I grew up dancing.  Ballet at age 5 led to ice skating at 7, which led to creative dance at 9.  After a year in open enrollment classes, I auditioned for Children’s Dance Theatre, a beautiful and amazing company at the University of Utah made up of 200 dancers ranging in age from 8 to 18.  It was a place to learn, to grow, and most of all, to dance.  I cherished every minute.

One of our regular performance avenues were lecture demonstrations – lec/dems, as we called them – at elementary schools around the state.  A small group of dancers would travel to a school in the early morning, rehearse briefly, and perform condensed versions of the previous season’s full-company concert.  It was an exercise in adapting, in transforming our full-scale productions into something that could look good in a cafeteria  amidst row upon row of transfixed grade-schoolers sitting cross-legged on a sticky, linoleum floor.  Sometimes, if you were unlucky enough to dance at your own school, it was a lesson in humility as you tried to avoid eye contact with anyone who had mileage to gain from this unitard-clad existence of ours.

At the end of each performance, we would pantomime filling our mouths with giant marshmallows before throwing the same imaginary marshmallows into the audience.  With our cartoonish puffed cheeks, we urged the audience members to follow suit.  It was a favor to the teachers; you can’t talk with your cheeks full of marshmallows.  The hope was that a critical mass of kids from each class would be so enchanted with the mere idea of marshmallows that they would play along and follow their teachers back to the classroom in velvety silence, rather than unleash the wellspring of their previously suppressed energy.

Every time I eat or even think about marshmallows today, I think of those imaginary ones.  I still marvel that the trick worked so well.  The very suggestion of a marshmallow – a very simple combination of sugar, vanilla, and gelatin – was enough to coax all but the most jaded elementary students to suspend their disbelief and play along.  Simple as they may be, marshmallows are a sort of wondrous kid magic.  Sweet, spongy, and overwhelmingly throwable, they beckon to both the young and young at heart with their overt mirth.

I don’t know why I decided to make my own.  It seemed like such a bizarre thing to render at home – aren’t they an ingredient, not an end in and of themselves?  I was surprised at how very simple they proved to be.  And how an array of freshly cut marshmallows simply screams “dress me” to those so inclined.  The results are intensely satisfying – a backstage pass to one of the best components of a child’s dietary dream.  Though delicious in their pure, unadulterated form, the well-accessorized marshmallow transcends the trappings of childhood and becomes a truly adult indulgence.

Vanilla Marshmallows

Adapted from Brownie Points

Makes approximately 40, depending on how you cut them

4 packets unflavored gelatin (find this in the baking aisle)
1 ½ cups water, divided into two ¾-cup units
1 T vanilla extract
3 cups granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups corn syrup
½ t salt

Equipment and experience note:

This is a recipe that really requires specific equipment.  I would not attempt to make it without a stand mixer, as you will have a difficult time adequately mixing while incorporating the hot sugar mixture.  And while the 10 minutes of high-speed mixing may not tear your arm out of its socket, you might wish it had.  Also critical are a candy thermometer (instant read is best here) and a pan suitable for candy-making.  I prefer enameled cast iron for its heft and straight sides, but there are other choices.  Whenever you make candy, you need a very heavy, tall-sided pan that will heat evenly and leave enough room for bubbling without posing a danger to you and your skin.

Please also wear shoes and long pants whenever you make candy on the stove.  It takes an otherwise small accident with boiling sugar to cause serious burns.  If you use the proper equipment and don’t horse around, you should be fine, but you should foreclose the possibility of candy burns on your feet and legs.  If, heaven forbid, you ever spill hot candy on yourself, get in the bathtub or shower and douse yourself in cold water as fast as you can.

Combine the vanilla and ¾ cup of water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Sprinkle in the gelatin and let it stand while you boil the sugar mixture.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and ¾ of water in your candy-suitable pan and cover with a lid.  Bring to a boil without stirring.  Once boiling, remove the lid and monitor carefully until it registers 235 on a candy thermometer (this is soft-ball stage – meaning a small dollop in a dish of cold water will form a soft ball).  Carefully transfer the sugar mixture to something from which you can easily pour.

Turn the mixer to medium and begin slowly drizzling the sugar mixture down the side of the mixing bowl until it is fully incorporated.  Crank the mixer to high speed and set a timer for 10 minutes.


While the mixer is doing its thing, line a 9×13 baking dish with parchment paper.  Spray with vegetable oil.

At the end of 10 minutes, the funky, brown mixture you once had in your mixer will have transformed into billowing clouds of shiny, gorgeous marshmallow cream.  Pour/scoop it into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.  Leave it uncovered at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours until it has fully set.

Mix equal parts powdered sugar and rice flour into a small bowl.  Sprinkle this mixture over a large cutting board as well as the top of the marshmallow block.  Invert the pan onto the cutting board so your marshmallow block emerges.  Remove the parchment and sprinkle with the powder mixture, smoothing with your hands to ensure an even coat.


Use a knife or a pizza cutter to cut the marshmallows into your desired shapes – I went with strips that I then cut into squares.  Be sure to tap each freshly cut side into a bit of the powder mixture (otherwise the marshmallows will stick to themselves).  You can also use cookie cutters to create more exciting shapes.  Whatever you use to cut them, be sure to wash and dry the cutting edge every few cuts – this will prevent build-up and will give you a cleaner edge. Store at room temperature in an airtight container or large ziplock bag.


Stay tuned for a caramel recipe and other ideas for dressing up your beautiful little flock of springy joy.