mini lapsang souchong caramel marshmallow, recipe below
I obsess. It’s my nature. I make variations of recipes over & over again. For weeks. I delve into the history of the food I’ve become so enamored with, the culinary etymology. For instance, I happen to know an inordinate amount about Okinawan sweet potatoes and have made well over 20 soufflés in the past month.
It was around Easter, a season of the lurid Peep, that I became myopic about marshmallows. I made my first batch at approximately 4 AM one spring night. I couldn’t sleep for thinking about them, so I quietly crawled out of bed and proceeded to make insomniac marshmallows coupled with a large batch of lapsang souchong caramel sauce in the dead of night.
Awoken by my absence, he appeared bleary-eyed in the kitchen doorway to check on me. Not for a moment did he question why I was up in the middle of the night making candy. This is one of the reasons I love him. He never makes me feel insane. And he even made coffee. This is good, because it wasn’t the last of my elf-like nighttime marshmallow making. Not but a few weeks later I found myself up the night before Good Friday deliriously, albeit happily, making lavender marshmallows for a party the next day.
I’d never actually tasted a handmade marshmallow nor did I have any idea how they were made until I decided to try. I didn’t even like marshmallows or what I previously thought were marshmallows. I suppose my curiosity had reached critical mass that evening once I’d resolved to swirl them with a recently perfected caramel. My intuition told me, rightly, that these would be different, rapturous even. They are.
Largely regarded by the general public as inscrutable and made, perhaps, in some Wonkian laboratory, marshmallows have long been misrepresented by dry facsimiles, by “jet puffed” industrial marshmallows that only distantly and obscurely resemble the real thing, like the phantom shadows dancing in Plato’s cave. Yes, I’m talking about the Platonic ideal of marshmallow: the handmade marshmallow.
mini Earl Grey marshmallows, recipe below
Handmade marshmallows are powdery, roughly hewn squares in pale shades that mystify before inducing a sort of ecstatic trance as they melt in your mouth. The original Marshmallow from which all other marshmallows sprang was a mysterious, honeyed confection of ancient Egyptian origin, possessed of magical, medicinal properties. The marsh-mallow plant, so named because it could be found growing on the banks of salt marshes does in fact possess cough suppressant & wound healing properties.
The evolution of the marshmallow can be later traced to France, where French confectionaries would whip the sap with sugar to make a fluffy candy that bears more resemblance to the modern mallow. This candy, called pâte de guimauve, was lightened with egg white meringue and commonly flavored with rose water. Made by local artisans, it was a labor-intensive process to extract the sap, but with the advent of new technology and the substitution of gelatin for marshmallow sap, it became possible to mass-produce them. As such, there is no actual marshmallow in modern marshmallows.
Though I make my marshmallows with gelatin, I have marshmallow root aspirations, if only to do it once as some sort of culinary séance, a communion with civilizations so obscured by forgetful mists that they appear to us now only as violent fairy tales. At the very least, I intend to make my next batch with egg white meringue, as I hear these are even more pillowy & airy, truly dissolving when they hit your tongue. That said, the simple preparation below, every so slightly toothsome before melting and without black magic, will probably be my standard for a long time to come.
It makes sense that synthetic marshmallows would lead us to believe that all sorts of chemicals and machinery would be required to produce them, but it isn’t so. Essentially marshmallows are made by whipping a simple syrup with gelatin dissolved in water. Who knew. While simple, they are sticky. Very, treacherously sticky. But this is easily managed by making sure everything that touches the marshmallow fluff is either wet or coated lightly with non-stick spray and/or the classic coating of corn (or potato) starch & confectioner’s sugar. I prefer to use water and the classic coating, though in moments of haste and fear of a stringy web-like mess, I reach for a can of cooking spray.
Another blank canvas on which you can experiment endlessly with different flavor combinations, a marshmallow mania ensued after I discovered their simplicity and ease. I’ve made delicate lavender marshmallows dipped in raspberry preserves and dark chocolate. I made downy Earl Gray marshmallows, and intensely vanilla marshmallows made with vanilla sugar, Madagascar vanilla beans and extract. And of course, I’ve made caramel marshmallows, which have been by far my favorite. Though I do have a strong affinity for the more subtle floral lavender and Earl Grey mallows too. Each has their place. I should probably make some sort of spicy chocolate mallow. Just because if a spicy chocolate version of a thing can be made, I believe that implies a moral imperative that it should be made. A culinary séance with the Aztecs, I suppose.
I’ve provided recipe variations below for Earl Grey (or any tea/herb/flower) infused marshmallows and basic vanilla marshmallows with a smoky, lapsang souchong tea infused salted butter caramel swirl. I provided the recipe for my caramel sauce, which I’ve been told could be used as a bargaining chip in world domination. Caramel is another thing some people are afraid to make that is actually very simple. My recipe is for a dry caramel, and it has never failed me. And it is expletive inducing good.
Some other flavors I’d like to try include: rosewater, cardamom, orange blossom, hibiscus & ginger, espresso, chamomile & honey, chocolate orange, mate & nutmeg, mint… I could go on and on with various fruits, herbs, spices, and teas. I saw a recipe for brown butter and sage mallows. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about.
