One of my favorite parts of December is turning the kitchen into a mini candy-making factory. I love giving edible treat boxes out for the holidays; and while there’s no love lost for cookies, Christmas candies are what truly excite me. Caramels, brittle, toffee, nougat, marshmallows — I love making them all.
Marshmallows might be the ultimate form of kitchen magic. You start with granulated sugar, corn syrup or honey, water, and gelatin; and somehow you end up with fluffy edible clouds that delight people of any age. You can get super creative with marshmallow flavors, though since I just make mallows a couple times a year (once in the summer for s’mores, and once around Christmas) I normally stick to either vanilla or peppermint.
This year, though, I decided to branch out and make some honey and sea salt marshmallows; and they are lovely! The honey flavor sings loud and clear, since there’s not many other ingredients to distract. I add a generous pinch of sea salt to round out the experience — not enough to make the marshmallows salty by any means, but just to give the slightest savory hint. Next time I may go truly wild and use some brewed chai to bloom the gelatin!
Here are a few tips for marshmallow success:
Read the recipe through completely a couple times before starting. Marshmallows aren’t difficult to make, but they do require close attention to temperatures and working with hot syrups. Syrups wait for no one and once you hit the right temperatures you need to move on quickly to the next step. Measure everything ahead of time and prep all your equipment. This is a project best done without small children or animals underfoot.
Use a digital probe thermometer for gauging temperatures. I have both a Thermoworks DOT thermometer and Polder digital probe thermometer; both work beautifully (note: these are affiliate links). Make sure that the tip of the probe is fully immersed in the syrup but not hitting the bottom of your pot to ensure accurate readings.
Most marshmallow recipes are pretty similar in terms of ingredients. The biggest differences you’ll notice are in the temperature for cooking the sugar syrup — I’ve seen everything from 225F to 250F. I’ve been using this method from Bravetart for years (first from her sadly archived blog and then her cookbook). Though cooling the syrup may seem like an extra step, it’s safer than pouring boiling hot syrups into a mixer. Plus it ensures that the setting power of the gelatin won’t be compromised through overheating.
Honey foams quite a bit when boiling, so make sure you use a pot that’s at least 3.5L to avoid overflows and sadness. I recommend using a mild honey such as clover since stronger varieties can be overwhelming in this amount. You can also replace part or all of the honey with light corn syrup (by weight) for a subtler flavor or for plain vanilla marshmallows.
The small amount of butter is optional — it adds a little extra flavor and tenderness.
While you want to whip the mixture sufficiently so your mallows are nice and fluffy, don’t whip too long or the mixture will start setting in the bowl. This makes an already sticky process even messier, plus you end up losing more marshmallow than necessary to the bowl and beater. I like to pan the mixture when it’s fluffy but still sliiiightly warm and a little fluid. A greased flexible bowl scraper is by far my favorite tool for scraping the marshmallow out of the bowl and into the prepared pan.
Honey and Sea Salt Marshmallows
Makes about thirty-six 1 1/2″ marshmallows | Adapted from Bravetart
For the marshmallows:
21g (3 Tbsp) powdered gelatin
115g (1/2 c) cold water, for blooming gelatin
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
115g (1/2 c) water, for the sugar-honey syrup
140g (1/3 c plus 2 Tbsp) good-quality, mild honey
340g (1 3/4 c) granulated sugar
5g (3/4 tsp) fine sea salt
14g (1 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted (optional)
30g icing sugar
Prepare the pan: Lightly grease an 8×8 square pan with cooking spray.
Bloom the gelatin: In a small, wide bowl, mix the gelatin with 115g (1/2 c) cool water and the vanilla extract. Stir to combine, making sure all the gelatin is saturated. Leave to bloom while you prepare the sugar-honey syrup.
Cook the sugar syrup: In a 3.5 or 4 L heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the remaining 115g (1/2 c) water, honey, sugar, and sea salt. Stir to combine. Place over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a heat-proof spatula or fork until the mixture starts bubbling, then stop stirring (stirring a boiling sugar syrup can encourage crystallization). Clip on a digital thermometer and continue cooking the syrup until it reaches 245-250F.
