponge when you know how to make gloriously fluffy, satiny, fragrant sugar pillows? Because really, that's what these marshmallows are. So I make them whenever I can - for s'mores over the campfire, for floating in mugs of rich hot chocolate, for topping our Thanksgiving roasted sweet potatoes, for eating out of hand for no special reason at all. They never go out of style, they always get rave reviews, and the more I make them the less complicated they seem. In fact, they don't seem scary at all anymore, now that I know to keep my fingers away from the hot sugar syrup. That plus the fact that I take comfort in knowing any mess made during the making process is easily erased with hot water during the cleaning process. In fact, I used to make giant batches of marshmallows when I worked at the local bakery, and aside from the additional time needed to cut them all, I can safely say that quadrupling the recipe doesn't complicate things one bit. Assuming, of course, that you have a 20-quart mixer at your disposal!
This most recent batch, as you've probably guessed, was for Thanksgiving. I hadn't meant to make them. I had given myself a prep list that was WAY too long, and I figured my family would just have to live without homemade marshmallows for one Thanksgiving. Until I got notes like this: "No pressure Tara BUT . . . we LOVE your homemade marshmallows," and this: "store bought marshmallows are just fine (though yours really are amazing, Tara.)" Honestly, how could I not make them after that? And that's what's so great about this recipe. It turns out a product that people will ask for year after year, a candy-type confection that seems impressive but really can be done the night before Thanksgiving in the last 30 minutes before you go to bed. (And a lot of that time is just waiting-and-watching-the-thermometer time. Easy to do when you're tired.)
So once again, our sweet potatoes were crowned with marshmallow glory, and I can't believe I even considered not letting it happen. I know that the whole sweet potato-marshmallow dish gets a bad rap, but I'm convinced it's because no one else is using homemade cinnamon marshmallows. Roast a sweet potato until it's soft, split open the top, lay a homemade marshmallow over it and stick it under the broiler until it caramelizes - I'm telling you, it's impossible to turn one down.
And after you do that, you'll have lots of marshmallows leftover. Which is great, because the weather is getting colder by the day and we're all feeling festive and cheery, and there's nothing better to come inside to after chopping down your Christmas tree or stringing lights around your shrubs or simply clearing away the last of Fall's leaves before the snow flies than a cup of hot chocolate topped with real marshmallows, ones that don't immediately dissolve when they meet the heat of your mug. Trust me. Your family will love you for it.
Homemade Cinnamon Marshmallows
yields A LOT - 5 to 8 dozen, depending on the size of the pan
Canola oil, for greasing pan
About 1+ cup confectioner's sugar (I never measure, I just make sure I have a good-sized quantity on hand)
1/2 cup cold water
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115ºF)
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
2 large egg whites (the whites won't be cooked - use reconstituted powdered egg whites if salmonella is a problem in your area)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Special equipment: candy or digital thermometer
Oil bottom and sides of an 18x13-inch pan (for thin marshmallows) or 9x13-inch pan (for thicker marshmallows) and dust with confectioner's sugar.
Put cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle gelatin over to soften. Set aside.
In a large, heavy saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, hot water and salt, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring, increase heat to medium, and boil mixture until a candy or digital thermometer reads 240ºF (soft-ball stage), about 10-12 minutes. Immediately remove pan from heat and pour mixture into bowl of gelatin, stirring until all the gelatin has dissolved.
Using the whisk attachment, whip mixture on high speed until thick, white, and triple in volume, about 6 minutes.
While the sugar mixture is whipping, use a hand-held electric mixer to whip the egg whites in a large bowl until they just hold stiff peaks.
Whisk the beaten whites, vanilla and cinnamon into the sugar mixture until just combined. Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan, using a spatula to spread it out evenly. Sift confectioner's sugar evenly over the top, to completely coat the marshmallow. Chill, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day.
To remove marshmallows, run a knife or small offset spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen, then invert pan onto a cutting board. Lift up a corner of the pan and use the offset spatula (or your fingers) to further pull the marshmallow away from the pan, until it releases onto the cutting board. Dust the surface with confectioner's sugar, as the marshmallow will now be quite sticky. Use a large knife to cut the marshmallow into whatever size and shape you desire. Squares are traditional, but I've been known to grease cookie cutters and make duck-shaped marshmallows for Easter, and hearts for Valentine's Day. Toss the cut marshmallows around in a bowl of confectioner's sugar to coat the sides, then use a fine mesh strainer to shake the excess sugar off.
Marshmallows keep, at room temperature in an airtight container, for up to 1 week.
*Note: for plain marshmallows, simply leave out the cinnamon. Or replace the vanilla with another extract (almond or mint are good) for flavored marshmallows. And if you're a food coloring-type of person, by all means add a little color to your confections!