Underappreciated for too long, marshmallows have graduated from the pantry to the confection case. It's time to give the ‘goo’ its due!
Ah, lowly marshmallow. Long have we shared a misguided love affair. We have smooshed you between graham crackers at camp. We have flung you, charred and smoking, from wobbly coat hangers at unsuspecting siblings. We have, at times, forgotten you so long that we had to pry you from the pantry shelf. And you have responded in kind. Melted into some treacly lava, you have beckoned us from the yams on holiday groaning boards. And floating innocently atop steamy cups of cocoa, you have deceived us into believing that you’ll shield us from scalded tongues.
But you, humble marshmallow, have come into your own. Now you come in colors beyond Peeps’ pink and Kraft Mini Marshmallow green, supplanted by colors as myriad as the flavors they represent—puffs of passion fruit, mango and macadamia nut, not to mention Irish Cream and golden caramel. Yes, marshmallow, you now are a sweet treat unto yourself, occupying glass-case space beside macarons, éclairs and financiers, packed lovingly into beribboned boxes and plucked from the sweets trolley at Paris’ historic Fauchon and George V. Not since Pocahontas wore damask to the Court of St. James has one so plain been elevated to such heights of refinement.
It seems like the craze crept up on us. According to Ann Hickey, president of Burbank, California-based Plush Puffs, which has been making artisan marshmallows since 2002, Williams-Sonoma led the American market in elevating them from campfire pit to confectioners’ cases around 2001. “What started as a possible fad has turned into a solid trend and substantial niche in the confection market,” says Hickey.
A medicinal derivative of the mallow plant, the marshmallow is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt. Its next reference is from 19th-century France, when pâté de guimauve morphed from medicine to bonbon. Then, in 20th-century America, shimmery, neon marshmallow chicks popped up en force in Easter baskets, and Moon Pies became a Southern lunchbox staple.
Now they’ve been reinvented again, this time in a leading role: as the stand-alone star of the dessert course, as the unexpected addendum to a tired classic or, as the preferred French pick-me-up, le snack. While you might be moved to pick up knife and fork to mince up your marshmallows at Four Seasons George V, what could be easier than popping a poof of coconut ‘mallow straight from the box while on the dash? If it’s teatime, you might opt to sit out the afternoon shopping binge for a couple of White Russians (marshmallows; not men) and a cuppa. And if hot cocoa just isn’t doing it for you any more, change up the traditional.
“A lot of Plaza customers actually ask for our marshmallow steamer with the rosemary-chocolate and love it,” says Erika Dominguez, manager of Three Tarts at The Plaza Food Hall in New York’s former Plaza Hotel. Dominguez also recommends freshening up cocoa with a raspberry marshmallow topper or, her own favorite flavor, espresso. “And don’t forget,” she adds, “toasting your marshmallow gives the flavor a totally new dimension.”
So the next time you find yourself sticking one atop a long sharp stick, or considering how to launch a sticky, hot ball of goo at a moving target, stop. The 21st-century marshmallow has given us other options. Instead, push aside the scones, warm the teapot, call over a friend, and give the goo its due. The marshmallow has arrived.
Find gourmet marshmallows at:
The Dairy Godmother, Alexandria