And just like that, the holidays are over. The momentum we’ve felt since Halloween has ended, and we begin four long months with no national vacations, and, at least around here, bitter ice and snow. Our Januarys are cold and sad in Chicago. I like them least of all the months, every year barely willing myself through, anxious for rainy April and blooming flowers.
To begin, we take down our Christmas trees or menorahs, removing all remnants of the previous months of celebration. Am I the only one who hates this? I mean, sure, it can’t be Christmas forever. But don’t things seem powerfully colder without twinkling lights and colorful displays? Isn’t it, I don’t know, depressing to see stores pull out Valentine’s candy, when that is over a month away, as if it’s all we have to look forward to now?
I say someone needs to put a holiday smack-dab at the end of January. I mean it. We could take a day off for the inauguration or a president’s birthday or, why not, just because? This could be the thing to pull us through the winter, one more distraction from the dark days and frigid temperature. Mark it down: If someone pushes this agenda, it will be with my full support.
Anyway. Meanwhile, I’ve got to fight this seasonal depression how I can. And I’m starting with marshmallows. Take away the stockings and trees: I’ll still have peppermint-flavored clouds of sugar, which, when dropped in rich hot chocolate, are enough to make you feel all the warmth and joy of the holidays all over again. Airy confections, homemade marshmallows feel light and fluffy on your tongue and dissolve in moments. They’re ordinary—the kind of thing we sandwich onto campfire s’mores and use to candy sweet potatoes—and they’re also not—because people rarely make them anymore when you can buy large bags for a few dollars at the store.
The thing I like about making homemade marshmallows, I mean what makes me glad to have made them in my own kitchen, is that I appreciate them more now. Before following and adapting the below recipe, I didn’t know what marshmallows were made of, beyond sugar. And in truth, there’s little else involved: gelatin (of course), corn syrup, corn starch, peppermints for coloring. But the results of a few simple steps are downy clouds of sweetness, the perfect complement to an evening on the sofa, bundled under thick blankets and watching a favorite movie.
Here’s what you do: Line a 9 X 13 pan with aluminum foil and grease it. Then mix up some powdered sugar and corn starch in a small bowl, and sprinkle two tablespoons of that mixture onto the 9 X 13 pan.
In a separate bowl, you’ll dissolve gelatin into warm water, leaving it to rest while you heat sugar, corn syrup and crumbled candy canes (or red and white candies) and salt over the stove. Then combine the gelatin mixture with the stovetop mixture in the bowl of a standmixer. Blend for 15 minutes, spread into pan and top with the powdered sugar/corn starch mixture from before. Wait two hours, then cut into shapes, whether cookie-cutter stars or hearts or normal squares and rectangles (what I did).[Oh, and one more tip: I learned, ahem, you really shouldn’t use plastic utensils, especially not your favorite plastic spatula, the perfect white one that’s just the right size for scraping down bowls and dipping into things. If you were to leave that plastic spatula inside your heating sugar, you’d turn around for a moment and turn back to find it curved and bent, its perfect white shape dissolving into the pot. The entire batch will have to be thrown out, taking with it your spatula, and you’ll curse and say all sorts of mean things to yourself while you wash the pan out to start again. Not exactly the holiday spirit, you know?]
Adapted from Little Birdie Secrets
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy canes (about 6) or red and white candies
1/8 teaspoon salt
1. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Into a small bowl, sift together powdered sugar and cornstarch. Sift 2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar mixture into pan and tilt to coat all sides. Leave excess in pan.
2. Place 2/3 cup water in a large bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes.
3. In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, heat sugar, corn syrup, candy cane and salt over medium heat until completely dissolved (about 7 minutes).
4. Pour into bowl with gelatin mixture and beat on high speed with electric mixer until light and fluffy (10-15 minutes).
5. Spread evenly into prepared pan. Smooth top and dust with powdered sugar mixture. Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
6. Lift from pan with foil. With a small, wet cookie cutter or knife, cut shapes and dip sides in sugar mixture.
7. Store at room temp, loosely covered.