Everyone deserves a little comfort food, especially these days, so how about ditching the kids’ version and treating yourself to marshmallows with grown-up flavours such as salted caramel or cinnamon-spiced pumpkin?
Remember marshmallows? The pink-and-white store-cupboard staple beloved by Ging Gang Goolie-ing scouts the world over? Well, they’ve gone all posh. New company Copper & Cane has just launched an artisan take on the humble treat called Eat Toast Dunk Me featuring flavours such as rosewater and cardamom, dark chocolate and cinnamon-spiced pumpkin.
The company is the brainchild of Hazel Wright, a former food scientist who has made the most of her technical background to create marshmallows designed for glamping rather than jamborees. “With Copper & Cane, I wanted to do a lot of work on the texture as well as the flavour,” she says. “The marshmallows have to have the right textual qualities so that they stand up to being put over a campfire but still melt in your mouth.”
Wright isn’t the only small-scale producer attempting to inject some foodie magic into marshmallows. Leeds-based Art of Mallow also concentrates on the adult market with a range including marshmallows that taste of everything from salted caramels to lemon meringue pie.
So why is the archetypal kiddie treat now back on the menu for adults? It’s the continuation of a trend in which producers have taken comfort foods from the past and sprinkled over some artisan fairy dust (and often paprika or chilli flakes too).
Sian Meades, the brains behind leading food and lifestyle blog Domestic Sluttery, says that these kinds of foods chime with our current backwards-looking mood. “Returning to treats we had in our youth fits nicely into our current obsession with nostalgia,” she says. “We really like sharing our food, so things such as marshmallows divide up easily and that’s a big part of their appeal – much like with cupcakes, cake pops and brownies.”
Some marshmallowy products are making this vintage link explicit. Take Marshmallow Fluff, a retro-branded sickly-sweet creme made out of liquefied marshmallows designed for classic 50s-style US bakes such as whoopee pies. But Meades says that marshmallows have a food heritage that goes much deeper than ultra-calorific cakes from the Mad Men era. In fact, the history of marshmallows reaches right back to the ancient Egyptians, who mixed the sap of the marshmallow plant with honey to make sweets.
For a foodstuff so closely associated with the UK and the US, it’s surprising to learn that the modern marshmallow was actually developed by the French. In the 1800s, French cooks combined marshmallow sap with sugar and egg whites to make the contemporary confection. Flash-forward another century and the American Girl Scouts adopted campfire-roasted marshmallows as their sweet of choice courtesy of a recipe published in their official handbook.
I’d like to extend a personal “thank you” to the Girl Scouts for this most desirable treat, with or without a campfire. QB
Meanwhile, here in the present, there’s a theory that making a fetish of current comfort foods may be a simple way of coming to terms with the present miserable economic climate. “It’s definitely about the recession,” says Wright. “When I was looking for a product to bring to market, I read through all the Mintel reports – and my distillation is that people are short on money and have found new ways to get together and indulge themselves around food.”
In other words, when money’s too short to eat out, a bowl of posh popcorn or plate of artisan cupcakes is a way to feel good with friends and family without pushing the boat out too far. Of course, to paraphrase Freud, sometime a posh marshmallow is just a posh marshmallow. But if they do take off, at least they’ll offer a way out of our present cupcake-shaped food rut.
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With that said, I’ve chosen to share what would be my signature marshmallow,
Lavender & Honey Marshmallows:
5 sheets platinum-strength leaf gelatin
1 egg white (1 1/4 oz.)
1 C Honey
1 1/2 Tablespoons glucose syrup
a small amount of Lavender extract or fresh lavender flowers or culinary lavender. No more than 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon extract or 1/2 teaspoon lavender buds
1 quantity 50/50 coating
1/2 C confectioners’ sugar
1/2 C cornstarch
Place the gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water to soften or “bloom”. This should take about 10 minutes. Make sure the water is cold. If it’s warm, the gelatin will start to melt.
Lightly grease an 8 inch square baking pan with oil.
Place the egg white in the bowl of a free standing mixer. A hand~held mixer can also be used. Mix together the honey and glucose syrup, and 2 Tablespoons water in a small saucepan until well combined. Place a digital candy thermometer in the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. There is no need to stir the mixture. As you heat the sugar syrup, sugar crystals may form on the side of the saucepan. A heatproof pastry brush dipped in cold water can be used to dissolve and disburse the sugar.
When the syrup reaches 240F, start to whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks.
After 4~5 minutes the sugar syrup will hit 250F. Pour it carefully down the side of the bowl while whisking the egg whites at medium speed. Avoid pouring the hot sugar syrup onto the beaters as they will spray hot sugar around the kitchen and cause lumps in the mix. Just be careful.
While the meringue mix is whisking, squeeze the excess water from the gelatin sheets. After 2~3 minutes, add the softened gelatin sheets directly into the mix, continuing to whisk.
Add the lavender extract or culinary buds. Don’t overdo the lavender! A little is subtle too much spoils the taste.
Continue to whisk for an additional 3~4 minutes until the mixture is thick and stiff. The mix needs to hold its shape but still be workable. You can’t over~whisk at this stage, but if it cools too much, the marshmallow will be very difficult to shape or mold and You’ll never get it out of the bowl. Be quick and careful.
Scrape the warm mixture out into the oiled pan and smooth evenly with an offset spatula.
Mix the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Dust the top of the marshmallow with a fine layer of the mixture and let it set for 4~6 hours or preferably overnight. Cut the marshmallow into chunks and drop them into the sugar and cornstarch mixture to coat them. Decorating with a few fresh lavender prigs or buds would be delightful and telegraph the treat that’s awaiting. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
The 50/50 Marshmallow coating should be your go to coating. It can easily be livened up with coloring and flavorings such as fruit powders (Trader Joes + a quick whisk in your food processor. They carry freeze~dried fruit in small bags) finely chopped nuts and edible lusters, a bit of instant espresso powder, or let your taste and imagination run wild.