I have always thought of marshmallows as a sort of "magic" food, like Pop Rocks or bubble tea. How, exactly, are they made? Sugar is obviously a major ingredient, but what else goes into them? And why do they stay fresh for such an alarmingly long time? Curiosity got the better of me when I spotted the Barefoot Contessa's Homemade Marshmallow Mix—I absolutely had to try it, despite the $11 price tag.
As it turns out, when it comes to ingredients sugar is pretty much it. The box of marshmallow mix contained three pouches. The first was filled the unflavored gelatin; the second with sugar, corn syrup, sea salt, and natural flavors (to my taste, vanilla); and the third with confectioner's sugar and more natural flavors. The only thing I needed to add was water.
After dissolving the gelatin, I combined the contents of the second packet with 2/3 cup of water and boiled it until it reached the soft-ball stage. This took about 10 minutes. Then I poured it into the gelatin and beat the mixture at high speed for 14 minutes (you can do this with a stand mixer if you have one, but a hand-held electric mixer will work in a pinch).
At first I was skeptical—the syrup was so clear and thick—but if there is any magic in the marshmallow-making process, this is when it happens. After 10 minutes of beating the mixture began to lighten and turn white. Then it lost its syrupy texture and become pillowy and light. In the end, I had a bowl of what can only be described as fluff.
Since I don't have an 8x11-inch pan (who does? It's such an odd size) I dusted my trusty 9x9-inch pan with the contents of packet three and poured in the marshmallow mixture. Then I let it sit undisturbed on my kitchen table overnight.
The next morning I had a bit of trouble getting the giant marshmallow sheet out of the pan. It didn't really turn out the way the instructions suggested, so I ended up having to sort of lift it out carefully with a spatula, similar to how you might lift an enormous pancake out of a skillet. Once released from the pan, I found that while my giant marshmallow was impossible to cut with a knife—it kept sticking and tearing—poultry shears worked wonders.
In the end, the Barefoot Contessa's marshmallows were unlike any I've had. They were thick, weighty, and moist. They were also far more flavorful. While store-bought marshmallows can be cloying (to put it mildly) these tasted primarily of fresh vanilla.
While they were quite good on their own, what marshmallow review would be complete without a hot chocolate test? I plopped one in a mug and was thrilled with the results: instead of quickly dissolving into a sugary vapor, my marshmallow melted slowly into a creamy vanilla-laced foam. To quote Ina herself: "How bad can that be?"