Amy brought me 3 recipes, one for standard white marshmallows, one for chocolate marshmallows, and one for old fashioned marshmallows. The old fashioned marshmallows stood out from the other recipes by calling for an ingredient I had never heard of.... marshmallow root.
Marshmallow root is the root of the Althea officinalis plant. The name is derived from the greek" Althe" which means, "to heal" referring to the plants medicinal value. Althea grows predominately in salt marshes, in damp meadows, by the sea, and on the banks of tidal rivers giving the plant it's common name, "Marshmallow". Tiny purple and white flowers cover the plant, and the young green leaves are said to be eaten in salads in France. During times of famine, the root was found to provide ample nourishment, and was considered a delicacy by the Romans. Even through the time of Charlemagne, marshmallow was cultivated for human consumption.
The plant is regarded as an herbal remedy to soothe sore throats and used as an expectorant for upper respiratory problems. In 19th century America, a throat lozenge made from whipped extract of the marshmallow root, sugar, and egg whites was given to children who suffered from chest colds. The flavor took on popularity and evolved from a hardened lozenge to the fluffy candy we know today. The binding properties of the marshmallow root were exchanged for those of gelatin, and the candy became sweeter, softer, fluffier, bearing little resemblance other than a name to the original.
While marshmallow root is readily available in capsule and liquid form, I chose to use a "modern" recipe which favors corn syrup and gelatin. The first recipe I made is representative of almost all recipes I have found. The sugar and corn syrup are boiled to 240 degrees, then whipped with gelatin for 15 minutes as high as your mixer goes. The resulting goop is spread on a greased, foil lined pan and let to set and dry out for a day or two.
I was quite pleased with the results until I tasted a marshmallow confection made by 3400 Phinney's chocolatier, Amber. I told her that her marshmallow was much fluffier than mine. She thought for a second, and rather than just accept the compliment, she ventured a question, "Do you use egg whites in yours?"
"No. I didn't know you could use egg whites!" I said.
"Oh," Amber said, "if you use egg whites, you get that melt-in-your-mouth texture."
Armed with this hot tip, I began to look for recipes using egg whites. It appeared easy, just whip egg whites and add the gelatin/sugar syrup after the whites have formed peaks. Just like an Italian meringue.
This method worked well. The texture is incredible light, melt in your mouth. I thought I was a genius, I must admit. But then I attempted to use them in a dessert I have on the menu. The dessert is a Millefuille of toasted marshmallow and chocolate cream with salted peanut ice cream. I got everything ready, toasted the marshmallow, and stacked it between layers of caramelized phyllo. Right before my eyes, they dessert collapsed, and the entire marshmallow spilled out the sides. Apparently, this method didn't hold up to heat well. In fact, it had completely liquefied, along with my "stay puffed" ego
I'll have to find out why, because logically, you can torch a meringue, and you can torch a marshmallow. So why cant you torch a marshmallow with a meringue base? There are many factors to play with, including, dare I say it..... human error?!?
While this dessert will be rotated off the menu shortly, a hot cocoa with home made marshmallows will remain as long as the cold rainy days create a longing for the warm beverage. Seattle's long rainy season should give me months more to perfect a marshmallow recipe.