As promised – how to make marshmallows from the marshmallow plant (Althea officinalis). I will caution you now, it took four days for me to achieve the 75% success that I did – please heed my mistakes below. If you have better success with this, please share!
Why does it work?
All parts of the marshmallow plant contain mucilage, but the roots are an especially good source. Do you remember the Chia Pet? Soaking the seeds in water produced a clear slime that allowed you to stick the seeds to the clay base. This goo, also found in flaxseed, okra, purslane, nopales, etc can be overwhelming if these foods are cooked alone, but makes a wonderful thickener when they’re added sparingly to soups and stews. My grandmother’s generation steeped flaxseed in boiling water to make a hair gel for their Marcel waves… and now the exact same preparation is used as a vegan egg replacement in baked goods. (Grind 1 tablespoon flaxseed, steep in 3 tablespoons warm water for 10 minutes, equals one egg.)
Just like egg white, the liquid produced by simmering any part of the marshmallow plant in water can be whipped and used as a stabilizer for meringues, etc. This binding power was central to the first manufactured marshmallows. Producers soon switched to gelatin as a more easily standardized binder, but you can still use the marshmallow plant to make your own marshmallows today.
Technically, this means:
You can use fresh roots, well-scrubbed and sliced; or LOTS of dried shredded roots from your past preservation or the health food store. (If you go the health-food store route, pick over the herb – i found some small bits of dried mud in mine, which aren’t exactly possible to strain out afterwards.)MAYBE you could go the flaxseed route, but I don’t think you’d be able to strain out the ground flaxseed from the mucilage – which would give you little crunchy bits in the finished candy. (I don’t remember whether the trick will work with unground flax – try it!) I feel the flavors would blend well, though. If all else fails, use unflavored gelatin. Based on my experiences I might use 3-4 packets right away.
There are a few marshmallow-marshmallow recipes kicking around the web – here’s a no-egg, and thus no-bake version perfect for summertime. (Translated to American materials from the Semi-Traditional Marshmallow recipe over at Celtnet.)
Basically you’re making a meringue – italian semifreddo, using a strong decoction of marshmallow root instead of the egg whites. So hey, it’s vegan! In the semifreddo I’m familiar with, you first beat the egg whites a bit, then add the boiling sugar syrup in a stream while the motor is running. This particular recipe said to add them together. It overall failed miserably – probably because the marshmallow extractive was too watery, and hadn’t extracted the mucilage properly. I’ve read mucilage is broken down by warm water, so if I try this again with dried root I will use a LOT of herb, and soak in cool water to cover overnight.
- 8 marsh mallow roots, sliced
- 100ml water
- up to 200 ml boiling water
- 750 ml sugar
- 330 ml corn syrup
- 160 ml water, extra
- 15 ml
- 500 ml powdered sugar
- 80 ml cornstarch
- Place the marsh mallow root and 100ml water in a pan, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool completely. Once cool remove the roots and make up to 250ml with boiling water. Place the sugar, corn syrup and 160ml water in a over medium-high heat and boil without stirring until soft-ball stage on a sugar thermometer – 236 degrees Fahrenheit. Now add this and the mallow root water in the bowl of an electric running on high. Add vanilla extract and beat for 12 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is thick and fluffy. Pour the mixture into a lightly greased Sieve together the . lined with non-stick paper. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Lightly dust a clean surface with this mixture and turn out the marshmallow onto this surface. Cut rough cubes from this, dust with more of the powdered sugar mixture and store in an airtight container.
What Actually Happened:
First try – I cooked 3/4 cup of dried root in 300 ml water for 10 minutes, and let the herb soak overnight to pull out as much mucilage as possible. I then squeezed the herb, and got about 200 ml liquid, of an unappetizing brown. Soaking the dried root:
Next try, I did another decoction using the remaining 3/4 of my marshmallow root, with the same amount of water. I let the mixture sit overnight to get well rehydrated, and initial stirrings looked wonderful and thick. I then simmered for probably too long, about 30 mins, and squeezed again; added this liquid to the sugar syrup, and rebeat. Nothing.
Two reheatings, two desperate packets of unflavored gelatin, and two upsizings of cooking pan later, hooray! I have achieved Marshmallow Creme texture! And color! It tasted really nice – the specific Mallow spicy/herby flavor was definitely dominated by the vanilla and sugar, but added a nice dimension. I managed to catch the Dutch Oven before it boiled over on the stove on the last reheating, but some did manage to escape the pan on the way over to the mixer. Great, now everything’s sticky.
It chilled calmly till evening, when I dusted my countertop with powdered sugar, peeled off the top layer of waxed paper, inverted the whole deal, and peeled off the bottom layer of wax paper. “See how wonderfully the paper peeled off? And how it’s retaining its shape? Wait, why are the edges slumping like that?” I managed to get it sliced into nice little squares, but as soon as it warmed to room temperature it turned back into Marshmallow Creme. And dissolved all of the powdered sugar on the outside. It tasted a LOT better without the powdered sugar.
I ended up using a knife to scrape up the squares, put them back on the baking tray, and tossing them in the freezer. We ate them on graham cracker squares, as a sort of Instant-Smore-Needs-No-Fire!… so I guess it kinda turned out ok. They tasted good enough anyway.
I’ll probably add the rest of the pan to two cups of whipping cream beaten to soft peaks with a bit of superfine sugar, pour into a loaf pan, toss the whole thing in the freezer and call it E-Z Semifreddo. At least that way it will get eaten.