Homemade marshmallows can meltingly rewrite childhood memories of s’mores and hot cocoa, so much softer and creamier than what we grew up on. Having no desire to revisit other shadows of real foods (commercially baked graham crackers or chalky Hershey’s), I plan to make graham crackers from scratch and used Scharffen Berger for some grill top s’mores this coming summer. The platonic ideal of s’mores stands to be achieved. In short, these will elevate any recipe that calls for marshmallows, be it mixed in ice cream or a cup of cocoa, in homemade candies or sweet potato soufflé. Oh, and you should dip at least some of these in bitter-sweet chocolate. It’s just really, really stupid good. Candy shoppe quality morsels, for sure. Chocolate dipped caramel marshmallows sprinkled with fleur de sel and…fin.
Line a 13x9x2 inch pan with parchment paper or foil. Coat lightly with nonstick spray. Bring the 1.5 cups of water to a boil and add the Earl Gray (variations: 2 T dried lavender or hibiscus or 1 T of a different tea). Remove from heat and steep covered 10 minutes (I steep for 30 minutes if using dried flowers).
Strain and measure a 1/2 cup of the tea into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator or freezer until very cold. Measure another 1/2 cup of tea into a heavy medium saucepan. Discard extra tea (or drink it!).
Once the tea is chilled, pour it into the bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.
Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, with the tea in the saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Attach a candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 235-240ºF, about 8 minutes.
With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract if using and beat about 30 seconds longer. It will be voluminous & white, begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl, and will fall very slowly in a thick ribbon when the whisk is lifted when done.
Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan with a wet spatula, work quickly as it gets harder to work with if it sits. And by harder I mean almost impossible. Smooth top with wet spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours or overnight.
Sift corn starch and powdered sugar together in a bowl. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13×9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off parchment or foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab.
Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with water or nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes, keeping knife wet or coated. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture. Store marshmallows in an airtight container. They will keep for about a week.
• basic marshmallow ingredients above, except tea
• about 1 cup of Lapsang Souchong Caramel (recipe follows)
Follow the directions provided above but skip the step of making tea and simply use 1 cup of cold water, divided. Let the gelatin dissolve in the one half, and make your syrup the same as above with the second half.
Scrape 2/3 of the whipped mixture into your prepared pan and top with a thick layer of caramel sauce to cover and swirl gently with a wet butter knife. Scrape the other third of your marshmallow mixture on top. Smooth with a wet spatula.
Let set, 4 hour to over night. Turn out and dust as instructed above.
Alternative Swirling Method: After the vanilla has been incorporated to the fully whipped fluff, reduce speed to lowest setting and add 1 cup of caramel sauce (or your desired amount), quickly, shutting off machine as soon as you are done to just swirl.
*Note: I’ve yet to do it but I plan to make marshmallows infused with the lapsang souchong tea swirled with the caramel sauce for a more intensely smokey tea flavor
Dipping Marshmallows in Chocolate
Melt 4-5 oz chopped dark chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring in between until smooth. To do as I do, producing a very handmade result, haphazardly dip marshmallows into chocolate using fingers or tooth picks and lie on wax paper lined baking sheets. Top with fleur de sel, a few tea leaves or lavender buds, or other decorations if desired. Place in fridge to harden, and remove from fridge about 10 minutes before serving. You could certainly get fancy and temper your chocolate, but I’ve yet to learn that skill. Yet.
Bring cream almost to a boil, but not fully, remove from heat and add tea leaves, cover and steep 10 minutes.
Strain into a measuring cup or bowl with a spout from which you can pour slowly. Add 1/4 tsp vanilla and stir to combine. Set aside.
Melt 2 cups of sugar over med (between 4/5 on my ceramic cook top), stirring occasionally (ever 5-8 min or so) until melted. Do not stir vigorously, merely push the sugar around to make sure it all melting. Once it begins to melt steadily, I reduce the heat turn heat down to med-low (4). The sugar will look quickly look a dark caramel color as it melts. Don’t let this make you nervous. It isn’t burning.
Note: Use your sense of smell, if it start to smell like it’s on the verge of burning but there are still a few lumps, go ahead and add the butter. You will strain it later. I have never found this necessary, and I would advice against adding the butter before all the sugar has melted unless it seems absolutely necessary to prevent burning.
Once all the sugar has melted, add butter 1 T at a time, stirring constantly until all melted. The butter will bubble enthusiastically when added. Be careful. Once all the butter is fully incorporated remove from heat and stir in the salt. Slowly, very slowly, pour in the cream, stirring constantly until smooth. This will bubble even more enthusiastically. Stir away.
Return to head and bring to a boil for about 2-3 minutes. I use a candy thermometer and let it reach about 230 degrees F. I have done it in the past without one and had no problems. Just let it boil for a bit to smooth out and then strain it through a fine mesh strainer into a heat proof bowl to cool. Resist urge to stick you finger in. You’ll burn the hell out of yourself. I would know.
Also amazing swirled in ice cream or dissolved in an ice cream base to taste for caramel ice cream, used as a sauce on dessert, or pretty much anything else you can imagine that caramel would be good in or on! The resultant sauce is thick at room temp, firm when chilled, and liquid if heated for a few seconds.
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