Cooking

The Marshmallow Moment

Chefs are experimenting with marshmallows and sharing their results
Marshmallows from Mah Ze Dahr Bakery | Photo: Katie Foster/Tasting Table
Homemade Marshmallows

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Ramps and tomatoes are tamed by the seasons, but you know what isn't? Fluffy, sticky marshmallows.

These days, chefs are taking advantage of their abundance, infusing them with vegetables and toying with temperature and texture to enrich the childhood sweet.

"I have an unnatural love of marshmallows," Umber Ahmad, the pastry chef and owner of Mah Ze Dahr Bakery in New York City, says. "When it's creamy and sort of melty, it becomes this magical thing."

As she prepares to open the first flagship location of her semi-underground online-order-only bakery with pastry partner Shelly Barbera, Ahmad shares her experiments.

"We made a passion fruit [marshmallow] once and added it to green tea, and we were like, 'Whoa,'" Ahmad recalls. "It opened our eyes to all the possible applications."

In the savory world, molecular-minded Chicago chef Grant Achatz injects his 'mallows with soy sauce, and Phillip Foss of EL Ideas uses pink peppercorns. Shaun Hergatt from Juni in New York considers the humble marshmallow the perfect vehicle for root vegetables. "Veggies have a high sugar level and meld together nicely with the soft marshmallowy taste," Hergatt says. "This fall, what about celeriac marshmallow dusted with fennel pollen?"

Though your next hot chocolate may not require such fancy 'mallows, you should still learn the soft-ball candy-making technique and get your gear in order. Here's what we gleaned from the pros on how to be a 'mallow master.

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Get Out Your Kitchen Toys—and Keep 'Em Clean
That dusty old Christmas gift finally gets its time to shine. "Mixing marshmallows in a standing mixer makes them fluffy and voluminous, so much that it should be tough to get them out of the bowl," Barbera says. "You can only get that texture by whipping it quickly." You'll also need a sturdy spatula, candy thermometer, heavy saucepan and baking pan handy, but the key here is constant cleaning. "You need to work with very clean tools and pots, so that the sugar doesn't crystallize and produce a grainy marshmallow," according to Janina O'Leary, the pastry chef at Austin's laV.

240 Is the Magic Number
As you're making the sugar syrup to combine later with bloomed gelatin, be vigilant in checking that candy thermometer. Specifically, you're looking for it to reach the soft-ball candy stage, which clocks in right around 240 degrees. "Any hotter, and it will turn your product crunchy," Hergatt explains. "Any less, and it will be liquid, and you'll end up with a runny marshmallow."

Whip It Real Good
Give your forearms a rest and leave the stirring to the standing mixer. But don't slack off, because too few or too many strokes will mess up your marshmallow. "Overmixing takes away from the fluffy texture," Barbera says. "Underwhipping is a big problem," Hergatt adds. "You want the proper aeration so that it sets nice and pillowy."

Do Not Fear the Cornstarch
You can't really get around this old-school thickener. "Cornstarch, mixed with powdered sugar, helps keep marshmallows fresh and not sticky," O'Leary says. However, for the starch-averse, Ahmad has a quick fix. "We sub in a bit of honey, which gives the marshmallow a deeper sweet flavor and adds texture, too," she says. Barbera suggests using clover honey, as well as flavored honeys like lavender.

Be Patient
Once you've conquered the soft-ball candy stage and are successfully whipping it with the gelatin into a white voluminous, slightly sticky mess, you roll it in powdered sugar and cornstarch. And wait. For a long time. "Eight hours is good, but overnight will ensure the marshmallow is completely set for nice smooth cuts when portioning," O'Leary says. However, if you're going for something different, you can cut down on that time. "Sometimes I like a very liquid marshmallow that I pipe onto a plate almost like a purée, and sometimes I like to dehydrate them," Hergatt says. "It all depends on the application."

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