I kind of hate marshmallows. I know, I’m a freak. I’ve never enjoyed a breakfast of Count Chocula, I’ve rejected every Mallomar I’ve been offered, and I cannot find an ounce of joy in Rice Krispies treats. Though I enjoy the whimsy and springy softness of marshmallows, I am always undone by their aggressive sweetness. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to partake in our cultural enthusiasm for things like Lucky Charms and Peeps!
Marshmallows have come a long way since their inception. In the 18th century, French confectioners began whipping sugar, egg whites, sap extracted from marshmallow plants, and (occasionally) laudanum into a sticky candy called pâte de guimauve, which was used as a lozenge to treat persistent coughs. Later, confectioners began to get out of the pharmaceutical business, removing the opiates from their candy and replacing the medicinal mallow root with cheap, readily available gelatin. In the 20th century marshmallows evolved again, as confectionaries made way for industrial factories, and egg whites got knocked out of the equation. Today, marshmallows are enhanced with flavors, stabilizers, and numbered food dyes, but at their core, they’re still nothing but pure liquid sugar, whipped into fluffy little clouds that are all gummed up with gelatin.
I’m not the only marshmallow-averse person out there. As humans grow older our sense of taste changes, desiring food that’s more balanced in flavor and less cloying. So, how about a slightly more complex marshmallow that isn’t so one-note?
Because marshmallows are essentially pure sugar, the only way I could tame their sweetness was by adding another strong flavor to balance it out. Enter pure peanut powder: no oil, no sugar, no nothing that ain’t peanut. After pouring molten sugar into whipped egg whites and tossing in some gelatin, I added a good amount of peanut butter powder with a hefty pinch of salt, and a few hours later I was snacking on light, bouncy cubes of peanut butter goodness. They were sweet without being too sweet, softer than store-bought, and instead of being dense and chewy, they rested on my tongue like velvet before slowly melting in my mouth. It was everything I ever hoped for in a marshmallow—just without the laudanum.
- 3 packets (21g) powdered unflavored gelatin
- 2/3 cup cold water, plus an additional 1/2 cup
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 4 egg whites
- 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. peanut butter
- 2/3 cup unsweetened peanut butter powder, plus an additional 3 Tbsp.
- 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
Pour 2/3 cup of cold water into a small bowl and gradually sprinkle the gelatin in while stirring. Set aside to hydrate.
Pour 1/2 cup cold water into a large saucepan; add the corn syrup, sugar, and light brown sugar and gently stir until well combined. Clip on a candy thermometer, turn the heat to high, and cook without disturbing until the sugar reaches 250 degrees Fahrenheit (hard ball stage). Remove the pot from the stove and set aside.
While the sugar is partially cooling, add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of a stand mixer; using the whisk attachment, beat on high for 3 minutes or so until soft peaks form. Reduce the speed to medium and slowly pour in the hot sugar syrup, trying your best to avoid pouring it directly onto the whirling whisk. Once the sugar is fully incorporated turn the speed to high for 30 seconds, then add the salt and softened gelatin and step away. Let the marshmallow whip for 7-10 minutes until completely cool, then add the peanut butter and 2/3 cup peanut butter powder and whip for another minute. Give it a taste and add more salt if desired.
While the marshmallow is beating, prepare the pan: fully line a square baking dish with aluminum foil, then coat the foil with a small amount of oil or cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of peanut butter powder with the powdered sugar, sift about 1/3 of the mixture into the pan, and rotate to coat the bottom and sides. Tap the excess back into the bowl.
Pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan; tap it on the counter a few times to remove any large air bubbles. Sift some more of the powdered sugar mixture across the top to coat completely and generously, then cover the pan and allow it to set at room temperature for at least 6 hours, or refrigerate for 2 hours. Put the remaining peanut/powdered sugar mix into a large ziptop bag.
Once set, unmold the marshmallows onto a cutting board and remove the foil. Use a sharp knife or pizza wheel to cut into individual pieces, then add them one by one to the ziptop bag with the peanut powdered sugar. Shake well to coat, then eat at your leisure. Store marshmallows in the bag, or another airtight container, at room temperature.
Pro tip: pull apart two Oreos. Use two cookies to make a peanut butter marshmallow sandwich. Use the remaining two cookies and discs of creme to make a Double Stuf.
Another pro tip: Serve these marshmallows with a mug of thick, luxurious hot chocolate.