Pale and soft, you’ll see them in the shape of fat, powdery pastel cubes tucked into a cellophane bag as a souvenir from Paris. They show up at the fanciest confectioners as long, rectangular spears in pretty taffy colors -- pale yellow, minty green, lilac -- looking almost like flowers displayed in a vase. You almost don’t want to eat them. Or they might be pure white, melted into the top of a berry crumble at a Beverly Hills restaurant, the edges browned, melty, a little chewy.
Marshmallows have grown up.
Handmade marshmallows have as little to do with the supermarket variety as a snow cone does with sorbet. Scented faintly with rose or orange blossom, flavored subtly with pistachio or lavender or coconut, these are tender, luscious pillows of sweetness and air. Best of all, the ingredients are pure.
Lately, pastry chefs have been fashioning house-made marshmallows into elegant -- or fun -- desserts.
Dressed-up s’mores have been showing up all over town. At One Pico at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, marshmallows are skewered and sandwiched between graham crackers and roasted to just this side of meltiness, ready for dipping in hot fudge or caramel sauce.
But they also can go much more elegant: At Maple Drive, they appear in a wild berry gratin with marshmallow meringue. And at Lucques, for Valentine’s Day, pastry chef Roxana Jullapat will be serving ginger marshmallow candy -- ginger-flavored hearts flecked with crystallized ginger.
Technically, marshmallows are candy. All that’s involved is sugar, corn syrup, powdered gelatin and, if you like, a flavoring and color.
To make them, just combine sugar, corn syrup and water and cook until the mixture reaches a temperature of 235 degrees -- the “soft ball stage.” (If you don’t have a candy thermometer, spoon a little of the hot mixture into a bowl of cold water. If you can gather it into a soft ball with your fingers, you’re there.) Take it off the heat and add more corn syrup to prevent the sugar from overcooking and congealing. Meanwhile, soften powdered gelatin in water.
Next, whip the sugar syrup into the gelatin so that the liquid cools slowly as air is incorporated. This causes the marshmallows to change from a dull gray-brown to a shiny snow white. As the color changes dramatically, the texture changes too, until it’s transformed from a thin syrup into a fluffy, pillow-like froth.
It takes some time: The marshmallows won’t reach their full volume until they’ve been whipped about 13 to 15 minutes.
With just a little vanilla to add depth of flavor, homemade marshmallows are delicious. Cut them into fat squares or fanciful shapes, then dust with powdered sugar.
But don’t stop there. The white base makes an excellent medium for experimenting with aromas and flavors and colors.
Nut extracts work beautifully with marshmallows and are one way to add a smooth, full-bodied taste. The fragrant nuttiness of almond is immediately pleasing and leaves a rich, lingering aftertaste; hazelnut and pistachio extracts also work well.
For cassis, use puree rather than an extract; the natural flavor of the fruit comes through beautifully. The deep purple-red hue of the puree turns the marshmallows a gorgeous, vibrant shade of purple-pink.
Lavender, with its intoxicating fragrance, produces an unusual, slightly less sugary treat. On its own, lavender tends to have a very strong perfume, but in marshmallows it is gentle and soft. Monin makes lavender syrup, as well as dozens of other flavors, from pear to cinnamon to blood orange. Any of these would be fine for flavoring marshmallows.
After you add flavoring, add a few drops of food coloring, if you wish. Next, refrigerate the marshmallows to allow the gelatin to set. They can then be cut in whatever shape and size you like, using a sharp knife or cookie cutter to remove them from the pan. Dust them with powdered sugar to smooth the sticky surface.
Vanilla marshmallows are wonderful in desserts, such as strawberry-marshmallow brulee or our homemade take on the classic Mallomar. A little dusting of edible gold dust, and one cookie is as dressy and sumptuous as an elegant little cake.
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus overnight chilling
Servings: Makes 2 dozen large marshmallows
3/4 cup water, divided
1 1/2packets (1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2cup light corn syrup, divided
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2cup confectioner’s sugar,
1. Place 6 tablespoons water in a 5-quart mixing bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the water and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes. Place the bowl over a medium saucepan of gently simmering water and allow the gelatin to dissolve without stirring. This should take 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine the remaining water, the sugar and one-fourth cup corn syrup. Cook the mixture over high heat until it reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove the mixture from the heat and pour in the remaining corn syrup.
