Food & Drink

Marshmallows can serve as more than sugary garnish

Tired of squishy political rhetoric on the campaign trail and the financial meltdown on Wall Street?

My friends, it’s time to say hello to the maverick marshmallow.

Sure, purists argue it’s best to stick with commercially produced plain-Jane puffs smooshed in a s’more or ringed around a sweet potato casserole. But slick gourmet candidates are definitely on the uptick.

Whether you prefer populist or pricey, every year Americans consume 90 million pounds of marshmallows.

So where do these ubiquitous puffs come from, anyway?

“Most of us assume they come from plastic bags,” says Eileen Talanian, a pastry chef and author of “Marshmallows: Homemade Gourmet Treats” (Gibbs Smith, 2008, $18.95) when I reach her by phone at her Pennsylvania home.

But when people taste Talanian’s gooey, melt-in-the-mouth confections, made from six ingredients — unflavored gelatin, water, cane sugar, cane sugar syrup, salt and vanilla — it’s a revelation.

“You made these? I didn’t know you could make marshmallows!” Talanian’s friends always remark when she gifts them with bags of the fluffy stuff.

Neither did I, but in tight economic times, who can justify spending $10 for 8 ounces of sugar and gelatin whipped with a lot of hot air?

So, using Talanian’s book, I set out to make four batches of homemade marshmallows.

Eventually, I was eager to change things up, dusting vanilla marshmallows in ancho chile cocoa powder, rolling passion fruit marshmallows in toasted coconut and infusing honey marshmallows with lavender.

Talanian has tasted upstart versions flavored with rosewater, celery root and Chartreuse liqueur.

But most of the recipes included in Talanian’s book are for dessert marshmallows because her publisher considered her savory campaigns a bit too edgy for mainstream cooks. “I’m a pastry chef, so when I think of food, I think of it through the lens of sweetness,” she said.

MARSHMALLOW RECIPES

MARSHMALLOW SYRUP

2 cups water

5 1/3 cups granulated cane sugar

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

Makes about 1 quart.

Place the ingredients in a heavy 4-quart pan, stirring gently with a heatproof spatula until the sugar is moistened. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cover the pan 2 minutes to allow steam to wash any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan. Then uncover the pan, insert a candy thermometer, and increase the heat to high until it reaches 240 degrees. Do not stir it at all once you have removed the lid or the syrup will crystallize as it cools.

Remove syrup from the heat and let the syrup cool 15 minutes. Ladle it into clean jars and attach lids.

If the syrup begins to form crystals at the bottom of the jar, don’t be alarmed; pour out the amount of syrup you need when you use it, without scraping the jar. Discard any crystallized part that is left.

Nutritional information per 1-tablespoon serving: 68 calories (none from fat), no fat, no cholesterol, 17 grams carbohydrates, no protein, 2 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.

VANILLA MARSHMALLOWS

For the bloom:

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water

1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

For the base:

3/4 cup water

1 1/4 cups Marshmallow Syrup

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups granulated cane sugar

Basic coating:

1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup cornstarch

Makes 36 servings.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch or 11-by-15-by-1-inch pan or another mold you will be using for the batter with a nonstick spray coating, and wipe it lightly with a paper towel, leaving only a thin film of oil.

For the bloom: Measure the cold water into a measuring cup and add vanilla. Place the gelatin into a small bowl and pour the water and vanilla over it, stirring with a whisk or fork until there are no lumps. Set the bowl near the stove.

For the base: Place the water, syrup, salt and sugar, in that order, into a 4-quart pan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Then place a lid on the pan and boil it, covered, for 2 minutes. This step is essential in order to eliminate sugar crystals on the side of the pan that may cause the marshmallows to crystallize.

Remove the lid, insert a candy thermometer, and continue boiling until the thermometer reaches 250 degrees. Do not stir the mixture once the lid has been removed. Remove the thermometer and gently stir in the bloomed gelatin.

Pour the batter into the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Beat it on high speed 10 to 12 minutes, using the wire whisk attachment. Cover the mixer with a clean kitchen towel for the first 3 to 4 minutes to avoid splattering hot liquid.

