Nov 14, 2012

Homemade Marshmallow Troubleshooting

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Know what’s super fun? The influx of emails, tweets, comments, and Facebook messages I’ve received from folks working through the recipes in Marshmallow Madness! in recent weeks–lots of sweet stories and photos of fluffy, puffy successes that warm the cockles of my heart. ‘Tis the season for homemade mallow making and gifting!

But I’ve also gotten some requests for a few marshmallow-making tips and troubleshooting help for the recipes, which I also happen to love. Happy to help. For those new to mallowing, it is most certainly wacky, leaving plenty of room for self-doubt and simple mistakes. But don’t freak out! It’s just sugar! Everything will be okay. Keep in mind that the following tips refer specifically to recipes and techniques in MM, but some will cross over into any homemade marshmallow recipe you might try.

1. First things first. Please, please save yourself some crazy and at least skim through the introduction and frontmatter of the book before attempting the recipes. 95%-ish of all questions I get about the book have answers in the frontmatter. This actually goes for any cookbook, and particularly those that are about a single subject or specific cooking or baking technique. When writing a cookbook, there are often space limitations for the individual recipes (a big part of the budget for a book revolves around a set number of pages), and verbiage that seems repetitive from recipe to recipe is often the first thing to be trimmed. Of course, we try to keep what we think is the really important stuff intact, but cookbooks are collaborative efforts, and in the end, you have to make group decisions about what’s most helpful in a recipe when space is tight.

As a result, more specific language that will help you work through the recipes often lands in the frontmatter, or is highlighted in callout boxes or sidebars on different pages of the book. (Sidebar: That’s the biggest bummer about pulling individual cookbook recipes from online or trying “adapted” versions of a recipe from blogs when you don’t own the whole book, especially ones like MM that have techniques that are somewhat unfamiliar. In those cases, you don’t have access to the author’s introductory info and extra tips that might not be in the copy of the recipe that you have.) 

In Marshmallow Madness!, for example, the frontmatter includes a crazy amount of info on everything from equipment suggestions to calibrating your candy thermometer to ideal marshmallow-making weather (yes, this is a thing). I even give a list of the exact brands of ingredients that I used to test the recipes so there’s no guesswork as to whether you’re using the “right” gelatin or beet vs. cane sugar or whatever. I also address specifics for things like preparing your pan or candy mold before you scrape the batter in so things are nonstick but not too oily, and how to know that you’ve sufficiently whipped the marshmallow batter so that it will set properly. Speaking of which…

2. When I get notes about marshmallows that turn out “soggy” after storing, have a “dense” or “spongy” texture, or some that even seem to leak moisture upon cutting (gross!), underwhipping the marshmallow batter is almost always going to be the culprit. If you find that this happens to you and you haven’t been attempting to mallow on a humid or rainy day, then the batter needed more whipping time to dry out a bit before it was scraped into the pan to set. The curing/setting time, even though it’s six+ hours long, won’t do all the work in drying marshmallow batter that was too wet when it went into the pan. Mixer speeds and strengths vary, so the whipping times for each recipe are approximate, and you may need more whipping time on high speed to get a good finished result. On page 12 of the frontmatter (there’s that pesky frontmatter again), I talk about whipping times, mixer strengths and speeds and how you can better gauge if your marshmallow batter is ready to go into the pan.

See, in marshmallow making, when the hot sugar syrup and gelatin are whipped together, a couple things happen, and both have to do with getting enough air into the batter during whipping: evaporation of moisture from the batter, and the gelatin and sugar begin to cool and set while air is incorporated. One way to know that you’re on your way to marshmallows that will cure and set properly is that a sufficiently-whipped marshmallow batter will hold a soft shape for a several seconds before schlumping back on itself when you pull up the whisk attachment.

Another key sign is that the bowl will be cool to the touch all over (the bottom may retain a bit of warmth if you have a style of mixer where the bowl is attached to the mixer at the bottom, like a KitchenAid Artisan style mixer). In general, my marshmallow batters aren’t as stringy and sticky as other recipes when you scrape them out of the bowl–they flow some, but still require some scraping and smoothing with a spatula in order to get them into the pan and spread into an even layer. There are just a couple exceptions to this rule, and those recipes will indicate that–sufficiently-whipped boozy mallow batters, for example, tend to stay a bit looser–go figure.

3. If underwhipping doesn’t seem to be your issue, you can try trimming a tablespoon or two of water (no more) from the liquid for blooming the gelatin. This is a last resort step and one that’s only been the answer on a couple of occasions, when a person lives in a particularly humid or rainy area. If you take away any more moisture than that, you’ll risk tough, flat mallows and throwing the whole recipe off.