Cool the syrup: Once the syrup reaches temperature, pour the syrup into the bowl of a stand mixer, using a flexible, heat-resistant spatula to scrape the pot. Let the syrup cool until it registers 212F, about 5-6 minutes.
Whip the marshmallow: Once the syrup has cooled to 212F, scrape the bloomed gelatin into the bowl. Carefully transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium low until the gelatin has melted, then increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until the mixture is fluffy, thick, and roughly tripled in volume, about 8-10 minutes. The bowl should be slightly warm to the touch. If adding the butter, reduce the speed to low and drizzle in the melted butter; then increase the speed back to medium high and mix for a few seconds just until incorporated.
Pan, cure, and cut the marshmallow: Use a greased spatula or flexible bowl scraper to scrape the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan. Let sit, uncovered, for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight) to “cure” or set the marshmallow.
When ready to cut, sift together the cornstarch and icing sugar to make the marshmallow dust. Sift some of the dust over a cutting board, then invert the pan with the marshmallow onto the board, gently tugging it free with your fingers. Sift more of the marshmallow dust over the marshmallow. Use a thin, long knife to cut the marshmallows into 6 strips (or whatever size you’d like); then cut each strip into 6 even pieces. Clean the knife between cuts for best results. Toss each marshmallow in the remaining dust to ensure it doesn’t stick. Store marshmallows in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
Just popping in to share this simple, festive bread idea for your holiday baking inspiration! A bread wreath is perfect as a dinner table centerpiece (just put a bowl of good salted butter in the middle!) or edible gift. You can also use this technique with larger or smaller pieces of dough (the bake time might change slightly), though I like the crust-to-crumb ratio of this size plus the fact that it’s the size of an actual wreath! This would also work well with any lean bread dough that’s not too slack (hydrated).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into a loose round. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper and lightly dust with semolina / cornmeal. (Note: I like to double up on baking sheets for these wreaths to keep the bottom from scorching.)
Degas and shape into a tight, smooth boule (round). Lightly flour your hands and use your thumbs to poke a hole in the center. Gently stretch the dough to widen the circle. The wreath should be about 10 inches across and the hole in the center at least 4 inches (it’ll shrink back a bit when you put it down).
Place the wreath on a prepared sheet, seam side down. Lightly mist with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until the wreath is puffy and has increased by about 50% (this takes me about 1.5-2 hours). About an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500F with a baking stone on the center rack and sheet tray on the bottom of the oven.
When the wreath is ready to bake, have ready a measuring glass with hot water and a pair of sharp kitchen scissors. Dust the top of the wreath with rice flour. Use the kitchen scissors to cut the dough at a sharp angle (30-45 degrees) almost all the way through the dough. After snipping, pull the point away from the center (towards you). Repeat all the way around the wreath.
Transfer the wreath to the oven and carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water into the sheet tray on the bottom of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down to 450F and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the wreath is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
These little confections have been five years in the making. Pretzel salted caramels were part of the dessert menu at our wedding reception. We didn’t manage to eat them during the actual party, but some kind soul tucked some in a to-go box for us.
And and enjoy we did. And by “we” I mean “I.” Somehow within the next 12 hours I polished all of them off without giving poor David even a sniff of them. (One might say it was a sign of things to come — the running joke is that David has to take chocolate to work if he wants to have some, because I will gradually take care of at anything left at home.)
Anyways, ever since that first day of marriage I have been intending to reverse-engineer pretzel salted caramels so I could make David his own batch. It took me half a decade, but finally — just in time for our 5th anniversary — I did it!
Part of what kept me from making these sooner was, honestly, the fear of candy-making. It’s not something I do too often, so I’m always a little worried that my caramel will be the wrong consistency or my chocolate won’t temper correctly. I really shouldn’t have worked it up so much in my mind because honestly, it’s not that scary. Sure, there are things I could do better but overall, I am thrilled with how these pretzel salted caramels turned out! The caramel has the perfect amount of chew, and the buttery pretzel layer helps balance out the sweetness. A dip in dark chocolate and an extra sprinkle of flaky salt help pull everything together. Make a batch for your Valentine — or for yourself, I won’t tell.
