In New Orleans we only get a couple of months that feel hot chocolate worthy and January is one of them. I always think that if you're going to indulge once or twice a year, why not go all out and make the marshmallows as well. They're nothing at all like the store bought version and they aren't difficult to make, though you do need a standing mixer with a whisk attachment and a candy thermometer (which you can pick up in the grocery store). I started off using this basic recipe from Martha Stewart Living, but gradually began to add other flavors to my repertoire, which I'll share as well. The nicest thing about a pan of homemade marshmallows - there are plenty to share with friends!
1 1/2 cups cold water
4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (found in the baking section)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1. Use a paper towel or pastry brush to spread the vegetable oil inside of a 9-x-13-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.
2. Pour 3/4 cup water in the bowl of an electric mixer and sprinkle with gelatin; let stand until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Place the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan; cook until mixture reaches the soft-boil stage, 238 to 240 degrees. Remove from heat.
4. With the mixture on low speed, using whisk attachment, carefully add hot syrup to the gelatin mixture, pouring it down the side of the bowl to prevent splattering. Gradually increase the speed to high; continue beating until mixture is cool and stiff peaks form, about 15 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.
5. Pour mixture into the oiled baking dish; smooth top with an offset spatula. Let stand, uncovered at room temperature until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.
6. Sift 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar onto a clean work surface. Invert baking dish onto sugar, and lift to remove. Lightly brush a sharp knife with oil and cut marshmallows into 2-inch squares (or use a sharp, oiled cookie cutter to make shapes). Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar into a bowl and roll marshmallows in sugar to coat evenly/
Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
Lavender and Ginger flavored marshmallows are made without extracts. However, I used McCormick Imitation Cherry and Imitation Coconut extracts for the Cherry and Coconut versions (because they're readily available in most supermarkets). Should you decide to use better extracts, found at sites like King Arthur Flour, note that the amount of extract used will be dramatically less. For instance, when making Cherry marshmallows with the Natural Cherry Flavor from King Arthur, I only need 1/4 teaspoon per batch. Rule of thumb - start out with less extract and add more if needed. You want only the amount of extract that will give you flavor, without a chemical aftertaste.
Lavender: Put 3/4 cup water and 3/4 cup granulated sugar in a small saucepan and bring just to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from the heat and add 1 tablespoon organic or culinary lavender to the pot. Cover, and steep for 15 minutes. Strain the syrup, then proceed with Step 3 (replacing the water and 3/4 cup of the sugar with the lavender flavored simple syrup). Omit the vanilla extract.
Ginger: Put 3/4 cup water, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and eight 1/4-inch slices of peeled ginger root in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep until cool. Strain the syrup, then proceed with Step 3 (replacing the water and 3/4 cup of the sugar with the ginger flavored simple syrup). Omit the vanilla extract.
Cherry: Substitute 1 1/2 teaspoon McCormick Imitation Cherry Extract for the vanilla extract.
Coconut: Substitute 1 1/4 teaspoon McCormick Imitation Coconut Extract for the vanilla extract.
Other McCormick Flavors to Consider:
Orange, Raspberry, and Peppermint (these are pure extracts and may require less than the imitation extracts)
Other Extracts Available through King Arthur Flour:
Coffee, Cinnamon, Lemon, and Peanut Butter (along with other, more traditional flavors such as the ones used above)