Gourmet Marshmallows

The classic fluffy summer treat takes a spin into gourmet territory.



Photos by Laura Petrilla

The popular Christmas song, “It’s a Marshmallow World,” rings true even in summer. The fluffy, white treats star in everything from ice cream to fudge, and roasting them is the best part of a campfire. Considering how much Americans love marshmallows (we consume more than 90 million pounds of them per year), it might even seem like we invented them. However, that honor goes to ancient Egyptians, who mixed honey with the root sap of the marsh mallow plant (which produces a sticky, white, jelly-like substance) to make the treat. Centuries later, doctors, who were convinced of the marshmallow plant’s healing powers, used similar concoctions as a cure for sore throats.

In the 1850s, the French transformed this “medicine” by figuring out how to froth egg whites, water and sugar; bind the mixture with root sap; hand-mold the sweets; and dust them with cornstarch. During the process, they created the modern marshmallow, which was mass-produced shortly after (and the recipe was slightly altered, subbing in gelatin for the sap). In 1927, the recipe for a s’more first appeared in a Girl Scout handbook. Within a few decades, Kraft’s brand of Jet-Puffed marshmallows, made with a patented process that infused air into the marshmallow during manufacturing, hit the market. The spongy, mass-produced squares became a cookout essential and a pantry staple.

Today, marshmallows are undergoing another transformation—this time, into a gourmet treat. Boutique producers like the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory (pittsburghmarshmallowfactory.com) create fresh, artisanal confections with a divine melt-in-your-mouth quality that commercial marshmallows can’t achieve. They’re also offered in specialty flavors; infusions of spices, herbs, fruit and liquor present new tastes, while toppings that range from crunchy coconut to crushed pistachio add texture.

Of course, it’s also possible to make marshmallows at home. If you’re intrigued, check out Marshmallows: Homemade Gourmet Treats, in which author Eileen Talanian offers easy step-by-step recipes and inspiration. Whether you make your own, opt for the traditional store-bought version or shop for creatively flavored treats in the Strip District, don’t let August pass by without having a marshmallow—and while you’re at it, sharpen those roasting sticks.

Easy Recipe: Marshmallow French Toast

For this indulgent recipe from the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory, co-owner Debbie Steinberg recommends using bananas-foster marshmallows, but just about any flavor will produce delicious results.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, combine one-and-one-half cups milk or half-and-half, six large eggs, two tablespoons pure vanilla extract, two teaspoons cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Whisk together vigorously. In a 9x11 pan, place a single layer of six to eight slices of hearty bread (use day-old for the best results). Pour the liquid mixture over the bread and let sit for five minutes on each side (use a spatula to flip). Melt four tablespoons of unsalted butter over medium heat in a large pan or griddle. Turn heat to medium-low, and fry each slice for two to three minutes per side (or until golden brown). Place the French toast on a baking sheet as it finishes cooking; when all the pieces are done, top each one with a dab of butter and a fresh marshmallow, and cook in the oven for about seven minutes (or until the marshmallow melts).

Spicing it up

Marshmallows don’t have to be sweet: A recent addition to the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory’s lineup contains a fiery hot-sauce that’s made of ghost peppers.

“Since sugar is a natural antidote to heat, this marshmallow packs in more spicy flavor than you’d experience if you ate a ghost pepper straight,” says Debbie Steinberg. “Half the people like them for the flavor; half the people buy them to trick their friends. Whatever works!”

She recommends using marshmallow varieties like this in spicy, Mexican-style hot chocolate or as a chili topping. Steinberg says that customers surprise her with new ideas all the time—one recently told her that she liked to melt the fiery marshmallows and make fondue.

Modern Marshmallows

The fluffy, handmade marshmallow squares from the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory, packed with unexpected flavors and textures, are completely different than the white cubes sold at the supermarket. Factory co-owners Chris Momberger and Debbie Steinberg originally created the homemade treats in their kitchen before setting up a temporary stand at the Pittsburgh Public Market last November; after receiving a positive response from patrons, the pair turned their hobby into a business. Today, you can visit their booth to sample all kinds of flavors. We spoke to them to find out what makes their treats so special.

