For the marshmallow:
Three (4-ounce) containers colored, coarse decorating sugar (all the same color)
21/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
11/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
Food coloring (gel food colorings are best, but any can be used)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Spread one container of the decorating sugar evenly over the rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the gelatin and 1/2 cup of water. Let stand 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a heavy 2-quart saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup water. Stir well, then add food coloring until desired color is reached. This also can be adjusted later.
Cook, stirring constantly, over low to medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring often. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan.
Reduce heat to medium and boil at a moderate, steady rate, stirring frequently, until the thermometer registers 244 F, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully to prevent mixture from boiling over. If necessary, reduce heat to medium-low.
With the stand mixer (with whisk attachment) on low to medium-low, slowly pour the hot sugar mixture into the gelatin mixture. Increase mixer to high and beat 15 minutes. Mixture should be thick, white and nearly tripled in volume.
Add the vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon water, then beat until combined. If marshmallow is not the desired color, add additional food coloring and mix until just incorporated.
Spray the wooden spoon with cooking spray, then spoon the mixture onto the prepared pan. Spray the offset spatula with cooking spray, then use it to spread the marshmallow evenly over the pan in a 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick layer.
Sprinkle the second container of decorating sugar over the marshmallow and use your hands to spread it, coating the marshmallow evenly. Let stand, uncovered, overnight.
Once the marshmallow has set, use cookie cutters to cut animals from it. Set them aside, making sure the edges don't touch. Once all the animals have been cut, discard the scraps of marshmallow, but save the excess sugar in the pan.
Gather the excess sugar in a pile and gently roll the edges of the marshmallow animals in it to coat. They now can be decorated as desired using the decorating gel.
Makes 16 large animals (yield varies by cookie cutter size).
Marshmallow recipe adapted from the September 2005 issue of Country Home magazine.