3. Immediately begin whipping the gelatin mixture, and slowly add the hot sugar mixture as you whip. Continue whipping until the marshmallow mixture is white, light and fluffy, about 15 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.
4. Spread the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish coated with nonstick spray. For thicker marshmallows, use a smaller pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
5. Using a knife or cookie cutters, cut the marshmallow layer into desired shapes and sizes. Cover a work surface with a sheet of wax paper; lightly dust the paper with one-fourth cup confectioner’s sugar. As you cut out individual marshmallows, place them on the sugared wax paper. Lightly dust the tops of the marshmallows with the remaining confectioner’s sugar. The marshmallows may be tightly wrapped and stored for 3 to 5 days at room temperature.
* Almond or pistachio: Substitute almond or pistachio extract for vanilla. Add food coloring if desired.
* Lavender: Omit the vanilla extract and beat in 1 1/3 cups bottled lavender syrup. Add food coloring if desired.
* Lemon: Substitute lemon extract for vanilla. Add food coloring if desired.
* Peppermint: Substitute one-eighth teaspoon peppermint extract for vanilla. Add food coloring if desired.
* Cassis: Heat one-fourth cup cassis puree in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat until reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 20 minutes, being careful not to burn. Omit vanilla and beat the reduced puree into the marshmallow mixture.
Each marshmallow: 63 calories; 0 protein; 16 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 9 mg. sodium.
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes plus 2 hours chilling
Servings: Makes 2 dozen cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter,
cut into half-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 cups flour
1 recipe marshmallows, refrigerated overnight, uncut
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate,
broken into small pieces
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light, fluffy and thoroughly combined, about 4 to 6 minutes.
2. Add the vanilla, egg yolk, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg and mix to combine, scraping down the sides if necessary. Turn the mixer to low and mix in the flour until thoroughly incorporated.
3. Press the dough into a parchment-lined and sprayed 16-by-11-inch baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 17 to 20 minutes. Cool for 3 to 5 minutes. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out cookie bases. Place the cookies on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
4. Remove the pan of marshmallow from the refrigerator and, using the same cookie cutter, cut out rounds. Place each marshmallow round onto a cooled cookie.
5. Place a large sheet of parchment on a work surface and put a wire rack on top of it. Place the cookie-marshmallow bases onto the rack, spacing them 2 inches apart. If you need to do this in 2 batches, do so.
6. Place the chocolate in a large bowl. Heat the cream just until it comes to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Whisk the mixture until it is completely smooth.
7. Transfer some of the ganache to a glass measuring cup with a spout, or to a small pitcher. Carefully pour the warm ganache over the bases, taking time to coat each piece evenly. Refill the pitcher as necessary, and reuse the glaze that has dripped onto the parchment. If the ganache begins to cool and harden, rewarm it, but do not overheat it. Continue coating the marshmallow bases until you have done them all.
8. Using a metal spatula, move the coated cookies to another wire rack. This will prevent the ganache from pooling around the bases of the cookies. Allow the cookies to cool completely. Refrigerate until the chocolate is completely set, at least 2 hours, before decorating (if desired) or serving.
Each serving: 321 calories; 3 grams protein; 41 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 18 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 47 mg. cholesterol; 42 mg. sodium.
Strawberry marshmallow brulee
Total time: 30 minutes, plus 2 hours chilling
Note: Use marshmallows that are
3 to 4 days old for this recipe.
1 quart (32 to 40) small
strawberries, washed, stemmed and tops cut flat
1/4 cup amaretto
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
1/2 cup crushed amaretto
20 medium marshmallows,
cut into half-inch slices
1. Combine the strawberries, amaretto, sugar and tarragon in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Remove the strawberries from the refrigerator and arrange them in 4 creme brulee dishes, packed tightly together with the flat ends of the strawberries facing down. Put the dishes on a baking sheet and place them on an oven rack directly under the broiler, about 10 inches from the heating element. Broil until juicy and just browning on top, about 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Remove the strawberries from the oven, sprinkle each dish with 2 tablespoons crushed amaretto cookies and arrange the marshmallow slices on top of the strawberries, slightly overlapping in the center.
4. Return the dishes to the oven and broil to toast the tops of the marshmallows, 10 to 60 seconds, taking care not to burn. Remove the desserts from the oven and serve immediately.
Each serving: 491 calories; 3 grams protein; 113 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 3 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 61 mg. sodium.