Fresh is Best
What immediately sets homemade marshmallows apart from commercial versions is freshness. Steinberg points out that when you pull a marshmallow from a store-bought bag, it already has crust on it. “Ours don’t develop any crust for a month at least, so they retain that very fresh melt-in-your-mouth quality,” she says. Then there are the flavors: Best-sellers include coconut, caramel-coffee, bananas foster, cookies n’ cream and vanilla. Around the holidays, you’ll find specialty flavors like pumpkin spice and peppermint. They even created a Guinness marshmallow for St. Patrick’s Day, which surprisingly tasted rather delicious, says Steinberg. At Easter, she crafted marshmallow birds and sprinkled baby-blue-colored sugar on top and called them “Tweeps.” The stand offers about 10 flavors on any given weekend, plus a few mini-marshmallow varieties and s’mores made with crunchy, homemade graham crackers.

Mixing Magic
Marshmallows’ height or fluffiness come from whipping sugar syrup with gelatin—you need a certain amount of protein to maintain the height. The basic recipe—which includes sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, vanilla and a pinch of salt—is very simple, but the candy-making process can be temperamental. Steinberg laughs as she remembers the couple’s transition from cooking at home to moving production to an industrial kitchen with new equipment. “We had a week of mistakes,” she says. Steinberg uses a pizza roller to cut trays of homemade marshmallows—a handy tip if you’re making them at home. (If you’re cutting individual marshmallows into smaller pieces, try using kitchen shears instead of a knife.)

Easy to Eat
Homemade marshmallows react to heat the same way as store-bought ones. You can use them in Rice Krispie Treats or roast them over a campfire (and yes, they will melt if you leave them in a car that’s in direct sunlight). Try substituting the tiny treats for ice cream: Cinnamon marshmallows melted over apple pie or berry crumble taste delicious. If you can’t figure out what to do with a particular flavor (like bacon-maple or East End Brewery’s Big Hops), Steinberg has an interesting notion: “People have a hard time saying, ‘I’m just going to eat a marshmallow plain,’” she says. “But it’s actually a great idea.”

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Zing Basket Promises Speedy Grocery Delivery to Your Door

Zing Basket Promises Speedy Grocery Delivery to Your Door

The online grocery delivery service opened this week, promising delivery in 45 minutes or less to selected neighborhoods.
Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

In its 225th year, the reference book on weather suggests we tune up our snow-removal equipment.
Chris Jamison Releases His First EP

Chris Jamison Releases His First EP

The Ross native finished third on NBC's “The Voice” in December of 2014.
Up Close Photo Gallery: 10 New Perspectives of Pittsburgh

Up Close Photo Gallery: 10 New Perspectives of Pittsburgh

Zoom in on the places that make our region so fascinating and diverse.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

There are plans afoot for a international museum of beer to be built and staffed right here in Pittsburgh.
Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

After an extended hiatus, the storied rivalry between the Pitt Panthers and Penn State Nittany Lions returns in September to Heinz Field.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Zing Basket Promises Speedy Grocery Delivery to Your Door

Zing Basket Promises Speedy Grocery Delivery to Your Door

The online grocery delivery service opened this week, promising delivery in 45 minutes or less to selected neighborhoods.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Where to Go at the Three Day Blow

Where to Go at the Three Day Blow

Our dining critic (and Three Day Blow organizing committee member) has a roundup of some open to the public events.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

These comic book shops offer more than just your casual Batman or Spider-Man choices.

Comments


New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

If you’re in need of a dining option that’s not a national chain while visiting the Robinson area, this is one to keep in mind.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

The Steelers running back emphasized his latest suspension resulted from missed random drug tests, and not a relapse into the marijuana-induced haze that got him jammed up last season. But if you lack the maturity to grasp the consequences of your actions (or, in this case, inactions), does it really matter?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Straight out of Canada, the custom menswear store opens its first U.S. location in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
'Hands of Stone' Keeps the Boxing Movie Genre Strong

'Hands of Stone' Keeps the Boxing Movie Genre Strong

Reviews of "Hands of Stone" and "Don't Breathe," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

Want even more Real Pittsburgh Weddings? We'll be bringing them to you throughout the fall, beginning with this lovely and lucky couple.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

The store famous for carrying storage and organizational products is set to open at the revamped Block Northway in Ross Township.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

A fall visitation day and a Saturday information session aim to allow interested students a look into life at the university.

Comments