A few notes:
The success of the caramel layer depends on an accurate thermometer (I have this one). Make sure the probe is submerged in the syrup but not touching the bottom of the pot to get an accurate reading.
Before starting the caramel layer, I recommend having all your ingredients measured out and all your tools in place. You don’t want to be rummaging around for your flaky salt or whisk with a hot pot of sugar bubbling on the stove.
The caramel recipe is adapted from David Lebovitz. I’ve used it once before and followed it to a T, and the caramel tasted great but was just slightly too chewy for my tastes. So this time I stopped dropped the final temp by 5 degrees and it was just right for me.
When cutting the caramel block into individual candies, I like to use a large chef’s knife. Between cuts I wipe it down with a hot towel and lightly grease it with a neutral vegetable oil.
If you’re pressed for time, you can skip the chocolate dip and just wrap the caramels with wax paper or cellophane. (Or do what I did and go half and half.)
About the chocolate dip: after tempering, I would recommend just working with about 1/3 of the chocolate at a time (keep the remainder in a warmish spot so it doesn’t set). You will inevitably get little pretzel bits in the chocolate as you dip, so it’s nice to switch to a fresh dish every so often so your candies stay nice and neat. Any leftover chocolate you can spread out and dry, then chop and add to your next batch of brownies or chocolate chunk cookies!
About tempering: I am not an expert. At all. I usually avoid it, but because I wanted to store these at room temp I decided to go for it. I used the sous vide method outline on Serious Eats which was fairly straightforward.
Pretzel Salted Caramels
Makes one 8×8 pan, about thirty-six 1 1/4″ candies
For the pretzel base:
200g mini salted pretzels (if using unsalted, add a generous 1/2 tsp kosher salt)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8×8 square pan with foil and lightly grease the foil.
In the bowl of a food processor, grind the pretzels (and the salt, if using) into a fine powder. Add the melted butter and pulse until combined. The mixture should hold together easily when squeezed, but shouldn’t feel overly greasy.
Press the pretzel mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan (I like to use the bottom of a measuring cup or shot glass to really press it down evenly).
Bake until firm and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the caramel layer.
To make the caramel, heat the cream in a small saucepan with half of the butter (30g), vanilla and fine sea salt until the mixture just comes to the boil. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm while you continue.
In a medium heavy duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine the corn syrup with the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently, to make sure the sugar melts smoothly. Once the mixture is melted together and the sugar is evenly moistened, only stir is as necessary to keep it from getting any hot spots. If you notice any sugar granules on the side of the pot, brush them with a pastry brush dipped in water.
Cook until the syrup reaches 310ºF (155ºC).
Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the warm cream mixture until smooth. (The mixture will bubble up furiously, so be very careful!)
Return to the heat and cook the mixture, without stirring, to 255-260F (124-127C — see notes above).
Remove the pan from the heat, lift out the thermometer, and whisk in the remaining 30g butter until it’s melted and the mixture smooth.
Pour the mixture over the pretzel layer. After ~5 minutes, sprinkle the surface with 1/4 tsp flaky salt. Allow to set at room temperature for at least 4 hours, or overnight. (Do not cover while the pan is still warm; once it has come to room temperature you can cover it with a piece of foil.)
Once the caramel is set, use a large, sharp knife to cut the slab into 6 long equal strips. Cut each strip into 6 equal pieces. If not coating with chocolate, wrap each caramel in a piece of wax paper.
To coat caramels with chocolate, temper the chocolate according to your preferred method (I prefer the sous vide method — see notes above). Place a caramel on a fork and submerge in the chocolate. Lift out the caramel and tap the fork several times to remove any excess chocolate, then scrape the bottom of the fork along the rim of the bowl and transfer the coated caramel to a piece of parchment paper. Allow to set for a minute, then sprinkle with flaky salt. Let chocolate cool and set completely at room temperature before transferring to an airtight container.