At first, the marshmallow batter will look very watery; as it beats, it will become thick, white and glossy and will increase in volume by two- to threefold. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and spread the batter into the pan. Smooth the top with a spatula, or wet your hand and smooth the mixture with your palm. Let the pan sit at room temperature, uncovered, at least 4 hours or overnight.

For the coating: Sift the sugar and cornstarch together, or pulse in a food processor until there are no lumps. Store the coating indefinitely in an airtight container.

To cut: Prepare cutting surface by lightly sprinkling with coating mixture. Ease the marshmallows away from the sides of the pan and flip the pan over, gently releasing the slab onto the surface. Cut marshmallows with pizza cutter into desired shape. Toss the cut marshmallows with coating mix, shaking off any excess. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Coating variations: For gingerbread, add 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 3/4 teaspoon cloves to basic coating. For cocoa-ancho chile, add 1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa and 2 teaspoons ancho chile powder to basic coating. For cinnamon, add 2 to 3 teaspoons ground Vietnamese cinnamon to basic coating.

Nutritional information per marshmallow: 86 calories (none from fat), no fat, no cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 4 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

TROPICAL MARSHMALLOWS

For the bloom:

3 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

1 1/2 cups 100 percent passion fruit or mango juice concentrate or nectar

For the base:

1 cup 100 percent passion fruit or mango juice concentrate or nectar

1 1/4 cups Marshmallow Syrup

Pinch of salt

1 3/4 cups granulated cane sugar

Makes 36 servings.

Coat 9-by-13-inch or 11-by-15-by-1-inch pan with nonstick spray, wiping it lightly with a paper towel so that only a thin film of oil remains.

For the bloom: Place the gelatin in a small bowl and whisk in the juice until smooth. Set the bowl near the stove.

For the base: Place all the ingredients into a heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to moisten all the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover the pan, and boil 2 minutes. Remove the cover, insert a candy thermometer, and cook the base to 250 degrees. Do not stir the mixture once the lid has been removed. Turn off heat, remove the thermometer and gently stir in the bloom.

Pour the batter into the bowl of a stand mixture with a wire whisk attachment and gradually increase the speed to high, beating the mixture for 10 minutes. (Cover the mixture with a clean kitchen towel for the first 3 to 4 minutes to avoid splattering.) Spread the batter into prepared pan and let cure, uncovered, at least 4 hours or overnight. Cut and coat with coconut. Coconut coating: Spread coconut evenly in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake20 to 30 minutes in a preheated 325-degree oven, stirring often. Allow to cool.

Nutritional information per marshmallow: 86 calories (none from fat), no fat, no cholesterol, 21 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 8 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

HONEY-LAVENDER MARSHMALLOWS

For the bloom:

3 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water

For the base:

3/4 cup water

1 1/4 cups honey

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups granulated cane sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons lavender, in a tea ball

Makes 36 servings.

Coat 9-by-13-inch or 11-by-15-by-1-inch pan with nonstick spray, wiping it lightly with a paper towel so that only a thin film of oil remains.

For the bloom: Place the gelatin into a small bowl and whisk in the water until there are no lumps. Set the bowl near the stove.

For the base: Place water, honey, salt and sugar, in that order, into a 6-quart pan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, put the tea ball in the pan so that the lavender is immersed in the base and turn off the heat. Cover the pan and let the lavender steep 30 minutes. Bring the base back to a boil, covered, 2 minutes. Remove the lid, insert a candy thermometer, and continue boiling until the thermometer reaches 250 degrees. Do not stir the mixture once the lid has been removed. Remove the thermometer and tea ball and gently stir in the bloomed gelatin.

Pour the batter in an electric stand mixer fitted with a wire whisk and gradually increase speed to high, beating 10 to 12 minutes. (Cover the mixer with a clean kitchen towel for the first 3 to 4 minutes to avoid splattering hot liquid.)

Spread the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Let batter cure at room temperature, uncovered, at least 4 hours or overnight. Cut and coat as desired with Basic Coating and garnish with edible flowers.

Nutritional information per marshmallow: 73 calories (none from fat), no fat, no cholesterol, 19 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 7 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

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