4. Calibrate your candy thermometer to make sure your sugar syrups are really the temperature your thermometer is telling you they are. See page 9 for details on how to do this. Cooking the sugar syrup to the temperature indicated in each recipe is the key to getting the right texture once the marshmallows have set. Even just a couple degrees too hot or too cool makes all the difference. If the sugar isn’t cooked hot enough, they’ll be mushy (and possibly contribute to the “soggy” factor mentioned above). If the syrup is cooked too hot, they’ll set too firm and chewy and lack volume.

Be sure that the tip of the thermometer is submerged in the sugar syrup while it’s boiling for an accurate read. If your pot is too big, the syrup level won’t reach the thermometer, so use the smallest saucepan you have. On the other hand, make sure the tip of the thermometer is not so deeply submerged that it’s touching the bottom of the pot, which will also wildly throw off the reading. And since we’re on the subject of sugar syrup…

6. Once the sugar syrup is up to temperature, it is go time. It needs to go directly into the mixer bowl with the gelatin and corn syrup goo and get to whipping. Hot sugar syrup waits for no one. It cannot be cooled and reheated or stored. It just needs to get right into the bowl and start working its magic, pronto.

6. You cannot talk on the phone, tweet, or attempt to herd multiple children or animals while making marshmallows for the first time. Which is to say that any candymaking process requires some focus and forethought for things to go smoothly. That’s not to say that it’s horribly time-consuming, but you do need to plot a bit. Read through the recipe two or three times before you begin. Measure out your ingredients beforehand. Double check that all ingredients have been added in the right places. For example, in all the recipes, I divide the measure of corn syrup–half goes in the pot on the stove, half goes in the mixer bowl with the melted gelatin. A handful of folks have forgotten to put the other half of the corn syrup in one of those places, and in doing so left it out of the recipe altogether, which doesn’t bode well for the finished product.

7. Storage tips to keep your cut mallows fresh and dry can be found on page 13. If you’re going to be packaging and giving mallows as gifts, it’s never a bad idea to let the cut and dusted marshmallows set out on a sheet tray for another couple hours before wrapping. I see homemade marshmallows being sold in high-end shops that have a bit of moisture beginning to bead up inside the package–it’s just something that happens with homemade mallows sometimes. But giving them a little more air time just to insure that they’re as dry as can be before packaging is always a good thing.

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I hope that these tips touched on a few areas that most often seem to be tripping people up when working through the recipes in MM–did any of these make a lightbulb go off for you? I’ve gotta say that the toughest thing about writing a book about a topic like homemade marshmallows that doesn’t have a whole lot of competitors (or Google-able information, for that matter) is the obsessive need to try and cram in just about every discovery, tip, and technique that I could think of that would help everyone experience sweet, sweet mallow-making. But of course there will always be things that need clarification, especially since the recipes and techniques might be new to even experienced kitchen folk.

If you’re running into issues working through any of my recipes from my books, blog, or otherwise, I am always here, ready to throw out some knowledge if I can. Comment here with more questions if you like. Or feel free to Facebook, tweet, or e-mail me, people. I like to write nerdy, lengthy responses. I’m here for you.

Happy Mallowing!

42 Comments

  • thanks so much for this information. The pics are AMAZING. I’m wanting to make vegetarian marshmallows. Could you recommend a veg substitute for the gelatine that would work well with your recipes? Thanks.L

    • Hi! There is a recipe in the book for Vegan Vanilla Marshmallows that uses a product called Genutine. It’s the only veg gelatin product I recommend for mallows–I tried so many different ones, and the recipe I finally published in the book is the one that delivers the most consistent results. It can be endlessly riffed on with different extracts and flavorings!

  • Thank you. Since I discovered your recipes and found out making marshmallow is sooooo easy I try to have some at hand all the time and these tips come in very handy :-)

  • “You cannot talk on the phone, tweet, or attempt to herd multiple children or animals while making marshmallows for the first time.”

    LOL!!!! So true!

    And the frontmatter is a HUGE help — I made my first batch of marshmallows last week, and reading it kept me from underwhipping the whole batch. They turned out DELISH, and I can’t wait to make them for the holidays!!! :)

    • Wonderful! I’m so glad it was useful. Enjoy!

  • Hi Shauna! I just received my copy of Pure Vanilla and I absolutely love it! Already read it like a novel from cover to cover! Tonight I am serving the Twinkie cake I made today and just from the pieces I took out to make the holes, I can already tell that it is delicious!
    Thanks!

    • So happy to hear it. Hope the cake turned out great!

