4.29.11 My Peeps
I'm not really sure what possessed me, but I decided to try to make a savory marshmallow for Easter. That's essentially an oxymoron and, as it turns out, sort of impossible, given that sugar—or in this case, honey—is such an integral part of the structure of this spongy treat. No amount of googling turned up anything helpful, so I winged it. The result was a strangely compelling alternative to the achingly sweet peeps on offer at this time of year. Made with roasted pureed carrots, the base was initially a gorgeous brilliant orange color which, upon mixing, turned into a very subtle tint. Infused with cumin and fennel, and sprinkled with chile salt, these marshmallows are a sweet, spicy, salty and sensuous mouthful.
This recipe makes a rather large batch, so once the novelty of eating the initial few wore off, I began to wonder how else I might use these quirky treats. Baked atop buttered sweet potatoes. Diced into a carrot-&-raisin salad. Sandwiched between graham crackers with a piece of bittersweet chocolate for the ultimate s'more. Starting to sound pretty good, right? Just let your imagination run wild...
The poured marshmallow mixture dries for 10-12 hours, becoming firmer but definitely remaining quite sticky. The solution is to coat it in cornstarch, which seeps into all its pores and gives it that dry, silky texture we associate with marshmallows.Incidentally, marshmallow was originally a medicinal remedy for sore throats, made from the mucilaginous extracts from the root of the marshmallow plant, Althea officinalis. It dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who also mixed it with dates to make a sweet confection. Candymakers in early 19th-century France whipped the marshmallow sap and sweetened it for a confection similar to the modern marshmallow. By the end of the century, French manufacturers had devised a way to skirt the labor-intensive sap extraction by using egg whites or gelatin combined with cornstarch to create the chewy base.
SPICY CARROT MARSHMALLOWS makes about 1004 envelopes gelatin1/2 cup roasted carrot puree1/4 teaspoon toasted ground fennel seeds1/2 teaspoon ground cumin1 1/4 cups water3 cups organic sugar1 1/4 cups mild honey1/4 teaspoon sea saltred chile salt, for sprinkling1/3 cup corn starch, for dusting2 tablespoons fennel pollen, for dusting, optionalLine a cookie sheet with a 1" rim with aluminum foil. Lightly coat the foil with vegetable oil. Fit your standing mixer with the whisk attachment.Mix the carrot puree, ground fennel seeds, cumin and 1/2 cup of the water in the bowl of the stand mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over to soften.Put the sugar, honey, remaining 3/4 cup water and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234-240 F). Be vigilant as this can boil over quickly.With the mixer at full speed, pour all of the hot syrup slowly down the side of the bowl. Take care as the mixture is very hot at this point and might splash. Whip until the mixture is very fluffy and stiff, about 10 minutes.Pour mixture into the foil-lined pan and smooth with an oiled offset spatula. Pop any air bubbles with a knife point. Sprinkle generously with chile salt. Let sit, uncovered, at room temp for 10 to 12 hours.If you're going to use the fennel pollen, grind it to a fine powder in your spice or coffee grinder. Mix it with the cornstarch and sift generously over the rested marshmallow slab. Turn it out onto a cutting board or counter, peel off foil and dust with more cornstarch mixture. Slice with an oiled knife, or cut into desired shaped with oiled cookie cutters. It's very important to dip all cut edges in the cornstarch mixture; shake off any excess. Marshmallows will keep several weeks at room temp in an air-tight container.