Views, history and recipes from a pastry chef living and working in London.

"The fine arts are five in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music,
and architecture, the principal branch of the latter being pastry." Antonin Carême (1783-1833)

Sunday, 6 June 2010


The marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis ) is a fleshy marsh reed, commonly found in Europe, Western Asia and Northern America. It consists of an upright stem, consisting of five lobes (3-4 feet in height), a pale, fleshy root and short stemmed leaves. The stem and leaves are covered by a velvety, downy material similar to those found on bull rushes. They have a 5 petal reddish flower. The roots and the leaves of the marshmallow contain a gel like substance called Mucilage.
The Marshmallow has been used as source of food and a form of medicine for over 2000 years and can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians. They mixed the Mucilage with water, creating a thick gel like substance which was commonly used to treat sore throats. In Arab countries the leaves were made into a poultice, a soft moist mass of crushed leaves, that was applied to the skin to reduce inflammation.

The Egyptians were the first on record to use the marshmallow as a food stuff. They extracted the mucilage sap from the root and mixed it with nuts and honey. They are also known to have stripped the skin from the stem, exposing the soft spongy pith within the stem which was boiled with sugar and then dried to produce a soft chewy sweet.

These methods were used all the way up to the 19th century when French sweet makers devised a way of whipping up the sap and sweetening it, and so the modern marshmallow was born. This method was adopted by individual sweet producers who produced marshmallows on a small scale in house. However, despite it being very successful and hugely popular it was still very time consuming extracting the sap from the marshmallow.
In the late 19th century the French realised the same effect could be produced by using a combination of egg whites, sugar and corn starch, without the laborious task or processing the plant.

In 1948 and American called Alex Doumak patented a way of producing marshmallows which gave them the cylindrical shape we know today. The machine forces the whipped mix through tubes, de-molding them once they’re set and cutting them into cylinders. The National Confectioners Association of America estimate that Americans spend more than $125 million on marshmallows every year, that’s the equivalent weight of 1286 grey whales.

Here’s one of my marshmallow recipes tweaked for the summer. I’ve used geranium water which gives them a lovely perfumed flavour but you can use orange blossom or even rose water depending on what you have in the cupboard or what takes your fancy. The raspberries do mean that the shelf life is reduced slightly as the raspberries tend to “bleed” after a while but trust me, they won’t be around last long enough for this to be a problem.
Geranium scented raspberry marshmallows 
  • 120g (3) egg whites
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 100ml geranium water
  • 100g water
  • 2 oranges zested
  • 50g glucose
  • 9 gelatine leaves
  • 1 punnet raspberries
  • corn flour to dust
Place the sugar, glucose, water and geranium water in a pan and bring to the boil.
Place the gelatine in cold water to soften.

Place the egg whites in a mixer bowl and whisk to soft peak. Take the sugar syrup up to soft ball approx. 120 Celsius. This can be achieved with a sugar thermometer or by dropping syrup into a glass of cold water. What you’re looking for is that the syrup does not dissolve in the water but forms small soft balls or ribboin the water. Once you’ve reached that stage slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the egg whites whisking all the time. Continue whisking hard. You will notice that the mix will get stiffer and stiffer as the sugar and gelatine set the mix. The aim is to get as much air into the mix before it sets.

Once you’ve reached the point where the mix is very thick but still pourable pour half into a cling film and corn flour dusted tray. Dust the raspberries with a little corn flour (to stop them bleeding) and scatter over the mix. Drop a couple of drops of pink food colour or cochineal into the remaining mix and whisk to colour then pour over the raspberries, smooth down and place in fridge till set. Once set remove from tin, peel off corn flour and cut into chunky pieces, roll in corn flour and dust off as much as you can by rolling between your hands.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to make vegetarian marshmallows? Or must you always use gelatin?