  • Shauna, my middle daughter checked out Marshmallow Madness from the library (she’s 8) because I’d made marshmallows in the past and she thought the book had some fun variations (specifically Bacon Maple). I made your Classic Vanilla for a big reception I was in charge of (actually made the “mini” version since we were making them for use in hot cocoa) and oh my stars – FABULOUS! EASY to do! And so much more tender and fluffy than other recipes I’ve used in the past. They were a huge hit!! The frontmatter of the book was a *huge* help. I had to turn in the book, but am headed to the store *tonight* to buy our own copy!! Several friends have asked for homemade marshmallows for Christmas. Can’t beat that! :)

    • This note made my day! I am so glad to hear you love the book and that the troubleshooting notes have worked for you. Happy holidays!

  • I made the vanilla marshmallows twice now and both times they tasted like rice pudding and were too liquid. I tried whipping them for a REALLY long time but they turned out too squishy and wet. What should I do?

    • Assuming you have the right amount of gelatin (and you’re using the right kind of gelatin–powdered, unflavored, like Knox brand?) and all other amounts are measured precisely, it could be an issue involving the temperature of the sugar syrup? If it’s not cooked hot enough, it will never whip up firm (see #4!). The result you’re getting is so extreme, the temperature of the syrup would be my first guess.

  • The only thing I’ve had issue with is the coating staying on the mallow, which I think might be an under-whipping thing. I coat the cut marshmallows just like you suggest in the book (even though it still ends in a big mess :P) and they seem fine. Then I’ll come back and they’re sticky again. But thank you so much for this book!

  • Hi Shona, what a lovely book and so many creative marshmallow ideas!
    I live in London and gelatin sheets are really easy to get. I was wondering if you have a conversion from the gelatin powder to sheets? Thanks

    • For the Classic Vanilla Marshmallow recipe, you want about 6 sheets of gold strength gelatin to equal the 4 1/2 teaspoons powder.

  • i had a problem where i used a glass bowl with my kitchenaid artisan mixer and it must’ve been slippery or something, because as soon as i poured my sugar/corn syrup/etc mixture in with the corn syrup/gelatin goo, and tried to turn it up, anything over 2 on the speed made liquid hot wanna-be-marshmallow goo EVERYWHERE. but i tried again last night with my stainless steel bowl and they turned out perfect and wonderful. just wanted to contribute my 2 cents. glass bowl=bad, steel bowl=good. at least for me.

    • A really interesting point, Katie! A standard metal bowl is what the recipes in MM were tested in. It cools much faster than glass, which holds a ton of heat. Thanks for pointing this out!

  • My marshmallows haven’t set and are still quite soft, could I re whip them with some more gelatine? I don’t think I used enough as I converted the 4tbsp powder gelatine in my recipe into 4 leaves of gelatine.
    Any help would be appreciated!!!

    • The lack of gelatin is most likely the issue here. You need about 6 sheets of gold strength gelatin (which is 200 bloom, as opposed to the 225 bloom of powdered) to equal the 4 1/2 teaspoons of powdered in the basic marshmallow recipe.

  • Do you know why my marshmallows would taste gross? I can’t tell if it’s the Neilsen-Massey vanilla I’m using or the fact that my egg white were room temp. It’s been raining tons here, so I at least understand why I am having some issues.

    Thanks

    • Gross? I need more details to help!

  • Hello, I’ve made at several different varieties of marshmallows from your book without fail, with the exception of the chocolate malt ones. Third attempt at these and they are not increasing in volume at the whipping stage. All my thermometers are calibrated and this should not be happening. Any suggestions? Thank you in advance.

    • You might try cutting a tiny bit of water from the recipe, about two tablespoons or so at the most. But keep in mind that the chocolate mallow recipes from the book take considerably longer to whip than other flavors, so try a higher whipping speed for a longer period of time as well. I hope that helps!

      • Will you please tell me the shelf life of the marshmallow also the guimauve marshmallow with egg.

        When is it best to get them into storage container – right after they set, a day later after sitting on. .

        • See my answer below!

  • トゥミ バック

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  • Hi there
    What is the shelf life of the marshmallows

    • I too would like to know the shelf life if the marshmallow

      • For egg-free mallows, about 3 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature in a cool, dry place. Marshmallow with egg whites, about 1 week. Don’t store in the fridge! Too moist and humid in there. Once they’re cured, cut, and dusted with coating, you should be able to store them immediately if you’ll be eating them within a few days. I always advise people who are storing them longer, gifting or shipping them, etc. to give them a few more hours to dry just to be on the safe side.

  • Hi! Have a pan of your strawberry marshmallows in a pan, resting. I found that they were a dream to work with; which begs the question ‘what did I do wrong?’ marshmallows are notoriously thick , sticky, and cobwebby at the pouring stage. These just, well, poured. No gummy webs, no flinging of gobs. In fact there is no clean up except for the KA mixer? Is that normal? I whipped for a good ten….thought it looked suspiciously thin….like almost liquid honey, whipped on uber high for another five, no increase in volume. They taste incredible (I have always disliked marshmallows for their cloying sweetness) and you have inspired me to buy the book now. Please help? Do you think they will set up? If not, can I melt and rewhip again?

    Love how they taste like real strawberries…they are for my daughters bday party and I feel okay about giving these to the kids!

    • Hi! My method is a lot less messy than most, that’s for sure. If your batter was very liquidy, though, I might wonder if the syrup could have been cooked a bit longer. I’d be curious to know how yours turned out!

  • I bought your Marshmallow Madness book last month, and made my first batch of basic marshmallows yesterday. They are delicious. This morning though, they are wet. I read above about whipping them more. I will try whipping them more next time.

    Despite the issue that appeared this morning, I will try again. These things are delicious and delicate. I won’t be able to eat store bought marshmallows again!

  • Just stumbled upon your site today – from a posting at cinnamonspiceandeverythingnice.com. Have you done any experimenting with Splenda or Stevia? (I am allergic to aspartame (Nutrasweet) and it’s SO bad for you and especially diabetics) I am NOT diabetic – but had 2 Aunt’s who were – one that I cooked for the last 15 months of her life. I was constantly converting old family recipes to be diabetic friendly – including desserts. Even further pulverizing Stevia to may cinnamon sugar to sprinkle on toast and such. (worked great) No abject failures with Stevia or Splenda just didn’t have time to get into the more time consuming things. Will be experimenting with frostings and candy as we get closer to Christmas though – and creating a diabetic friendly marshmallow is a goal. Would love to hear from you of any successes or failures with either of these two.

    • I have not! And truthfully, it won’t work with Splenda or Stevia–real sugar is a major player in mallows, not just for sweetness, but also for bulk and structure. There is a newish product on the market called Natur Baker’s Blend that is carried at Williams-Sonoma–it is spendy, but miiiight work. It’s primarily erythritol, but also has natural cane sugar in it, is low-glycemic, and measures one to one for white sugar. I’ve not tried this product in candymaking yet, though, but it’s the closest suggestion I can think of in terms of using non-sugar sugars!

  • Loving Marshmallow Maddness! I think I am on the 4th batch of Homemade lovely fluffiness <3 !! I live in the beautiful country that is Scotland, so we don get very many perfect marshmallow days! But reducing the amount of water in the bloom seem to have been my saviour, thanks for that tip!
    My question I want to make chocolate-orange flavoured marshmallows.. can I just follow the recipe you have for the chocolate peppermint marshmallows but swap the peppermint for orange,
    Also Corn syrup is not always easy to get hold of here, so can I swap it for liquid glucose or even honey or do you know of something else that I could use?
    thanks!!

    • Hi, another from the UK! Just made my first batch, came out pretty well I think! Probably room for improvement though, see how they react over the next few days.

      Having researched online I made mine with golden syrup, as it was supposed to have the same effect as corn syrup. They seem to have worked pretty well. I made the basic vanilla batch, my only complaint is that the vanilla is a bit lost in the golden syrup taste. So next time I’ll try corn syrup, or stronger flavourings perhaps. I hadn’t thought of liquid glucose but if it doesn’t melt the same way as sugar I guess it’ll adversely affect the batter.

      Thanks for an awesome book Shauna :)

  • Hi
    We only have glucose syrup easily available in Australia. Do you think this will have a different outcome to corn syrup? Also what do you think about using rice syrup?
    Many thanks. Love your book btw and the pics are inspiring.

    • Thank you! Yes, glucose works! As does brown rice syrup–it just imparts a slightly different flavor.

      • Gave both corn and glucose a test run and found that the corn syrup (v expensive here) was no where near as sticky. It’s actually been a few days now and not even stuck to the container unlike the glucose ones. Will give homemade sugar syrup a whirl next. Fingers crossed !

  • Love this book! While the flavour and texture always turn out for me, I find that all my marshmallows get a crust on the outside (the top and bottom) from the icing sugar/ cornstarch mixture. Is there some way to reduce the crust while the marshmallows dry??

    • This will occasionally happen to me, too, and I actually sort of love the textural element of it when it does happen! :) If it’s a consistent problem, though, and you want to try and eliminate it, I tend to think it’s a moisture issue, and the coating is doing it’s job of absorbing the excess and then drying quickly. Maybe on your next batch, try trimming the bloom water just by a tablespoon or so and see if that makes any difference. If you do try this, let me know!

  • Hi There
    I made my 1st batch – tastes delicious but they haven’t set properly – I figure I didn’t mix it for long enough. Do you have any tips on what I can do with the semi-set marshmallow? Seems a shame to through it out when it tastes good but you’d have to eat it with a spoon!
    any advise would be great – thanks :)

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